All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

<strong class="MovieTitle">All Quiet on the Western Front</strong> (1930)

(On Cable TV, March 2018) As far as anti-war statements go, All Quiet on the Western Front remains a landmark even today. Cleverly set among German youth heading to the front during World War I, this is a film that not only takes an unsentimental view of warfare, but actively shows how kids were deceived in fighting. Death, amputations, stomach-churning symbolism and nihilism follow. While modern audiences may like to think of early near-silent black-and-white films as primitive compared to today’s technologically-augmented spectacles, this is a powerful counter-example: Never mind the gore of trench warfare—the Boot montage is still a kick in the gut, as is the harrowing simplicity of the final shot. There’s some serious skill in the way director Lewis Milestone handles the film—a work so well done and effective in codifying film grammar that most of the war sequences wouldn’t feel terribly out-of-place in a more modern film. Curiously enough, All Quiet on the Western Front is best seen today in its “International Sound Version” version, a dialogue-free sound film straddling the brief period in which movies transitioned to sound—there are plenty of added sound effects that do add to the final result, but title cards rather than synchronized dialogue to allow for easy foreign versions abroad. The combination of the sometimes-jocular nature of the film’s protagonists and the horrors that eventually befall every one of them is sobering in ways that a uniquely dramatic film would not be. Also sobering (especially to modern audiences, who know things that the original audiences of the film wouldn’t) is the fact that for all of the film’s effective message is, it wouldn’t stop another world war from starting again nine years later—nor any of the so-called heroic military efforts of the US in the decades since. Artists can tell the truth in the most accessible ways even decades later, but there’s no telling anyone will listen.

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