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All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
May 11, 2012 - 7:30 pm
actor Arthur Gardner.

Directed by Lewis Milestone

Erich Maria Remarque’s novel "Im Westen nichts neues" (English translation, "All Quiet on the Western Front") was published in Berlin in 1929. Told from the viewpoint of a schoolboy named Paul Baumer who, along with his classmates, is persuaded to enlist in the German army during World War I by their teacher, a fanatical patriot, the book was an unflinching portrayal of the brutality and sheer human waste of modern trench warfare. By giving voice to a general disgust with the smug platitudes of the pre-war generation, the novel became a worldwide bestseller, even in countries, such as the United States, that had opposed Germany and the Central Powers.

Film rights to the novel were immediately bought by Carl Laemmle, the German-born founder of Universal Pictures, who hoped a well-wrought screen version would convince even Germany’s former enemies that the despised “Hun” were human beings, too. The film was budgeted at $1,200,000, an enormous sum in 1929, and shooting began on 20 acres of Southern California ranchland under the direction of Lewis Milestone, born Lev Milstein in Bessarabia in 1895. Milestone immigrated to the U.S. in 1914, and entered pictures in 1921, directing his first film in 1925. By shooting the battle sequences in All Quiet on the Western Front with a silent camera, dubbing in the sound of gunfire and the screams of the wounded and dying later, he avoided the static look of most early talkies and achieved a picture of warfare that Variety accurately described as “harrowing, gruesome, morbid … Here exhibited is war as it is, butchery.”

The film won Milestone his second Oscar for Best Director, and went on to win for Outstanding Production of 1929-30. The film did not please everyone, however. Hitler and Goebbels predictably hated it, and it was banned in Germany, along with Remarque’s novel, as soon as the Nazis came to power. It has since often been banned in countries that are planning to go to war. One American who was profoundly affected was the actor who played Paul, Lew Ayes, who said that All Quiet on the Western Front influenced his decision to become a conscientious objector during World War II.

—Charles Hopkins

Universal Picture Corp. Producer: Carl Laemmle Jr. Based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque. Screenwriter: George Abbott. Cinematographer: Arthur Edeson. Editor: Edgar Adams. Cast: Louis Wolheim, Lew Ayres, John Wray, Ben Alexander, Scott Kolk.

35mm, b/w, 143 min.