For Reel

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
April 20, 2012, 5:12 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Lewis Milestone

As poignant as any war film ever made, All Quiet on the Western Front is an unrelenting portrait of young German soldiers during World War I. Released in April of 1930, the picture arrived at a time in which Hollywood was at the very beginning of one of its most exciting periods, but nonetheless the logistics of talking pictures were still being perfected. Lewis Milestone’s achievement, then, is all the more spectacular considering its context – it was a picture with all of the spectacle of its greatest predecessor in the genre, The Big Parade, with a dynamic soundtrack, elaborate tracking shots, and an uncompromising, perhaps controversial, social message. While it is hardly subtle, one cannot degrade a picture with these intentions as being excessive – aside from suggesting the realism of war, it is as steadfast as any battle picture in its anti-war sentiment. The soldiers discuss the idiocy of fighting for one’s country, and in a key, heart-wrenching moment, a German soldier mourns his fallen enemy. In one of the earliest scenes, the camera pulls back from a military procession into a classroom, where young school boys are lectured about the glory of being a soldier. This is one of the many moments in which Milestone frames the soldiers in windows and doorways, as if echoing their trenches, or even their coffins. Furthermore, as much as directors like Rouben Mamoulian were experimenting with the limits of sound in their early talkies, very few soundtracks of this era were as full and vivid as the one found here. The never-ending blasts of explosions and gunfire persist throughout the picture, not only evoking a sense of place but quite literally taunting the suffering men on the battlefield.

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