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All Quiet on the Western Front

#236 - All Quiet on the Western Front
Lewis Milestone, 1930

A handful of young Germans are inspired to join the army and fight in World War I, but they are soon disillusioned by the horrors of battle.

All Quiet on the Western Front still holds up extremely well almost ninety years after its release. The battle scenes are frantic and explosive and still rather horrifying in their intensity even by the standards of the 1930s. Despite the big-budget quality of the action happening on-screen, the film still stays extremely true to the anti-war rhetoric of its source novel by focusing on a group of students as they join the army, spurred on by an old teacher filling their heads with notions of bravery and patriotism. Unfortunately for them, what they find waiting for them after signing up ends up being a barrage of brutal events, from incredibly harsh training from a coarse yet cowardly corporal through to actual conflicts that are devoid of any kind of heroism whatsoever. The older soldiers that mentor them are pragmatic about their situation, often in defiance of any superior authority, but are still just as prone to danger as the new meat.

The film does kind of suffer by not giving characters a whole lot of definition beyond some well-known war-story roles - there's the idealistic protagonist who loses hope with each passing minute of screen-time, his heavily grizzled mentor, a nasty drill sergeant type, etc. - but at least they are acted extremely convincingly (enough so that you don't mind that the supposedly German cast of characters don't have accents). The cinematography is sharp and the editing is appropriately frenzied during the incredibly chaotic battle sequences but doesn't get boring during the quieter scenes. As a result, there are plenty of striking sequences - most notably one where its protagonist is forced to spend a whole night in a muddy trench with a dying enemy. It definitely earns its reputation as one of the greatest war films of all-time and should definitely be checked out by anyone with even the slightest interest in classic film.