The current iteration of the film All Quiet On The Western Front is the third World War I film I’ve seen in the last four years. I watched 1917 in January 2020, and the documentary footage of They Shall Not Grow Old a year earlier.
There’s a bit of surface similarity between Grow Old and All Quiet. In each case, the potential recruits, from Britain and Germany, respectively, are led to believe that going off to war will be an adventure. They’re so cheerful marching off to battle. But they soon discover they’re mired in a slog of trench warfare.
All Quiet is a remake of the 1930 film of the same name, which I have never seen. The original won the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director, Lewis Milestone, and was nominated in two other categories. The new film is up for nine Oscars, including Best Picture.
The characters even share the same names. Felix Kammerer plays Paul, the Lew Ayres role. Albrecht Schuch is Kat, played initially by Louis Wolheim. I did not know there was also a 1979 TV movie with Richard Thomas and Ernest Borgnine.
At some level, the charge by the soldiers, which happens thrice, looks almost exactly the same in the new film. Perhaps it’s to show what is explained in the epilogue, that tens of thousands of soldiers were killed to gain or lose only a few hundred meters of territory. This caused me slight confusion for a time.
Even in the “quiet” moments, one sees the horrors. The uniforms are stripped from the dead soldiers and shipped to a factory where women sew up the holes created by bullets and bayonets. Often, the names of the previous wearer have not been removed until after the recruit notices the old nametag.
Still, nothing showed the utter pointless insanity of war more than a segment near the end.
The new All Quiet On The Western Front is an excellent movie worthy of its BAFTA win. But it inevitably has lots of wartime violence, some of it up close. Occasionally, the participants consider their actions’ emotional and moral consequences. Then there’s the next skirmish, and a soldier has no time to think.
The eyes. The image that will linger in my mind is often the blue eyes of the living and the dead on faces caked with mud.