All Quiet on the Western Front is a timeless anti-war message. It was the first sound war film to win Best Picture after the silent Wings. All Quiet on the Western Front is also the first (but far from the last) Best Picture winner based on a novel. The 1929 book of the same name was almost immediately followed by the Hollywood adaptation. I read the book in school and watched the movie, but I completely forgot that it was from the perspective of German soldiers. It’s hard to tell considering the American accents. Bare in mind this was World War I. The book and movie’s anti-war themes got it banned and/or burned a decade after Nazis rose to power.
All Quiet on the Western Front is all about the loss of innocence affected by the war. A school professor convinces a class full of impressionable youths to join the Army with what can only be called propaganda. It’s all fun and games at first, but reality hits them as soon as the first bombs start to fall. As a pre-Code 1930 movie, All Quiet on the Western Front doesn’t hold back on depicting the very real tragedy of war. Thanks to the direction of Lewis Milestone who won the Oscar for Best Director. Young soldiers are blinded, blown up, shot, and amputated on.
They’re forced to fight in dangerous trenches while dealing with giant rats and mustard gas. The only fleeting moments of levity are the soldiers getting back at their drill instructor, getting double food rations, and seducing French dames. As the 2nd Company starts to die out, Paul is one of the few who survives. He really starts to question the war when he fatally wounds an enemy soldier who’s no different than him. Things come full circle when Paul returns home, only to realize the front was all he had left to live for. There is a follow up book and movie called The Road Back, but it’s not as well known or acclaimed. All Quiet on the Western Front is one of the best war movies ever put to film.