They Left for War as Boys, Never to Return as Men

All Quiet on the Western Front (1979) matches the harsh reality of the Best Picture winning original. The difference was choosing to make it a made-for-TV movie. A decision that earned the adaptation a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Made for Television. All Quiet on the Western Front (1979) is as intense as the book, but there was only so much CBS could show on Network TV. While I watched the 1930 original in school, my brother brought this version to my attention after he saw it in school. The 1979 version is just as authentic to World War I, but the cast is still primarily English or American.

Marty director Delbert Mann brought several big names including former collaborator Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Ian Holm, and Patricia Neal. I was only familiar with Richard Thomas thanks to his role in It. He plays the primary young soldier Paul who joins out of school just like the original. The difference was taking a nonlinear approach to the first act. Pleasence plays the propaganda spouting recruitment professor, but the response from his class is more subtle. Holm plays the overly strict drill instructor who gets no respect from the 2nd Company. I can buy Pleasence and Holm in the cast, but Borgnine is far too American to play a man named Stanislaus Katczinsky.

Although he is the best supporting character for his frank discussions about the meaning of war. Paul uses narration to describe everything bad about the war. Including trench warfare, giant rats, mustard gas, and flamethrowers. The tragic fate of each member in Paul’s company also plays out the same. As does the moment where Paul takes pity on a French enemy soldier. The scene with the lovely French women is longer, but just as tame. Neal makes a brief impact as Paul’s sick mother when he returns home, only to realize the front is his real home. Since a butterfly was original to the 1930 film, it’s a bird that inevitably ends the war. All Quiet on the Western Front (1979) proves just as relevant no matter what decade it is.

All Quiet on the Western Front 1979

The 2nd Company on the frontline

2 thoughts on “They Left for War as Boys, Never to Return as Men

  1. I saw the 79 version of All Quiet on the Western Front about 20 years ago for my Sophomore year history class in High School (the teacher loved showing films when he could for what we were studying) , and I remember thinking how interesting, sad, and somber it was. The only names I recognized when I first saw the film were Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasance, and Ian Holm, Patricia Neal and Richard Thomas came to mind later. Borgnine did very well in the part he played I thought, he did seem a little out of place, but he made it work. The 79 version has aged a little better than the 1930 original, but both are still pretty powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

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