All Quiet on the Western Front.
Considering the immediate post-war punitive mood that was voiced in the Treaty of Versailles, at first I was surprised that as early as 1930 anyone was ready to make a film in English that was as frankly sympathetic towards Germans as this adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel (book review to follow). But upon reflection, it’s understandable, given the spread of isolationist and pacifist feeling among those who hoped that another war on such a scale could be avoided.
Of course, the film was not completely faithful to the story. Most of the major plot incidents were recognizable, but the end was completely changed, and the writing in between was poor, with stilted dialogue that many of the actors had a hard time bringing to life. The bit-part players seemed comfortable in their background roles, and the ones who portrayed Tjaden and Katczinsky worked with the ease of experienced character actors, but Lew Ayres and the others who were cast in Bäumer’s class of youthful conscripts looked a bit old for their parts, their interpretations were histrionic, and their efforts to speak in boyishly pitched voices were unconvincing.
The film’s strength lies in its visual imagery. Sets and crowd scenes employ culturally appropriate landscapes and period interiors and costumes, including reasonably accurate militaria (the Stahlhelm replaces the Pickelhaube at the right time) and props (the closeup of the poilu’s paperwork bears a family resemblance to my great-grandfather’s French Army identity papers); and the battle footage boasts believable pyrotechnics and features some historically faithful gruesome scenes.
The film that was digitized is a clean copy restored by the Library of Congress, and is packaged with a theatrical trailer and brief introductory commentary. As an old movie, a war film, and a historical drama, the 1930 rendition of All Quiet on the Western Front can profitably occupy a couple of hours for a connoisseur of those cinematic genres. A fair-to-decent cult classic.