My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Number 03: All Quiet on the Western Front (Best Picture Ranking)

When I started this ranking, I had little doubt that Gone with the Wind would be my number 1 movie from the 30s. But one of the last movies I saw was All Quiet on the Western Front and suddenly Gone with the Wind dropped to number 2. Personally, I was not expecting to be blown away like this by this anti-war movie from the early 30s but I was!

It seems almost strange to watch an anti-war movie that was made before World War II but I think the fact that this movie was made before the Nazis came to power helped to make this a very balanced movie that treats its German characters with the same respect that American characters would receive since after World War II, even movies about World War I seem to turn Germany into Nazi-land: The prequel.

Of course, the question is: could it be that I only appreciate this movie this much because of the German characters and the German point-of-view? But I strongly doubt it because I never even thought about nationality while watching this movie which is probably the biggest compliment I can give it at the same time – it’s a story that isn’t about nations, it’s about the horror of war and how propaganda turns even the most intelligent men into blind servants of death. Yes, All Quiet on the Western Front cannot hide its age but considering that only two years prior the Academy honored movies like The Broadway Melody or Coquette, makes this movie only even more impressive.

It’s hard to describe what it is about All Quiet on the Western Front that made it reach number 3 in my ranking. I think it’s the simple fact that no other anti-war movie has ever shattered me as much as this one. I think the reason for this is the way that the central characters are presented – how they are blinded at school by their fanatic teacher who bullies them into fighting for their country and learn at the first day at the front that reality is very different. It’s their fight for something to eat, their fear of death, their naivety compared to the experience of the men who are already at the front that really creates the strength of the movie. The sequence that shows a pair of boots that go from one killed soldier to the next is especially unforgettable. It’s the desperation that dominates the lives of these kids that turns All Quiet on the Western Front into one of the most haunting movies in history – the image of Paul, the central character of the story, praying besides the deathbed of his friend Kemmerich, telling God that Kemmerich doesn’t want to die is absolutely heartbreaking.

The battle sequences of this movie are also first-class in their technical execution and devastating in their message. The fight scenes at the graveyard are horrifying but even more so is the scene of Paul being trapped together with a French soldier whom he has mortally wounded. The soldiers is slowly dying next to Paul who is almost going insane with guilt and grief. But the movie also captures some quiet moments that are just as powerful – when Paul meets a French girl and goes to her home with her, we don’t need to see some sex scene as we would probably today; the shot of some shadows and the voices of Paul and the girl are enough and create a scene that is much more memorable than anything more ‘obvious’ could have been.

All Quiet on the Western Front is as powerful as a movie can be and it does not only focus on the horror of the war at the front but also the horror of the war at home – when Paul comes home and sees his old teacher trying to convince other boys to go to war it becomes clear to him and the viewers that there will be no end to this senseless killing. The final image of the movie shows the mass graves where Europe’s countries bury their future. 

All Quiet on the Western Front seems to be both a classic but also a rather forgotten movie but I happily discovered it as one of the most powerful statements against war ever made.

1 comment:

Louis Morgan said...

Yes this is a strong film and it deserves a good spot, but some of the acting is a bit too gee Whiz, for me to put it in the number 3 spot.