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All Quiet on the Western Front

Director: Lewis Milestone

U.S.A.| 1930. Black and white. 138 mins.


Lewis Milestone’s classic anti-war movie has been reissued by the British Film Institute in a beautifully restored version that reinstates the countless cuts imposed on the film in various countries since its release in 1930. Nominated for six Academy Awards and winner of the Best Picture Oscar, this remains an emotive portrayal of the tragedy of the First World War and a devastating indictment of the horror of war in general. Based on Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name, Milestone’s tour de force follows the fortunes of a group of idealistic young German soldiers in the trenches. The story centres on Paul Baumer (Lewis Ayres), a sensitive youth who is recruited by a war-mongering professor (Arnold Lucy) advocating ‘glory for the Fatherland.’ Baumer and his friends enlist and are trained by Himmelstoss (John Wray), a kindly postmaster turned brutal corporal, then sent to the front lines to taste battle, blood and death. On the battlefield, Paul comes under the protective wing of an old veteran, Katczinsky (Louis Wolheim), who teaches him how to survive.
The film is emotionally draining and so realistic that it will be forever etched in the mind of any viewer. Milestone’s direction is frequently inspired, most notably in the battle scenes. In an outstanding cast, the veteran talent of Louis Wolheim is complemented by newcomer Ayres, whose Paul Baumer carries the film’s message of the dehumanising effect of war as we witness his transformation from idealistic patriot to angry and embittered soldier. The journey ends with one of cinema’s most affecting scenes.

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