Saturday, March 12, 2011

All Quiet on the Western Front

Lewis Milestone, 1930, bw (8.5*)
Best Picture (AA)

Winner of the Oscar® for best picture of 1930, this classic anti-war film is based on the novel by Frenchman Erich Maria Remarque. Ironically, in shooting this film, which is about young, idealistic German soldiers, director Lewis Milestone, also an Oscar®-winner for best director, chose to have the Germans speak English, yet the French are speaking French! go figure..

The lead role went to young Lew Ayres, just 19 at the time and with no major film credits. At times he overacts a bit, as do most actors of that era, used to making exaggerated facial expressions, a holdover from the silent film era. If you can get past the dated look of this film, and the resulting stilted dialogue, then it's actually a pretty good war epic.

There are many scenes of WW1 action that are probably close to reality. We've become so accustomed to Hollywood war films that a realistically shot war film will likely look more tame to us than celluloid war. Unfortunately the pace of the war sections are broken up by visits home, visits to wounded comrades, too much marching, and much searching for food. In short, this 150 minute film could have been under two hours with a drastic improvement in pace for the viewer.

I wouldn't call this one of the great war films by modern standards, but it's an important war film in the history of cinema, and pretty good for its era, coming soon after the first best picture winner, Wings, also about WW1, but a silent epic. This should make an interesting double feature with Jean Pierre Jeunet's A Very Long Engagement, a 2002 French film about WW1, one of the most beautiful color films ever shot, about a woman's search for her fiance, missing from the front lines. We see his story in flashbacks until its conclusion.

Ranked #212 all-time on the IMDB top 250


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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