Starring: Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim, John Wray, Arnold Lucy, Ben Alexander
Director: Lewis Milestone
Summary: During a wave of patriotism, a young man enlists in the army and is visited by horror and despair during World War I
Other Nominations: Director*, Writing, Cinematography
-Milestone’s direction far exceeds anyone else in the field of war films until at least the 1940’s, and exceeds nearly all his contemporaries in general. The attention to detail and realism from the battlefront is stunning, giving an incredible sense of claustrophobia and tedium from being in the trenches, as well as how pointless any attempts at gaining ground were.
-Fantastic production design and cinematography (such as the frenetic camera movements during a charge showing body after body being mowed down) are still as effective today as they were when it premiered over 85 years ago. That it didn’t win for cinematography (it lost to a documentary about Admiral Byrd at the South Pole) is absurd.
-Strong performances from Ayres (especially in the 2nd half) and Wolheim; while Ayres would act into the late 1980’s, Wolheim sadly would die the year after this film’s release due to stomach cancer.
-The lack of any soundtrack works to its benefit, as it probably would have detracted from how realistic everything felt. Apparently, some post-Hays code, pre-restorations versions had goddamn swing music over the ending which would have been hilarious.
-The obvious weak point is the dialogue, which for the first hour and a half borders on taking you out of the film when we aren’t at the front lines. It lacks depth and nuance in regards to expressing its themes, when the other parts of the film do a much better job with. Would be interesting to watch the silent version (which was made concurrently with the sound version) for this reason.
-While Ayres and Wolheim are great, the rest of the cast is nothing to write home about and have stiff line-delivery
Clearly the best film I’ve had the pleasure of watching so far, All Quiet on the Western Front set new standards in realism and emotional resonance for war films that have seldom been matched since. Highly recommended.