All Quiet on The Western Front 1930 Film Review

Alexis Stenberg

All Quiet on the Western Front is a movie based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque. The novel has been reviewed to be the greatest war novel of all time. So, this movie had high expectations. This review will be on the original 1930 movie adaptation of the novel. My overall review of the film was that it was solid adaptation of the novel. I value a movie that is based off of a novel, to stay true to the original story. This film does just that. Some events take place differently than they do in the novel, but it doesn’t change the overall narrative of the story. Even as a movie by itself, I still believe that it is a great film with great characters and even fantastic film making.

Just like in the novel, the movie follows a group of young men who enlist in the German Army during World War I. The protagonist is Paul, who is played by Lew Ayres. Ayres did a fairly good job playing Paul. There were some scenes that Ayres did very well at, while others could have been better. Lew Ayres did have a difficult task acting Paul’s character. In the novel, we only read the story from Paul’s point of view. So it’s easy to read how Paul is feeling and thinking throughout the novel. But in a movie Ayres needed to portray these emotions. The scene that Lew Ayres acted very well was the scene when Paul is in the hospital with his dying friend Kemmerich, played by Ben Alexander. This is a short but powerful scene in the film. Ayres did a great job when portraying Paul’s emotions throughout this scene. However, a different scene that Ayres could have done better was the scene where Paul is stuck in a fox hole with another Italian solider that he just killed. This is an infamous moment in the novel. As the reader you really get into the mind of Paul and comprehend the war and his emotions around him. Lew Ayres did a good job, it was just missing something for me while watching it. I feel like if you haven’t read the novel, this scene would come off as a little confusing. I think if Lew Ayres were able to express a little more emotion of what happens in the scene it could have been better.

One thing that has to be acknowledged with this film was the scenes of the war. Today, this movies practical effects would be extremely subpar. But this film was made in the 1930s, cinema was just starting off and films were relatively good natured and didn’t show explicit scenes. This film was actually banned in many countries at the time for how graphic the movie was. When we think of war movies today, we tend to think of very graphic and bloody scenes like the beginning of the film Saving Private Ryan. This film managed to show the terror of war without almost any blood on screen. That is amazing and goes to show that this film stands out among other war films.

Overall, this film was accurate adaptation of the original novel and even of World War I. Even though the film cut out a few parts from the novel, it stayed true to the original story. I truly believe that this film helped portray and even help those who have served in wars and will be a staple of World War I cinema. There is one scene where Paul is fighting at the front for the first time and he witnesses an Italian solider grab a part of the barbed wire fence, and a bomb hits him. All that is left of the Italian solider are his hands still holding on to the fence. That is an image that I, like Paul, will remember for the rest of my life.

“All Quaint on the Western Front”, a brief tale of What Could’ve Been; starring Evadne Price

Evadne Price

When reading Not So Quiet, there are notable similarities between this text and All Quiet on the Western Front—as we’ve discussed quite a few in class such as the characterization of The “Bitch” Commandment and Himmelstoss as abusive people in power, societal pressures being a factor in driving the POV characters to enlist, and the similar writing style, among other similarities (“I am afraid I am going mad” (P. 101 of my edition) a line that follows the shock of a sudden tragedy where a character dies in the POV character’s arms, and the final ending paragraph are the moments that stood out the most to me while reading Not So Quiet).

Looking further into the history of the author, Evadne Price, I found out that this novel was originally commissioned as a far more blatant rip of All Quiet… following the international success of the latter novel. According to an article by Lucy Scholes of The Paris Review, Price was approached by London-based publisher, Albert E. Marriott, and asked to “write a spoof response about women in the war. He had in mind a title—“All Quaint on The Western Front“—and a pen name for her, Erica Remarks” (emphasis is mine). However, after reading All Quiet herself for the first time, Price felt, understandably so, that making light of such a serious and tragic subject was…y’know, absolutely horrible and insulting (quote from Price herself during an interview with Hazel De Berg: “Anybody who writes a skit on this book wants their brains dusted” (2, around the 14:01 mark). Since Price was never actually a part of the war effort herself,pressed for cash and under the suggestion (and pressure) of Marriott, she decided to base the experiences of the fictional Helen Z. Smith on the borrowed diary entries of former front-line ambulance driver, Winifred Constance Young, who Price had met at the request of a friend. Sadly, Price wasn’t properly compensated for her work by Marriott as detailed in her contract, leading to quite the interesting scandal between the two of them following the successful publication of Not So Quiet among…other hijinks Marriott had gotten up to during that time.

Another interesting detail I found out was that this was actually the first in a series of novels: Not So Quiet was followed by Women of Aftermath in 1931, Shadow Women in 1932, Luxury Ladies in 1933, and They Lived With Me in 1934. These weren’t nearly as successful as Not So Quiet, and I can’t seem to find much information on these books outside of a very brief summary of Women of Aftermath on Goodreads: “A sequel to “Not So Quiet…”. After the war a wife is beaten by her wounded soldier husband” (4). Sadly, they appear to be just as lost as her beloved children’s series Jane Turpin, and like that series, may have gone out of print following their lackluster returns by an audience now gearing up for WWII—the novelty of these types of books seems to have worn off rather quickly during the time, and, according to a paper given at the Marginalized Mainstream conference in 2014 (recorded by the blog Great War Fiction), even Not So Quiet was itself nearly lost before it was rediscovered and reprinted in 1989 by Jane Marcus and Feminist Press respectively (3).

Knowing all of this, how does this information on the behind-the-scenes of Not So Quiet impact your reading of Price’s novel? Does the knowledge of the fact it was initially conceived by as a parody by a man who wanted to cash in on All Quiet’s success change how you read both stories back-to-back as we have in class? How do you think the book would’ve been perceived by audiences of the time (let alone today) if Price had followed through with the parody nature that had been pitched to her—and do any elements of parody still show up in the novel regardless of its shift in direction early on? Are there anymore similarities between these books that we can now point to knowing this context? How does the knowledge that there were sequels to this novel still published under the Helena Zenna Smith pseudonym (and thus, presumably, continued to follow the life of the Smithy character) impact the ending for you guys—does this knowledge cheapen the impact of that final paragraph or does it make it more potent? Finally, how many of you guys wish that there was some kind of biopic about Evadne Price?; because my lord, was this woman quite a fascinating character in of herself.

Sources used in this post: (1)

// (2) (3) (4)

Does All Quiet On The Western Front have the same impact today

In the 12:30 section on Tuesday we mentioned briefly how this book was banned in Germany during WW2 for being anti-German/unpatriotic, along with showing the realities of war. I have not been able to stop thinking about how this book is no longer banned, and I wonder if a new war with that type of atrocity started, would it be banned again? Do banned books work? I was wondering what your thoughts were on how we can read and see the realities of war and conditions and yet still create them? This book was published in 1929 and people who served in WW1 had to turn around and see their children and families serve in WW2. We have so much access to media today but back in the 1930’s I can’t imagine how the portrayals of the battlefields would have been accepted.

Some songs about the Great War

Something I thought would be good to share are some songs from/about the Frist World War that have affected me in one way or another.

The first song is “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye,” a song about an Irish veteran returning home from the home, missing both physical and spiritual parts of himself as he’s completely run down by the war. It ends on the theoreitcally optimistic note that, although he’s missing an arm, a leg, his innocence, and will likely be begging for food for the rest of his life; he still is alive, so that’s something.

The second song is a reading of “In Flanders Fields,” probably the most famous poem of the War. The poem itself probably needs no introduction, but here is a link to it regardless.

The third song is “Wo alle Straßen enden,” a song disputedly attributed in part to a German soldier in WWI, although I feel like it hits the feeling of utter hopelessness quite well. A very fitting song for All Quiet on the Western Front, as it describes this hopelessness from a German perspective with the knowledge of the impending losing of the war in mind.

The fourth song is “Green Fields of France,” a Scottish folksong written in the 1970’s about the narrator considering the grave of a soldier who died in 1916, and wondering if the soldier left anyone behind when he died or if he was properly honored. The narrator then starts wondering if the war was fought for anything at all.

The fifth and final song I wanted to share in this post is “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” and it’s one of my favorite songs about the war and a song that almost always make me cry. It’s a play on the classic ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) song Waltzing Matilda, a song played often in the ANZAC army bands and a marching song of the era. And the Band Played is hardly about the original subject matter of Waltzing Matilda, as And the Band Played focuses on the experience of an Australian Conscript sent to fight in the meatgrinder of a campaign known as Gallipoli. Eventually, this conscript return homes short a leg, with nobody to go home to and considers how pointless the whole war was. Waltzing Matilda is used to help the theme of being lied to by those in power to die in this war. To make it short, it’s a very good song.

I hope you all enjoy (or maybe that’s not the right word) these songs and get something out of them. I’d love to know y’alls thoughts on them!