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.