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All Quiet on the Western Front

Year: 1930
Director: Lewis Milestone
Cast: Lew Ayers, Louis Wolheim

I saw this film on the back of almost unanimous praise in magazines where I read about it, and for such an old movie, it's certainly worthy of praise.

It was a bold enough move on the part of a British filmmaker to portray German soldiers in such a sympathetic way, especially when us-vs-them propaganda was as rife in that period of history as it's starting to look again over seventy years later.

Swept up in the rhetoric of teachers, the government and the war effort to join up and become heroes, a group of classmates go off to war and soon learn the horrors and brutality of it all. We follow them – in particular Paul – over the next couple of years and walk alongside him to see the dual horror of war; the killing and violence in the tranches and the sense back at home of not belonging.

Not afraid to pull any punches, it blows away virtually every cast member eventually, and so stands as a very effective anti-war movie. Even Hollywood history's latest effort (including Saving Private Ryan) weren't above portraying the enemy as the dark shadow in the woods while the brave and heroic soldiers (usually American) prevail.

This is the story of war as far away from a recruitment poster as you can get; no nobility, no courage, no duty – just fear, dirt and death.

It's pretty badly dated nowadays, but the essence of the story underneath is still front and centre and the campy 1930's moviemaking styles are easy to overlook.

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