While watching Lewis Milestone’s 1930 World War I epic All Quiet on the Western Front last night on TCM, I had a revelation.
It went like this: “Wow, this movie’s pretty good.”
In particular, those brutal battle scenes. Great, great cinematography, especially those tracking shots showing the hordes of soldiers rushing to their death across enemy lines. They really captured the idiocy of this conflict, where men would kill to obtain just a few feet of barren real estate. And there was terrific editing, too, with quick cuts between shots of machine gunners cutting down waves of doomed soldiers.
This was startling, not stirring. It wasn’t supposed to be rah-rah-rah. This was as anti-war as you can get, with a focus on the impersonal modernity of conflict and its unsympathetic mechanization. These images will be hard to forget for me.
But there were other wonders, too. A scene where the infantrymen try to console a dying man whose legs have been amputated. Sequences with men shrieking madly within their bunkers. And a part where some of the soldiers ply three French women with food, suggesting the desperation felt at this time … not only for sustenance, but also for love.
A fine film. Some of the acting was a bit stilted, yet it was beautifully done overall. Not easy to get through, though. But like any great anti-war movie, it shouldn’t be.
4 thoughts on “Skip’s Quips: Not Quite Lost on Cinema’s Battlefield”
Call me a paradoxical presentist, but I prefer the silent version because the dialogue is a tad too ham-acted (stilted as you put it) and obvious for my enjoyment. I get what you mean about the images though, I can still recall with absolute fidelity the hand reaching for the butterfly.
Completely understand. I remember watching the silent version of Ben-Hur and wondering why I even bothered with the Charlton Heston iteration. (Well, I wondered about that, anyway.) But I agree: Some of the images in the 1930 version of Front are memorable, and I still marvel at the logistics of the battle scenes. In this age of CGI, I can’t imagine anyone doing that today!
If you haven’t already done so, check out Paths of Glory. The scenes of trench warfare at the beginning are the kind that only Kubrick could provide.
Thanks for the recommendation! I (generally) love Kubrick’s films and have never seen Paths of Glory in full. He’s no stranger to battle scenes however, and so I’m intrigued.