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The First Significant Anti-War Movie

Posted on Tue, May 23 2017
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All Quiet on the Western Front, Universal, 1930
Directed by Lewis Milestone
Starring Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim, John Wray, and Ben Alexander

All Quiet on the Western Front, based on the 1929 novel of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque, is still considered one of the best films ever made in the war movie genre. Released in 1930, All Quiet on the Western Front was a reflection of the profound disillusionment with war in the post-World War I (WWI) era. It was the first significant anti-war movie, exploring the war’s physical and psychological impact on a generation lost to war. The film follows the experience of a young German infantryman who enters the conflict as an idealist, but after months of shelling and brutal death in the trenches on a massive scale is convinced that, “when it comes to dying for your country, it is better not to die at all.” The film’s director, Lewis Milestone, contributed much to developing a realistic feel to war movies. Steven Spielberg cited Milestone’s work as an inspiration for his 1998 film Saving Private Ryan, acclaimed to be one of the most powerful depictions of combat ever put on screen.

A number of WWI German Army veterans living in Los Angeles during the making of All Quiet on the Western Front were recruited as bit players and technical advisors. Approximately 2,000 extras were used during production. Among them, future acclaimed director Fred Zinneman, who later made such landmark movies as From Here to Eternity, High Noon, Julia, and A Man for All Seasons. All Quiet on the Western Front was shot with two cameras side by side, one as a sound film and the other for an “International Sound Version.” “International Sound” was a technique in the early talkie period where the English dialogue was replaced with music, sound effects, and foreign language subtitles in an effort to avoid the expense of reshooting the film in another language for distribution in other countries.

All Quiet on the Western Front opened to tremendous praise in the United States, and won Academy Awards for both Best Picture and Best Director, the first movie to do so. However, it was not without controversy outside America. Because of its anti-war and perceived anti-German messages, the Nazi’s banned the film in Germany. Other countries also were concerned about the dark nature of the movie, and it was banned in Australia, Italy, Austria, and France for decades. Now universally recognized as a classic, All Quiet on the Western Front offers a timeless reminder of the cost of war in human terms, and how individuals are impacted in the sweep of historical events.

All Quiet on the Western Front will be shown at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, on Friday, May 26, and at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, on Saturday, May 27.  

Before the screening on May 26 at the Museum in Washington, DC, join us for an entertaining talk about WWI mascots and animals that served officially, and unofficially, to support soldiers and raise their spirits during the war.

Tickets are free and may be requested online. Hollywood Goes to War: World War I on the Big Screen is a year-long film series showing Hollywood’s finest feature films on World War I, and is part of the National Air and Space Museum’s observance of the hundredth anniversary of the First World War.