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All Quiet on the Western Front

film poster
Directed by Lewis Milestone
Produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr.
Written by Erich Maria Remarque (novel)
Starring Louis Wolheim
Lew Ayres
Music by David Broekman
Cinematography Arthur Edeson
Editing by Edgar Adams
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) April 21, 1930 (1930-04-21)
Running time 138 minutes
Country United States
Language English

All Quiet on the Western Front is a 1930 war film based on the Erich Maria Remarque novel of the same name. It was directed by Lewis Milestone, and stars Louis Wolheim, Lew Ayres, John Wray, Arnold Lucy and Ben Alexander.

All Quiet on the Western Front is considered a realistic and harrowing account of warfare in World War I, and was named #54 on the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies. However, it fell out of the top 100 in the AFI's 2007 revision. In June 2008, AFI revealed its 10 Top 10—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. All Quiet on the Western Front was acknowledged as the seventh best film in the epic genre.[1][2] In 1990, this film was selected and preserved by the United States Library of Congress' National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director.



The film opens in Germany at the beginning of World War I. The instructor, Kantorek, appears to be a high school classroom giving an impassioned speech about the glory of serving in the Army and "saving the Fatherland". Almost to a man, the young men are all moved to join the army. The young enlistees are shown in basic training, aching for "action" fighting in the war. Their training officer (Himmelstoss, a strict disciplinarian who is hated by all the recruits) tells them to forget everything they know; they are going to become soldiers. Rigorous training diminishes the recruits' enthusiasm some, but after little more than marching drills, suddenly the cadets are told they are "going up front".

The new soldiers arrive by train at the combat zone, which is mayhem, with soldiers everywhere, incoming shells, horse-drawn wagons racing around, and constant rain. One in the group is killed before the new recruits can reach their post, worrying one of the new soldiers (Behn). The new soldiers are assigned to a unit composed of older soldiers, who are not exactly accommodating. The young soldiers find that there is no food available at their post, as they have not eaten since breakfast – but their new unit has not had food for two days. They have sent out a scrounger to locate something to eat and he returns with a slaughtered hog. The young soldiers "pay" for their dinner with cigarettes.

"For the Fatherland" the young soldiers' unit is sent out on night duty. They travel packed into a flat cargo truck like sardines. As the driver drops them off at their destination, he tells them, "If there's any of you left, there will be someone here to pick you up in the morning." The young recruits watch the truck intensely as it leaves. An experienced soldier (Katczinsky) gives the "schoolboys" some real world instructions, telling them how to deal with incoming shells, "When you see me flop, you flop. Only try to beat me to it." The unit strings up barbed-wire and tries to avoid shells. Flares light up the night sky as the enemy tries to spot them, machine guns sound and a bombardment starts. Behn is killed by machine gun fire; most of the soldiers stay low in the trenches. Franz Kemmerich runs out to retrieve Behn, but, upon returning to the trench, realizes that he's carrying a corpse. He is then scolded by Katczinsky for risking his life. When the truck arrives in the morning most of the unit has survived.

A screenshot from the film with actor Lew Ayres (right).

Back at the bunker in the trenches, the soldiers play cards and fight off the rats who eat their food and gear. The young soldiers are showing signs of great stress: nightmares, shaking uncontrollably, and screaming about the unrelenting bombs. One recruit (Kemmerich) loses control, runs out of the trench and is injured. Some of the soldiers want to leave the trench and attack, but the enemy seems to have superior firepower. When food finally comes, the men have to fight to get their share. Then they are overcome by rats and kill them with spades. Suddenly there is a break in the bombing and the men are ordered out to fight.

A loud rumbling can be heard as the enemy approaches. The soldiers are in trenches with their rifles ready as incoming shells move closer and closer. They can do nothing but wait. The enemy French soldiers come into view, running toward the trenches, but the Germans hold their fire until the enemy is closer. Paul witnesses several soldiers die from shellfire, a French soldier is hit by one and his disconnected arms hang in the wire. The Germans use machine gun fire, hand grenades and rifles to mow down the enemy. The enemy suffers great losses, but succeeds in entering the trenches, where hand-to-hand combat with bayonets begins. The Germans retreat to a second line, from where they launch a counterattack. At great cost they enter the French front line, but are unable to hold their position, and are ordered to withdraw to their original positions.

The men of Second Company return from the battle and line up for a meal. The cook refuses to feed them because he wants the entire company to arrive. The men explain that this is all that is left of the company – 80 of the original 150 – and the cook refuses to give them all the food he has prepared. An argument follows and violence seems imminent when an officer arrives and orders the cook to give all the food to the men.

The men start out eating greedily, but then settle into a satiated torpor. They hear that they are to return to the front the next day and begin a semi-serious discussion about the causes of the war and of wars in general. They speculate about whether geographical entities offend each other and whether these disagreements involve them. Tjaden speaks familiarly about himself and the Kaiser. They speculate about whether it is the Kaiser or the manufacturers that need the war or whether it is the result of a fever. Katczinsky suggests roping off a field and stripping the kings and their ministers down to their underwear and letting them fight it out with clubs. It is finally decided that they should go see their friend Kemmerich, who was wounded in the battle and is in a dressing station, and bring him his things.

Five of the men find Kemmerich in a very bad condition, complaining that his watch was stolen while he was under ether, and that he is in pain in his left hand and right foot. Not realizing that Kemmerich did not know, Mueller lets slip that his right leg has been amputated; Kemmerich becomes upset. Kemmerich expresses regret that he would never become a forester and Paul tries to reassure him. Mueller sees Kemmerich's boots under the bed and tactlessly asks him for them. Kemmerich asks Paul to give his boots to Mueller and then loses consciousness. Paul tries to summon a doctor, but the doctor and the medic can do nothing. As Kemmerich finally succumbs to his wounds, Paul leaves the dressing station with Kemmerich's boots and breaks into a run. Mueller is trying to talk about math to Katczinsky when Paul brings him the boots. Mueller is pleased and says that he will not mind returning to the front in such fine boots. Paul describes how he reacted to Kemmerich's death by running and how it made him feel more alive and then hungry.

In a sequence of battle scenes, Mueller is wounded and his boots are passed on to another soldier, who is also wounded and presumed killed. One day Corporal Himmelstoss arrives to the front and is immediately spurned because of his bad reputation. In an attack on a cemetery, Paul kills a French soldier but then tries to save him, failing miserably. He cries bitterly, asking the dead body to speak so he can be forgiven. Later, he returns to the German lines.

Soon, there is another offensive. Paul is severely wounded and taken to a Catholic hospital, along with his good friend Albert Kropp. Kropp's leg is amputated, but he does not find out until some time afterwards. Around this time, Paul is taken to the bandaging ward, which has the reputation for nobody ever returning from there alive, but he later returns to the normal rooms triumphantly, only to find Kropp in agony.

Earning a furlough, Paul then takes a brief trip back to his home, where he finds his mother is ailing. The people in his town are mindlessly patriotic and ignorant about what is happening at the front. He visits Kantorek, only to find him lecturing another class about the "glory of war." Disgusted, he returns to the front, where only a few men of the Second Company have survived, including an old hand, Tjaden. Paul asks Tjaden about Katczinsky, thinking that he is dead, but Tjaden reveals that Katczinsky is still alive. Paul goes looking for Kat, finds him scrounging for food, to no avail. Kat is wounded in the ankle by a dropped from an airplane. So Paul decides to carry Kat to the field hospital. Enroute, though, the same plane drops another bomb, and the shrapnel from this explosion kills Kat, while Paul, in ignorance, continues to carry him to the field hospital. Paul is grief stricken.

In the final scene, Paul is back on the front lines. He sees a butterfly just beyond his trench (echoing the butterfly collection of his sister that he saw back home). Paul reaches out towards the butterfly, but obviously too exposed, he is shot and killed by an enemy sniper.



In the film, Paul is shot while trying to grab a butterfly. This scene is different from the book, and was inspired by an early scene showing a butterfly collection in Paul's home. The scene was shot during the editing phase, so the actors were no longer available and Milestone had to use his own hand as Paul's.

Noted comedienne Zasu Pitts was cast as Paul's mother for the original silent version of the film, but her scenes were reshot with Beryl Mercer when it turned into a sound film.[3]

A great number of German Army veterans were living in Los Angeles at the time of filming and were recruited as bit players and technical advisers. Around 2,000 extras were utilized during production.[3] Among them was future director Fred Zinnemann, who was fired for impudence.


  • Universal re-released the film in 1939. It contained anti-Nazi announcements read out throughout the film in a March of Time style; yet the aim was to remind people of the horrors of wars in a time of international unrest.
  • Later re-releases by Universal International were substantially cut and the film's ending scored with new music against the wishes of director Lewis Milestone.[4] Before his death in 1980, Milestone requested Universal fully restore the film with the removal of the end music cue. Two decades later, Milestone's wishes were finally granted when the United States Library of Congress undertook an exhaustive restoration of the film, which is vastly superior in sound and picture quality to most other existent prints.

The film got tremendous praise in the United States, but there would be controversy over the film's subject matter in other places, including Europe.

On its release, Variety wrote:

The League of Nations could make no better investment than to buy up the master-print, reproduce it in every language, to be shown in all the nations until the word "war" is taken out of the dictionaries.

Some of the credit for the film's success has been ascribed to the direction of Lewis Milestone:

Without diluting or denying any...criticisms, it should be said that from World War I to Korea, Milestone could put the viewer into the middle of a battlefield, and make the hellish confusion of it seem all too real to the viewer. Steven Spielberg noted as much when he credited Milestone's work as partial inspiration for Saving Private Ryan ...Lewis Milestone made significant contributions to [the genre of] the war film.[5]

Due to its anti-war and perceived anti-German messages, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party banned the film from Germany in the 1930s and early 1940s. During its brief run in German cinemas in the early 1930s, the Nazis disrupted the viewings by releasing rats in the theaters.[6]

Also, between the period of 1928 to 1941, this was one of many films to be banned in Australia by the Chief Censor Creswell O'Reilly. The film was also banned in Italy in 1929, Austria in 1931, with the prohibition officially raised only in the 1980s, and in France up to 1963.[7].

Awards and honors

1929–30 Academy Awards

Award Result Winner
Outstanding Production Won Universal (Carl Laemmle, Jr., Producer)
Best Director Won Lewis Milestone
Best Writing Nominated George Abbott, Maxwell Anderson and Del Andrews
Winner was Joseph Farnham, Martin Flavin, Frances Marion and Lennox Robinson - The Big House
Best Cinematography Nominated Arthur Edeson
Winner was Joseph T. Rucker and Willard Van Der Veer - With Byrd at the South Pole

It was the first talkie war film to win Oscars.

Other wins:

  • 1930 Photoplay Medal of Honor - Carl Laemmle Jr.
  • 1931 Kinema Junpo Award for Best Foreign Language Film - Sound to Lewis Milestone
  • 1990 National Film Registry

American Film Institute recognition

Carl Laemmle holding the Best Picture Oscar.


  1. ^ American Film Institute (2008-06-17). "AFI Crowns Top 10 Films in 10 Classic Genres". Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  2. ^ "Top 10 Epic". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  3. ^ a b TCM Notes
  4. ^ American Movie Classics' segments on film preservation that aired in the mid-1990s.
  5. ^ Mayo, Mike: War Movies: Classic Conflict on Film, Visible Ink Press, 1999
  6. ^ The film was finally re-released in Germany on April 25, 1952, in the Capitol Theatre in West Berlin.
  7. ^ German movie institute

See Also

All Quiet on the Western Front (1979 film)

External links

Preceded by
The Broadway Melody
Academy Award for Best Picture
Succeeded by

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