Friday, November 16, 2012

Universal's 100th Anniversary: All Quiet on the Western Front

Two weeks since the start of this series, two weeks until I leave for vacation. Barring a lot of time spent writing in airports/on airplanes, my hope to treat this like a film festival and review everything looks fairly forlorn.

I am, at least, having quite the blast treating the series like a film festival, though. It's one where the program (originally created for the UCLA Film & Video Archive) lists dates in May & June and sometimes different movies, where the movies are ones with an established track record, and where work is as likely to be the cause of a missed screening as a conflict, but the important parts - a domination of what one sees and supper consisting of what you can get from the concession stand - are the same.

At any rate, there's still a couple more weeks of this stuff going on at the Brattle, with more modern stuff coming up soon. I'm going to try and hit a large chunk of it, and hope others do too.

All Quiet on the Western Front

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 November 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Universal's 100th Anniversary, 35mm)

Despite this movie being made in 1930, there isn't necessarily a whole lot to be added to it on the subject of the way war takes young men and destroys them. The later likes of Saving Private Ryan may make the violence more graphic, and other movies may home in on the specific details of different conflicts, but everything important is here, from the promise to young men of glory and honor to the difficulty of coming home afterward.

Life is fairly tranquil in a mid-sized German town until the news arrives: War! History will later all it World War I, but urged on by their teacher (Arnold Lucy), a group of high school classmates has no idea what they're getting into, especially after seeing their jovial reservist mailman (John Wray) reveal another side of himself as a harsh taskmaster in boot camp. Soon Paul (Lew Ayres), Kemmerich (Ben Alexander), Leer (Scott Kolk), Peter (Owen Davis Jr.), Behn (Walter Browne Rogers), and Albert (William Bakewell) are on the front lines, finding something very different than the glory the adults described, and hoping to learn quick from the likes of Kat (Louis Wolheim), the sort of sergeant who somehow finds food and supplies when the men are starving.

It's somewhat fascinating to me that this movie was made from the German point of view in 1930. If I recall my history correctly, American sentiment wasn't particularly against Germany at this point, but this was still a movie (and book before it) that took a sympathetic view of the soldiers that many in the audience had fought against. Of course, there are very few really thick - or even mild - accents to be found here, and those are mostly among the officer corps or other hawks who might be portrayed as the soldiers' worst enemies. It's an interesting set of choices, even if it mostly comes down to characters speaking their native languages tending to be being portrayed as speaking with neutral accents back then.

Full review at EFC.

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