All Quiet on the Western Front

Movie Review #728

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Editor’s note: Technically, this is a TV movie I’m reviewing, which is against the rules I know. But since I had to submit the following movie review anyway to my history teacher (in whose class I watched the movie), I figured I may as well let the rest of you read it, as well. Plus, it got a limited release in a few European countries, so I guess it kind of qualifies…

Directed by Delbert Mann. Screenplay by Paul Monash. (Novel: Erich Maria Remarque.) Produced by Norman Rosemont for Norman Rosemont Productions, in association with Marble Arch Productions and ITC Entertainment Group. Starring Richard Thomas, Ernest Borgine, Donald Pleasence, Ian Holm, Dai Bradley, George Winter, Mark Drewry, Colin Mayes, Ewan Stewart, and Drahomira Fialkova. Distributed by CBS in the USA on November 14, 1979. Not Rated. Runs 150 minutes. Alternate versions run 123 minutes and 131 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews two stars

The 1930 adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s revered novel All Quiet on the Western Front has long been considered a classic in its own right. It’s been considered one of the sound era’s earliest and sturdiest paragons of a motion picture. Many, for sure, would go as far as to call the film one of the founding fathers of the war genre, and to top all of that off, it won the third-ever Academy Award for Best Picture. The film had many films to stand above in its time, as filmmakers and moviegoers were still in love with World War One movies for a whole two decades after the Great War had ended. 1930’s rendition of “All Quiet on the Western Front”, therefore, follows a cinematic trend, but it is considered the absolute and unarguable best of this trend.

But this isn’t the version of the story that I’m reviewing. I am reviewing the 1979 remake, the second adaptation of Remarque’s novel, and a complete schlock. It is crucial that one remembers not to confuse the adaptations. I have yet to see the original rendition of the story, or to read the novel, but I can only imagine that, had he been alive to watch it, Remarque would have gouged his eyes out.

“All Quiet on the Western Front” was released three months after “Apocalypse Now”, which to this day remains a far better war movie. Much unlike that classic, “All Quiet on the Western Front” is as cheesy as a grilled cheese sandwich. Speaking of grilled cheese sandwiches, I’m dying to have one, and I’d rather discuss grilled cheese sandwiches than discuss this dragging, uneventful snoozer. I mean, don’t we all love a grilled cheese sandwich now and then? It’s a mighty fine culinary joy.

But I digress. There’s no calling “All Quiet on the Western Front” a mighty fine cinematic joy (and in fact, it’s utterly joyless), but it is indeed possible to look at the film as a work of art. Should one look at it for its magnificent ability to produce poor-quality acting, then it’s a wonder to behold, because even the best of the best appear here. Donald Pleasence, a year before the fact, delivered a stellar performance as the detective in “Halloween”. Now he’s the target of our laughter. And Ernest Borgnine established his career with endlessly acclaimed war movies (“From Here to Eternity”, “The Dirty Dozen”). He always seems to play the one guy we listen to and connect with. Not that he’s at his absolute worst here, but watching him as a mentoring figure to the protagonist in “All Quiet on the Western Front”, it’s quite difficult to take him seriously.

“All Quiet on the Western Front” is ambitious in its story, but that’s given a cliché screenplay and a director with absolutely no vision of the project. Come on now, these hospital scenes got so rowdy, they reminded me of “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”! Could the Delbert Mann listed as the film’s director even possibly be the same Delbert Mann who earned an Oscar for his directorial debut, 1955’s “Marty”? Anything that should be emotionally effective often comes off as laughable. The movie does have its moments, the strongest of which depicts euthanizing a horse. Scenes like these let us see the horrors of war through the characters’ reactions. But for the most part, “All Quiet on the Western Front” is a hopeless movie. It’s clearly positioned as an anti-war movie, and “war is hell” does come through here and there. More often than that, though, it’s “war is boring as hell.”

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Cinemaniac Reviews will have a new posting schedule, effective immediately. Until further notice, there will be only three reviews every week: a Monday review, a Thursday review, and a Saturday review.

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT IS AVAILABLE ON DVD AND VHS.

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