Film Study: All Quiet on the Western Front

Movie Worksheet

American soldier lower right, wears knit bag and helmet that was thought to not have been issued to American Soldiers. Archive Holdings Inc./ The Image Bank/ Getty Images

There are two film adaptations of "All Quiet on the Western Front"  Erich Maria Remarque's novel (1928).  Conscripted to serve in the German army during World War I, the novel reflects many of his personal experiences. Remarque left Germany after the novel's publication when the Nazi's banned his writings and publically burned his books. His German citizenship was revoked, and four years later  (1943) his sister was executed for stating that she believed Germany had already lost the war. At her sentencing, the court judge is reported to have said:

"Your brother is unfortunately beyond our reach—you, however, will not escape us".

Screenplays

Both versions are English language films (made in America) and both take a hard look at the tragedy of war using World War I as its backdrop. Following Remarque's story, a group of German schoolboys is encouraged to enlist at the beginning of World War I by their war-glorifying teacher.

Their experiences are told entirely through the point-of-view of one particular recruit, Paul Baumer. What happens to them in and off the battlefields, on the "no-mans-land" of trench warfare,  collectively highlights the tragedy of war, death, and mutilation all around them. Preconceptions about "the enemy" and the "rights and wrongs" of the are challenged leaving them angry and bewildered.

"The film is not about heroism but about drudgery and futility and the gulf between the concept of war and the actuality."

That sentiment is true of both film versions.

1930 Film

The first black and white version was released in 1930.  The director was Lewis Milestone, and the cast starred: Louis Wolheim (Katczinsky), Lew Ayres (Paul Baumer), John Wray (Himmelstoss), Slim Summerville (Tjaden), Russell Gleason (Muller), William Bakewell (Albert), Ben Alexander (Kemmerich). The version ran 133 minutes and was critically acclaimed as the first film to win the Oscar's combined prize (Best Picture + Best Production) as Best Picture. 

Frank Miller, a writer for the Turner Movie Classics website recorded that the battle scenes for the film were shot on Laguna Beach ranch land. He noted that:

"To fill the trenches, Universal hired more than 2,000 extras, most of them World War I veterans. In a rare move for Hollywood, the battle scenes were shot in sequence."

After a 1930 release by Universal Studios, the film was banned in Poland on the grounds that it was pro-German. At the same time, members of the Nazi Party in Germany labeled the film anti-German. According to Turner Movie Classics website, the Nazis were deliberate in their attempts to stop the showing of the film:

"Joseph Goebbels, later their propaganda minister, led pickets in front of theatres showing the film and sent party members to lead riots inside the theatres. Their tactics included releasing rats in the crowded theatres and setting off stink bombs."

Those actions say a great deal about the power of this film as an anti-war film.

1979 Made-for-TV Movie

The  1979 version was a made-for-TV movie directed by  Delbert Mann on a $6 million budget. Richard Thomas starred as Paul Baumer, with Ernest Borgnine as Katczinsky, Donald Pleasence as Kantorek and Patricia Neal as Mrs. Baumer. The film was awarded the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Made for TV. 

All Movie Guide.com reviewed the remake as:

"Also contributing to the greatness of the film are the exceptional cinematography and special effects that, while realistically gruesome, truly emphasize the horrors of war."​​

Although both of the films are classified as war movies, each version shows the futility of war.

Questions for All Quiet on the Western Front

As you watch the movie, please answer the following questions. 

Fill in the critical information including:

  • Title of this film?
  • When was it made?
  • Director?
  • Screenplay by?

These questions follow the sequence of action for EITHER version:

  1. Why did the students join the Army?
  2. What role did the mailman (Himmelstoss) have? Was he particularly mean to these recruits? Give an example.
  3. How were conditions at the Western Front different from their expectations in training camp?
    (note: visual, audio, special effects used to create mood)
  4. What was the impact of the shelling on the new recruits?
  5. What happened after the bombardment?
  6. In the attack, what did the machine gun do to the glory of war and individual heroism?
  7. How many of the company died in this first battle? How do you know? Why were they able to eat so well finally?
  8. Who did they blame for this war? Who did they omit in their list of potential villains?
  9. What happened to Kemmerich's boots? How did the doctors' react to Kemmerich's plight?
  10. How was SGT Himmelstoss received when he arrived at the front?
  11. What was the pattern of a battle? What preceded the attack? What followed it?
    (note: visual, audio, special effects used to create mood)
  12. What happened to Paul Baumer when he found himself in a shell hole in No Man's Land with the French soldier?
  1. Why did the French girls - ostensibly the enemy - accept the German soldiers?
  2. After four years of war, how has the German home front been affected? Were there still the parades, crowded streets, and joyous sounds of going off to war?
    (note: visual, audio, special effects used to create mood)
  3. What were the attitudes of the men in the beer hall? Were they willing to listen to what Paul had to say?
  4. How does Paul Baumer confront his former teacher? How do the young students react to his vision of the war?
  5. How has the company changed during Paul's absence?
  6. What is ironic about Kat's and Paul's deaths? [Note: WWI ended on November 11, 1918.]
  7. Select one scene in order to describe the attitude of this film (Director/screenplay) towards World War I and all wars.