I first became aware of All Quiet on the Western Front when I saw the beginning of the 1979 TV movie remake that had Richard Thomas, aka Johnboy from the Waltons. It was a Saturday in May of 1987, channel 5 was showing it at 11pm which was their Movie Club program. They would show classic films, or whatever they could get their hands on. I remember they would get regular people to introduce the movie.
On this night I was still up and started to watch the beginning of the movie, the first thirty minutes or so before I got tired and went to bed. But what I saw impressed me and I decided I should find the novel and read this book.
A few days later, or a week later, not easy to remember back thirty years ago, I was in my English class. An announcement was made that in order to get ready for the fall semester in the event that you end up in AP English, everyone in the class was required to read two books over the summer. One was A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Guess what the other one was?
I waited to the end of the class and went up to see Mrs. Kalansky my English teacher. I told her that I had recently watched a TV movie version of All Quiet on the Western Front and was so impressed with the story that I was planning on reading the book. But now since I'm being told I have to read the book, I don't want to read it.
She gently pulled the slip of paper from my hand that had the titles of the books on them, folded it neatly and put it under her attendance book. She told me don't worry about this, read the book. I explained that I really wanted to read it, but don't want to if I have to. She said forget about the assignment, just read the book, you will enjoy it.
I took her advice and she was right, it is one of the finest novels I have ever read. A Separate Peace on the other hand annoyed me and have no interest in ever reading it again. But I have recommended All Quiet on the Western Front to many people. I even remember buying a copy at a book sale in college and gave it to someone who said they hadn't read it.
So Mrs. Kalansky, I hope you are in good health and encouraging more rebellious students to read. This post is dedicated to you for your advice and for being a really good teacher.
Why should you see this film? It is an American war epic. It was the first movie to win Best Picture and Best Director, the great director Lewis Milestone earning the honor. It's in the Library of Congress National Film Registry. And most of all, it is a really, really good movie. Based on the novel, the story follows Paul Baumer as he is first enticed into joining the army to fight for the Fatherland, he arrival at the war, his attempts to survive and eventually understanding that war is not glamorous.
Great acting by the very underrated Lew Ayres who looks even younger than he did in the Dr. Kildare movies, and Louis Wolheim a great silent film actor, who was a math teacher before acting and was discovered by Lionel Barrymore. The sound and visual effects are amazing considering that this was made in the early era of sound.
It is a graphic war movie and was made in the pre-code era, so it may seem to be a bit more violent that most older films you might be used to watching. Don't let this keep you from seeing it, the story is so moving and is one of those films you need to see at some point in your life. And if you are a fan of war movies, you will appreciate the quality of this lost gem.