Updated: June 13, 2011



These Study Guides on War Films were originally prepared for a course entitled "Responses to War: An Intellectuall and Cultural History" given in the Department of History at The University of Adelaide between 1989 and 1999.

The Director


Lewis Milestone (1895-1980)

Born near Odessa, Crimea in Russia of Jewish family "Milstein" which emigrated to USA in 1913. Educated in Jewish schools in Russia, University of Ghent, Belgium, engineering college in Mitweide, Germany. LM becomes a photographer's assistant 1915. Served 1917-19 in Army Signal Corps photography section as private. Worked on training films in New York and editing at film laboratory in Army War College, Washington. In 1919 discharged from army, becomes US citizen taking new name of "Milestone", goes to Hollywood where he works as editor and producer. In 1946 appears as an unfriendly witness before the House Un-American Affairs Committee. Because of huge success of AQWF early in his career it was difficult for him to live up to expectations of critics. Many of his later films only of second rank. LM states in an interview - "I've probably had my greatest successes with war films because I've always tried to expose war for what it is and not glorify it."


His better films and other war films include:

  • Two Arabian Knights (1927) silent comedy film about two US POWs who escape to US via Middle East - stars Louis Wolheim
  • All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) which won 2 Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Direction
  • The Front Page (1931) a comedy about unscrupulous newspaper men
  • Anything Goes (1936)
  • The General Died at Dawn (1936)
  • Of Mice and Men (1940) an adaptation of Steinbeck's novel
  • Our Russian Front (1942) a WW2 documentary
  • The Purple Heart (1944)
  • A Walk in the Sun (1946) his thoughtful film about WW2 which uses a soldier's ballad as an important part of the soundtrack (based on his childhood memories of war veterans singing war songs on street corners in Russia)
  • Arch of Triumph (1948 and based on another novel by EMR)
  • The Hall of Montezuma (1951) his film about WW2 in the Pacific
  • They Who Dare (1953) a British war film
  • Pork Chop Hill (1959) his Korean War film about the pointless struggle to take a hill (LM objected to the way Gregory Peck edited the film and walked out before the film was finished, he complained that the Chinese side was removed, thus making it impossible to understand whom the US forces were fighting).

The Film

Meaning of the Title

In German "Im Western Nichts Neues". Remarque ends his novel with the following:

He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front.

The "quiet" was the result of waiting for news of the Armistice talks which were underway between the major powers. The Armistice took effect at 11.00 am November 11, 1918.

Literary Source

Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929)

Born Erich Paul Remark (1898-1970) but later changed it to Erich Maria. Hero of novel, Paul Bäumer, is largely autobiographical (name Paul is significant). EMR's father was a poor book-binder (French soldier PB kills in shell hole is printer - father/son rivalry?). Attended Catholic schools before the war. Had violent arguments with an autocratic Rektor Korthaus, known as "the Butcher" (he becomes Kantorek the teacher in the film). His hobbies inlcuded butterfly collection (PB has collection hanging in his room - represents his old life as a child, important for end of film which is different from novel). Interested in art nouveau or Jugendstil poetry.

EMR called up with his school class 26 November 1916 at age of 18 1/2 years. Had basic training at Westerberg (Klosterberg in film). Sent to western front 12 June 1917 with Second Guards Division in sapper unit laying barbed wire, building dugouts and gun emplacements. Courageously rescued injured comrades twice (like PB rescued Kat in film?). Eventually injured by grenade splinters in Battle of Flanders in July 1917 on first day of English assault. Sent to hospital where he took 14 months to recover, working in hospital as clerk processing new casualties from front. War ended before he recovered. After war EMR tried to return to study to become teacher. Taught for a while but could not settle down. Had a number of jobs, including writing advertising copy before writing novel AQWF in serial form in 1928. Created immediate controversy with veterans arguing about its accuracy as a memoir of the war. By end of 1929 had become bestseller (1 million sales in Germany and another million in translation in Britain, France and US). Hated by Nazis who objected to its pacifist message. Film made quickly after book's appearance. Opening in May 1930 was disrupted by Hitler Youth. Eventually banned in Germany and Italy by fascists. EMR forced into exile. His books were publicly burned at a ceremony at the University of Berlin 11 May, 1933 for being "politically and morally un-German." Copies seized by police and destroyed by order of the Gestapo. In 1938 EMR was deprived of his German citizenship. Interestingly, after 1949 AQWF also banned in Russia and Eastern Europe.

EMR, like many veterans (including Vietnam vets), experienced depression and restlessness after the war. Came to blame his personal problems on the disruption and disillusionment caused by the war. Writing the novel helped him cope with his nightmares and his depression (writing as therapy). Indication of his state of mind revealed by the dedication at the beginning of the novel concerning the effects of the war on the generation of young men who, like PB, went straight from the school room to the trenches, in other words who were "destroyed by war" emotionally and pyschologically:

This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession (although it was both!), and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by war.

Erich Maria Remarque - "Dolce et decorem est pro patria mori" (how sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country.

Kantorek had been our schoolmaster... I can see him now, as he used to glare at us through his spectacles and say in a moving voice: "Won't you join up, Comrades?"

These teachers always carry their feeling ready in their waistcoat pockets, and fetch them out at any hour of the day. But we didn't think of that then.

There was, indeed, one of us who hesitated and did not want to fall into line. That was Josef Behm, a plump, homely fellow. But he did allow himself to be persuaded, otherwise he would have been ostracized. And perhaps more of us thought as he did, but no one could very well stand out, because at that time even one's parents were ready with the word "coward;" no one had the vaguest idea what we were in for...

Strange to say, Behm was one of the first to fall...

Naturally we couldn't blame Kantorek for this. Where would the world be if one brought every man to book? There were thousands of Kantoreks, all of whom were convinced that there was only one way of doing well, and that way theirs.

And that is why they let us down so badly...

While they continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying. While they taught that duty to one's country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. But for all that we were no mutineers, no deserters, no cowards - they were very free with those expressions. We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from the true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of their world left. We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through. (Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) quoted in Bloody Game, pp. 116-8.)

Remarque and the Love of the Soldier for the Earth:

From the earth, from the air, sustaining forces pour into us - mostly from the earth. To no man does the earth mean as much to the soldier. When he presses himself down upon her long and powerfully, when he buries his face and his limbs deep in her from fear of death by shell-fire, then she is his only friend, his bother, his mother; he stifles his terror and his cries in her silence and her security; she shelters him and releases him for ten seconds to live, to run, ten seconds of life; receives him again and oftern for ever.

Earth! - Earth!- Earth!...

At the sound of the first droning of the shells we rush back, in one part of our being, a thousand years. By the animal instinct that is awakened in us we are led and protected. It is not conscious; it is far quicker, much more sure, less fallible, than consciuosness. One cannot explain it. A man is walking along without thought or heed; - suddenly he throws himself down on the ground and a storm of fragments flies harmlessly over him; - yet he cannot remember either to have heard the shell coming or to have thought of flinging himself down. But had he not abandoned himself to the impulse he would now be a heap of mangled flesh. It is this other, this second sight in us, that has thrown us to the ground and saved us, without our knowing how. If it were not so, there would not be one man alive from Flanders to the Vosges.

We march up, moody or good-tempered soldiers - we reach the zone where the front begins and become on the instant human animals. (pp.41-2)

(After a bombardment) At last it grows quiet. The fire has lifted over us and is now droping on the reserves. We risk a look. Red rockets shoot up into the sky. Apparently there is an attack coming.

Where we are it is still quiet. I sit up and shake the recruit by the shoulder. "All over, kid! It's all right this time."

He looks around dazedly. "You'll get used to it soon," I tell him.

He sees his helmet and puts it on. Gradually he comes to. Then suddenly he turns firey red and looks confused. Cautiously he reaches his hand to his behind and looks at me dismally.

I understand at once: Gun-shy. That wasn't the reason I had stuck his helmet over it. "That's no disgrace," I reassure him: "Many's the man before you has had his pants full after the first bombardment. Go behind that bush there and throw your underpants away. Get along - " (pp. 45-6)



The Cast

  • Louis Wolheim - Sgt Katczinsky, the cobbler and fatherly sergeant
  • Lew Ayres - Paul Bäumer, a school-boy soldier and the protagonist
  • Arnold Lucy - Prof. Kantorek the nationalistic school teacher
  • John Wray - Himmelstoss the postman and drill instructor
  • George "Slim" Summerville - Tjaden, the mechanic
  • Russell Gleason - Müller, a school-boy soldier
  • William Bakewell - Albert, a school-boy soldier
  • Scott Kolk - Leer, a school-boy soldier
  • Owen Davis, Jr. - Peter, a school-boy soldier
  • Walter Browne Rogers - Behm, a school-boy soldier and the first to fall
  • Ben Alexander - Kemmerick, a school-boy soldier with the English leather boots
  • Harold Goodwin - Detering, the farmer
  • G. Pat Collins - Lt. Berlenck
  • Richard Alexander - Westhus, the turf cutter Heinie Conklin - Hammacher, an injured soldier
  • Edmund Breese - Herr Mayer
  • Raymond Griffith - the poilu in the shell hole


About the Film

A classic anti-war film which bears its age very well. Originally made as a silent film (some of the acting reveals its origins in the silent era). Noted for innovative sound (use of a mobile crane to record action sequences) and camera work (mobile camera). Filmed in Universal Studio's backlots. Battle scenes at Irvine Ranch, California. Interesting portrayal of horrors of war. Universalises from the German side of war, played by American actors. Showed that even the feared "Hun" was more often than not a scared high school boy. Bitterly attacked by Nazis when it appeared for denigrating the glory of war in general and the German war effort in particular.

Film divided into 4 parts: the enlistment and basic training of the young recruits; the arival at the front and various incidents of trench warfare; PB's injury, stay in hosptial, visit to the home front; PB's return to the front

Modris Eksteins writes of Remarque's novel that:

... All Quiet is more a comment on the postwar mind, on the postwar view of the war, than an attempt to reconstruct the reality of the trench experience. In fact that reality is distorted, as many critics insisted - though with little effect on the initial acclaim for the novel. Remarque's critics said that at the very least he misrepresented the physical reality of the war: a man with his legs or head blown off could not continue to run, they protested vehemently, referring to two of the images Remarque had used. But far more serious than the shoddiness, they claimed, was his lack of understanding of the moral aspects of soldiers' behavior. Soldiers were not robots, devoid of a sense of purpose. They were sustained by a broad spectrum of firmly established values. (p. 282)

Chambers estimates that perhaps 100 miliion people have seen this film since its release in 1930 and that 12 million copies of the novel have been sold.

The Berlin Censorship Board required Universal to cut a number of scenes totalling 33 minutes to allow German release of the film: the recruits beating up the tyrannical corporal Himmelstoß; Himmelstoß's cowardice at the front; the soldiers being starved for food; the soldiers blaming the Kaiser for starting the war and the weapons makers for benefiting from it; the images of Kemmerich's boots as symbol of death; PB's anti-war speech before his schoolteacher and his students.

Various versions of the film exist: the 1930 original (138-140 minutes and possibly 152 mins); the silent version (with story boards ran 30 minutes longer than sound original and had synchronised sound of music, military commands, marching songs); a 1934 version cut to 90 minutes seen in the US (as part of double bill) which included a new introduction warning about the rise of war again (Japan and Hitler); 1939 version with an anti-Nazi commentary and documentary introduction and conclusion with newsreel footage of WW1 and rise of Nazis (strongly isolationist); a 1950 version; the 1979 remake in colour made for CBS TV with Richard Thomas (PB) and Ernest Borgnine (Kat) (3 hours broadcast time, 131 min video release in 1992); video versions of 1930 version (1984 at 103 minutes - the 1934 US version; the "restored" 1987 video version of the 1930 original at 132 minutes).

Historical Background

(no material on this - you had to come to the lecture!)


Modris Eksteins, Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (London: Bantam, 1989). Chap. IX "Memory," pp. 275-99.

Brian A. Rowley, "Journalism into Fiction: Erich Maria Remarque, Im Western nichts Neues," in The First World War in Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Holger Klein (London: Macmillan, 1978), pp. 101-111.

John Whiteclay Chambers II, ""All Quiet on the Western Front' (1930): the antiwar film and the image of the First World War," Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 1994, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 377-411.

Things to Note

  • Constant references (especially in the book - censored from the film) to eating and defecation. Coy reference in film to scared young soldier shitting in his pants out of fear of first artillery bombardment. Reflects soldiers' concerns with simple bodily functions essential to staying alive. Quite risqué for 1928 as it was not "proper" to discuss this. Important aspect of comradeship of the soldiers to share ritual of eating and even defecating.
  • Historical authenticity achieved by Universal studio purchasing French and German uniforms and WW1 era tools, packs, helmets, rifles, machine guns and 2 artillery pieces; shows change in German helmet design during period of war from spiked leather to round steel; set designers included Canadian who had served in Canadian Army; recruits trained by ex-German Army drill master Otto Biber; 2 German Army officers hired as technical advisors; hundreds of extras came from veterans of American Legion in Santa Ana (Chambers, p. 385).
  • LM's claim that, although he did not personally experience combat, he knew what it was "supposed to look like" because of all the film and photographs of the war he had seen when working for the US Army Signal Corps. (Chambers, p. 388)
  • Image of the boots (Kemmerich's English leather flying boots) passed on from soldier to soldier in the group from the same school - whoever wears them eventually dies. Compare with reference to boots in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four - image of the future is a boot stamping in one's face.
  • The hospital scenes, especially in the Catholic Hospital with the "Dying Room" and the fear of losing a limb.
  • Importance of comradeship (mateship) of those in the trenches. Takes on a form of male-to-male love. One of the few positive aspects of war.
  • Important discussion among the young soldiers of the causes of the war. They individually have no complaint against individual Frenchmen or Englishmen - most likely because they had never met one in person. Amusing and sad discussion of how one country could offend another, how one mountain in Germany might offend a field in France. Blames self-interest of Kaiser ("every full-grown emperor needs a war to be famous"), the munitions manufacturers and the generals who benefit from war. Kat comes up with idea of individual combat between monarchs, cabinet ministeres and top generals (only dressed in their underwear) instead of sending conscripts and young men to fight wars. Similar to idea suggested by Tolstoy in Sebastopol Sketches.
  • The bitter way in which EMR treats all members of official authority. Firstly, Kantorek, the school teacher, indoctrinates the young boys with the ideas of Junker militarism (love of Kaiser and Fatherland), calls them the "iron youth of Germany", and urges them to serve their country in war. The person responsible for transmitting classical European culture to a new generation only teaches them the Latin "dolce et decorum est pro patria mori" ("how sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country" - see poem by Wilfred Owen on similar topic). Manipulates the boys to put pressure on the one student who does not wish to volunteer. He is the first to die. Arguments used by K to urge enlistment are to win their fathers' approval, to get the admiration of girls, and for glory. Note PB's confrontation with his old teacher on a trip to the homefront. PB called a coward for saying that personal survival is more important than patriotism (compare with Dax's remarks to Brulard in Kubrick's Paths of Glory). Secondly, Himmelstoß the postman - "I'll make a slodier out of you or kill you!" He is a nobody in civilian life but when in uniform he becomes a petty tyrant (like Hitler? Says "I'll make soldiers out of you or kill you") and bullies the boys in basic training (lying in the mud, "changing trains" under the tables in the barracks - aspects of what the modern historian Paul Fussell in Wartime terms "chickenshit," namely a vital part of the process of breaking down their individuality and civilian inhibitions about obeying orders without question). EMR concludes that authority corrupts "the little men." Compare with Kubrick's treatment of basic training in Full Metal Jacket made 57 years later.
  • EMR's belief that fraternity between soldiers crosses national boundaries. The scene when PB meets a Frenchman for the first time face to face in a shell hole and is forced to stab him shows this very clearly. PB states that he was only killing "an abstraction", a view of other people taught to him by his teacher Kantorek. He did not see the truth, namely that the Frenchman is a comrade - "just a man like me". He asks the Frenchman's forgiveness and declares that they are not the true enemies. Compare Pabst's Westfront 1918 (1930). If they threw away their weapons and uniforms they could be true comrades, or be a brother like Kat. Tries to wash his blood-stained hands in water at the bottom of the shell hole (like Lady Macbeth who cannot wash away the stain of her crime). Compare with Kubrick's Paths of Glory - who are the real enemies of the men in the trenches?
  • The implicit and explicit references to sex (again much clearer in the novel but largley cut out of the film). Sex is one of the experiences denied to the young men who went straight from the classroom into the trenches, along with jobs, higher education and a life of their own. Only coy references to this in the film (the scene with the poster of the woman in the bar and more explicity the rendez-vous with the French peasant girls - PB's first sexual experience). EMR blames the war for depriving his generation of normal life experiences and opportunities.
  • The argument EMR makes that the home front and the western front are separated by a huge gulf of (mis)understanding - PB's frustration with his father and the other "bar-room generals" who have no concept of trench warfare or that the war was at a stalemate and could not be won. Impact of total war on civilians - lack of food on the home front (1917 famine), war of attrition, lack of adequate supplies late in the war (white bread), better supplied French and English troops, role of America, conscription of "boys" later in war. War weariness 1917-8.
  • The various endings: the novel has a matter of fact statement of his death and a brief battle report that "all was quiet" (like the poet Wilfred Owen, who died one week before the Armistice, PB dies 1 month before); the 1930 film has the butterfly scene (with LM's hand not LA's) and the montage of crosses and the faces of his fallen comrades in a "parade of the dead"; the filmmakers proposed a number of alternative endings including a dream sequence of marching French and German soldiers which PB tries to warn, armies of the world marching into a common grave, PB leaning against a trench wall being transfixed by image of ghost army of dead soldiers marching across sky.
  • Compare with Abel Gance's J'Accuse (1937) where the dead from WW1 rise up to stop another world war.
  • Compare the original novel with the feminist response by the Australian journalist Evadne Price (Helen Zenna Smith), Not so Quiet... Stepdaughters of War (London: Virago, 1988). Based upon a diary of an English nurse of her experiences during WW1. Similar story of disillusionment and anger of a woman volunteer ambulance driver. Orignally intended as a satire of a bestseller.
  • Compare AQWF with other contemporary anti-war films: Journey's End (1930) based upon the play by the British officer Robert C. Sherrif and Pabst's Westfront 1918 (1930) based upon the novel by Ernst Johannsen, Vier von der Infanterie (1929).
  • The joy of marching to war in August 1914. Compare Hitler's Mein Kampf - like a storm clearing the air on a sultry afternoon.
  • The assumption that war will be a quick one ("home by Christmas") like the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. "Nach Paris" written on blackboard.
  • New kinds of war injuries. Reluctance of military authorities to recognise condition of "shell shock" - result of new intensity of fighting industrialised war. Military hospital. Incidence of amputations (Whalen, Bitter Wounds, art of Grosz and Dix). Discussion by soldiers of relative merits of head vs stomach wounds.
  • Historical authenticity of EMR's account of trench warfare - stalemate of trenches, No Man's Land, use of bayonettes, trenching tools for close fighting, use of machine gun, artillery bombardment, boredom of troops, rats and lice, snipers, tanks and aeroplanes later in war.
  • Reception of book and film in 1928-30. Reaction of Nazis and veterans. Context of Weimar Republic - disillusionment of veterans. Rise of Nazi-Communist violence.
  • Technological advances in war fighting - machine gun, artillery, tanks, trucks for transport (still used millions of horses). 1870 first European war to use railways. WW1 first fully mechanised war?
  • Lew Ayres (PB) became a pacifist as a result of making the film and thus found it difficult to get work. During WW2 he was a conscientious objector and then unarmed medical corpsman in Army Medical Corps.