Paul Baumer is a young German who, along with his graduating high school classmates, enlist in the German Imperial Army during the First World War. Originally thinking war would be a great adventure, Paul and his friends discover exactly the opposite as the war drags on and one by one the members of the class are killed in action until only Paul remains.
Richard Thomas ... Paul Baumer
Ernest Borgnine ... Stanislaus Katczinsky
Donald Pleasence ... Kantorek
Ian Holm ... Himmelstoss
Patricia Neal ... Paul's Mother
Paul Mark Elliott ... Behm
David Bradley ... Kropp
George Winter ... Kemmerich
Dominic Jephcott ... Leer
Director: Delbert Mann
DivX 3 / MP3
Based on the excellent anti-war novel written by Erich Maria Remarque, Delbert Mann's "All Quiet on the Western Front" is the rare TV movie with feature film quality.
Richard Thomas stars as young German Paul Baumer who, with his graduating classmates, is considered "Germany's Iron Youth", the young men who will take Paris, ultimately winning World War I. This eager graduating high school class, believing the propaganda, enlists in the Kaiser's Imperial German Army and is sent to basic and infantry training. Baumer, although swept along with this youthful fervor to crush the French, subtly maintains his doubts about war. As his high school teacher, after catching Baumer sketching a Lark perched on the classroom window sill, observes, "You are a dreamer, Baumer."
In training they are subjected to power happy Corporal Himmelstoss (Ian Holm) who is their military instructor. "I am a good teacher", Himmelstoss tells his charges on the first day of training, "Because what I will teach you, you will never forget. Never." The problem is, Himmelstoss has no frontline experience and even worse, he allows personal bias to govern his training pattern when he takes a dislike to Baumer and intentionally subjects him to unnecessary activities.
The class graduates and is sent to the Western Front. Upon arrival, they are met by Pvt. Stanislaus Katczinsky (Ernest Borgnine), former cobbler by trade and now "old hand" as he puts it, assigned to orientate the new troops to life at the front. "In training camp they filled your head with alot of fancy knowledge", Kat says, "we are going to work hard...to forget all that." He continues sadly, "I will teach you practical things, like how to put your diapers on in the trenches and how to kill Frenchies." Baumer and his class are now at war.
Director Delbert Mann and screenwriter Paul Monash brilliantly captured the horror of World War I and war in general. All the elements of life in the trenches is here: huge rats crawling over and eating the unburied dead, the knee deep mud, cracking up under the three day long shellings which proceed a major attack, the terror of poison gas attacks, machine-guns mowing down troops in droves, grenades blowing limbs off, the loss of friends, amputations, death and destruction. This is a dirty film. Baumer, Kat and the others almost always have mud and dirt caked on their hands and uniforms.
But "All Quiet on the Western Front" goes further than demonstrating physical hardship and destruction. It is mainly the story psychological destruction. After over a year at or near the front, Baumer is sent home on leave. While attempting to become reaquainted with his family and friends, he begins to realize he doesn't seem to fit in at home anymore. Even his own bedroom seems alien to him. And to make matters worse, while visiting with his father and his father's friend, the conversation turns to the war. Baumer drops out of the conversation and is subjected to listening to the older men talk about strategy and the ways of battle when they themselves have never had the experience.
"All Quiet on the Western Front" is also as historically accurate as they come. The equipment, weapons, uniforms, trucks, civilian clothes, even the German style military marching (this is prior to the well known Nazi "goose-step") is right from the 1914-1918 time period. Cheers to Delbert Mann for his eye for detail. And the battle sequences are as real and grisly as "Saving Private Ryan".
This film, released theatrically overseas back in 1979, should have also been released to the theaters in the U.S. rather than TV. Perhaps the producers felt a story this sad would not do well in the box office. This is a shame. The entire cast gave a fantastic performance and I would have been surprised if Richard Thomas or Ernest Borgnine hadn't been nominated for an Academy Award. Ditto for Delbert Mann as Best Director and Paul Monash for Best Adapted Screenplay. Thankfully, the version on video is the theatrically released film with more graphic scenes and no commercial breaks.
In the haunting words of Erich Maria Remarque which open the film, "This story is neither an accusation nor a confession and least of all, an adventure, for death is not an adventure for those who stand face to face with it. Rather, it is to tell the story of a generation of men who, although they may have escaped it's shells, were destroyed by the War." "All Quiet on the Western Front" contains no poetry-it is simply war.
# In the scene of Kaiser Wilhelm pinning medals on the soldiers, the Kaiser uses only his right arm and hand, while an aide holds the soldiers' tunics - a nice historically accurate detail, since the real Kaiser Wilhelm had a stunted and withered left arm that was virtually useless.