Watching Old Movies: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Woot! Finally made it to the 1930’s! And it only took me a couple of months to do so! Procrastination ho!

Also, just notifying you all of a bit of a change in format. Specifically, that, since I bring up my love of animation at almost every opportunity, it might be a neat try checking out some of the early cartoon shorts that often played before movies in the 1930’s, one for each year as a sort of pre-show before the main entry. Since most of them can be found on youtube (and are only about 5-10 minutes long) I’ll post them with them entry so you can all check them out as well.

Also, I’m resetting the rankings counter so it doesn’t get too long. Don’t worry though, I’ll post the full ranking list at the end of each decade. Anyway, with all that out of the way…

 

1930

 

Highest Grossing Film: Tom Sawyer- $11,000,000

Best Picture: All Quiet on the Western Front

 

What happened this year?

Who knows what secrets lie in the hearts of 1930’s man?… The Shadow knows! Mainly because this was the year that his radio drama started airing. However, he wasn’t the only one. This was also the year where Betty Boop, the Looney Tunes and one Mickey Mouse all appeared. Oh and so did Hostess Twinkies. And chocolate-chip cookies. And Pluto. (The ex-planet, not Mickey’s dog.) This was a big year for discovering a lot of stuff.

However, that didn’t mean it was uneventful news-wise either. This was also the year that Mahatma Gandhi began his protests against the British government for the sake of Indian Independence, including his infamous 200 mile march to the sea to protest the British salt laws, culminating with him breaking said laws via making salt from the sea.

As for other inspiring ‘people’, Elm Farm Ollie became the first cow ever to fly in an airplane. And also the first cow ever to be milked on an airplane. Because apparently both of these were things that needed to happen?

Anyway, for famous births, we’ve got quite a few this time. Robert Loggia, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong Gene Hackman (who fyi, I was amazed to learn is actually still alive today?), Steven Sondheim, Steve McQueen, Rolf Harris (who unfortunately is still alive today), Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery, Richard Harris, Harold Pinter and Jean Luc Godard.

Phew. That all done? Great. Now on with the pre-show and it’s a pretty fucked up one to start us off with. But Ruk, I hear you cry, how fucked up can a 1930’s cartoon short really be? Well…

 

Pre-Show: Swing you Sinners

 

My Thoughts:

Haha, I told you this was fucked up. Seriously, I pity any kid who watched this in the 1920’s because it would be traumatising as shit. Hey kids, who wants to come and watch a cartoon about a chicken thief being haunted by a cavalcade of nightmares and having his soul condemned to hell?!

Seriously though, I actually enjoyed the hell out of this. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting from an early cartoon short, but I thought it was inventive, exciting and fucked up in a demented but entertaining way.

Honestly, it’s actually quite interesting to see a non-Disney early cartoon short (this was created by the Fleischer brothers) and how it differs from the regular Disney product/path that most mainstream animation ended up following. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about the motions, the movements, the everything that seems so subconsciously different from how we’re used to seeing cartoons move. And in this case, it really does work to help the atmosphere that the short is trying to create as everything comes off as more exaggerated and surreal and demented. Ghosts and skeletons and hellish creatures crowd the screen, adding to the more nightmarish quality. It’s really quite a trip.

I will say, if I had any criticism, it’d be that the sound quality isn’t the greatest and I couldn’t tell what the creatures were singing half the time (although that might’ve just been the low quality youtube vid), but this was still definitely worth a watch for a demented old cartoon from the early days of animation. I had a great time with it. A

 

Now, onto the main feature, which is certainly horrific in its own way…

 

Main Feature: All Quiet on the Western Front

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Plot:  War, huh? What is it good for? Absolutely nothing, uh huh. Seriously though, WWI was fucked up. Really fucked up. And nowhere is that better demonstrated than through this movie, which shows us the horrors of the battlefield through the eyes of its main protagonist, Paul Baumer, a once idealistic schoolboy embittered by his experiences in the front.

Trivia: Final film of Raymond Griffith, who played the dying French soldier Gerard Duval stabbed by Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres). He had lost his voice through illness as a child. A popular silent-film star, the coming of sound meant the end of his career. Speaking of Lew Ayres, in part because of his experience in playing the part of Paul Baumer, he became a conscientious objector during the Second World War.

 

My Thoughts:

Okay, fun fact, I actually tried to watch this movie about 7 years ago. Key word being ‘tried’. See, at the time I’d been reading the novel version of ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ and absolutely loved the shit out of it (and still do, tbh, it’s one of my favourite novels of all time). But I was also at that stupid age where I was convinced that ‘good adaptation’ required 100% slavish replication of the original and that significant changes turned the whole thing into garbage. So I gave up on the movie about 5 minutes in because I didn’t like them starting off with the Kantorek classroom scene. Because I was dumb like that.

So here I am, 7 years later, a little older and (hopefully) a little wiser sitting down to watch it again. The original novel has sufficiently aged in my mind that I’m not so obsessive about changes to the source material and I’m interested to see whether it was actually the masterpiece so many have praised it as or whether my original opinion was actually fair representation.

To cut a long story short, 16yo me was a dumbass. This movie is fantastic.

Oh, it makes a lot of changes from the source material, certainly, and not all of them for the best, imo. But both the direction and writing are strong enough that it really doesn’t matter and it definitely manages to capture the key themes of the novel, of the difference between the fiction of war and the reality, of how war does more than physically damage the soldiers fighting it (although it does plenty of that to boot) of the view from the lower end of the totem pole. But it also captures a lot of the smaller things about the book that I loved, like the camaraderie and friendship between the soldiers, the dynamics between the older embittered soldiers and freshfaced newbies, the sense of constant tension and suffering on the front line.

I will say, however, there are a couple of things that I wasn’t so fond of. Mainly Lew Ayres, the actor playing the main protagonist. He’s not awful by any means and does a decent enough job acting as our everyman and eyes though which we witness the wars, but he’s also a little stiff and not particularly great at delivering some of the film’s more emotional and dramatic moments. I’m thinking of the Frenchman in the foxhole in particular, but there were a lot of smaller moments were I wasn’t all that impressed with his delivery

Also, as mentioned, there were a few changes from the novel that I wasn’t so fond of. The speech to Kantorek’s class near the end, for example, I thought was kinda hammering in the themes a bit much and felt a touch unnatural to the impressive realism of the source material. I guess I can understand why it was included, since it adds a bit of a book ends/climax to a source material somewhat lacking in that sort of strong structure (to its benefit in the book, imo) but it just didn’t work for me. Honestly, the final third in general was where it felt like it began to lose steam. Even Paul’s death in the movie, as iconic as it was, felt inferior to me to the sheer nothingness of the book’s death.

In conclusion, while I do still this movie is inferior to the novel, it is definitely a masterpiece in its own right. It’s a harrowing look at the horrors of war and the people who fight them and you can still feel its influence to this day in productions like Hacksaw Ridge. Honestly, if I hadn’t read the source material first and somewhat polluted my mind with what it could be, I might have given this an even higher mark. As it is, I’m still giving it a strong A/A-

 

Feature Rankings (1930s):

  1. All Quiet on the Western Front- A/A-

 

Short Rankings (1930s):

  1. Swing, you Sinners- A
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