All Quiet on the Western Front

Modris Eksteins on how the Hollywood treatment of Erich von Remarque's book describing the Great War 'from the other side' impacted on a Europe traumatised by slaughter and fearful of its future repetition.

I hate it', Sydney Carroll told his Sunday readers after seeing All Quiet on the Western Front in June 1930. 'It made me shudder with horror. It brought the war back to me as nothing has ever done before since 1918'. But then the Sunday Times' critic added that he admired the film too, for the same reason: its realism, 'its unshrinking crudity, ... as colossal as the world-war itself'. And finally, with a flourish, he called All Quiet 'the greatest of all war films'.

That ambivalent reaction to Lewis Milestone's award-winning classic is one that many have shared, both at the time and since. The battle sequences still exude, more than sixty years later, an extraordinary energy, and indeed a verisimilitude that has led to their inclusion over the years in many a documentary about the First World War. The one massive attack and retreat sequence, where the battle line sways to and fro, amidst explosions, smoke, barbed wire and horror, only to return to its original position, remains breath-taking.

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