All Quiet on the Western Front is an Academy Award-winning film based on the Erich Maria Remarque novel All Quiet on the Western Front. It was directed by Lewis Milestone, and stars Louis Wolheim, Lew Ayres, John Wray, Arnold Lucy and Ben Alexander.
Released in 1930, it is considered a realistic and harrowing account of war and World War I, and was named #54 on the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies. Also, in 1990, this film was selected and preserved by the United States Library of Congress' National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
The film opens with a military parade and a rousing speech by a schoolmaster convincing his young students to enlist and "save the fatherland". The young enlistees are then portrayed in basic training, aching for "action" fighting in the war. Their training officer tells them to forget everything they know, they are going to become soldiers. Rigorous training diminishes the recruits' enthusiasm some. But after little more than marching drills, suddenly the cadets are told they are "going up front".
Next the new soldiers arrive by train to the combat zone. It is mayhem with soldiers everywhere, incoming bombs and horse-drawn wagons racing around and rain. One in the group is killed before they even move away from the train. The new soldiers "fresh from the turnip patch" are assigned to a unit composed of older soldiers who are not exactly accommodating. The young soldiers are shocked to find out there is no food available at their post. They have not eaten since breakfast but their new unit has not had food for two days. They have sent out a scrounger to locate something to eat and he returns with a slaughtered hog. The young soldiers have to "pay" for their dinner with cigarettes.
"For the fatherland" the young soldiers unit is sent out on night duty. They travel packed into a flat cargo truck like sardines. The driver leaves them saying "If there's any of you left, there will be someone here to pick you up in the morning". The young recruits look longingly at the truck as it leaves. An experienced soldier gives the "schoolboys" some real world instructions, telling them how to deal with incoming shells, "When you see me flop, you flop. Only try to beat me to it". The unit is stringing wire and trying to avoid shells. Flares light up the night sky as the enemy tries to spot them, machine guns sound and a bombardment (heavy incoming shells) starts. A young soldier is blinded by shrapnel and runs around screaming. Most of the soldiers stay low in the trenches. When the truck arrives in the morning most of the unit has survived. More rain.
Back at the base (bunker in the trenches), the soldiers play cards and fight off the rats who eat their food and gear. The young soldiers are showing signs of great stress: nightmares, shaking uncontrollably, and screaming about the unrelenting bombs. A wall collapses and buries one of the recruits. No place is safe, not the front, not the base. There is no relief from the war. The celebratory parade already seems a distant memory. One recruit loses control, runs out of the trench and is injured. Some of the soldiers want to leave the trench and attack but the enemy seems to have superior firepower. When food finally comes, the men have to fight to get their share. Then they are overcome by rats and kill them with spades. Suddenly there is a break in the bombing and the men are ordered out to fight.
A loud rumbling can be heard as the enemy approaches and then more shells. Now the soldiers are in trenches with rifles ready as incoming shells move closer and closer. They can do nothing but wait and hope. Now the enemy is in view running toward the trenches, but the Germans hold their fire until the enemy is close. At least they have the advantage of being in trenches, the enemy is advancing over an open field. The Germans use machine gun fire and hand grenades and they rifles to mow down the enemy, quite effectively. The enemy suffers great losses but succeeds in entering the trenches where hand-to-hand combat with bayonets commences.
The enemy overruns the trenches and the Germans fall back, occupying bomb craters. The enemy is overwhelming now and the Germans fall back to a second row of trenches. German shells rain heavily on the enemy after which the Germans attack in hand-to-hand combat. The enemy has occupied the first row of trenches with machine gun positions and inflict heavy casualties on the Germans. The battle winds down. 70 of the 150 men in the unit have been killed. The cook is mad because he cooked for 150. (54 minutes)