The silent version of the best picture Academy Award winner All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), in my view the greatest war movie ever made, will be screened at New York City’s Film Forum on Monday, Aug. 3. Showtimes are at 3:20, 6:50, and 9:20.
Having been restored and preserved by the Library of Congress, and featuring two reels cut from the original talkie print following the film’s East and West Coast premieres, this silent version – edited from the foreign negative – comes with musical accompaniment intended for foreign markets where theaters hadn’t yet been equipped to sound. (I should add that in the silent and early talkie eras, major productions were frequently filmed with two cameras placed side by side, with the second negative used for foreign prints).
According to the Film Forum press release, this version boasts “more fluid camera movements, smoother editing transitions, more character details, even synch French dialogue missing from the talkie.” Here’s hoping it also features the scene featuring carefree, nude young men frolicking in a lake, a bit that was later deemed indecent by the sex-crazed prudes at the Hays Office.
Directed by Lewis Milestone, and adapted by George Abbott, Maxwell Anderson, and Del Andrews from Erich Maria Remarque’s classic anti-war novel, All Quiet on the Western Front stars fresh-faced Lew Ayres as a German schoolboy whose concept of war consists of love of country, adventure, bravery, honor, and glory. Once the wholesale slaughter of human beings begin, the schoolboy and his equally naive (stupid?) mates change their minds about war – World War I in this case – rather rapidly.
Most people remember the butterfly bit – a hand reaching out for beauty but finding death instead – and the moment in the trenches when Ayres’ character talks to a soldier he’s just killed, but my two favorite moments in All Quiet on the Western Front are those when the schoolboy-turned-war veteran talks about the horrors of war to a bunch of school kids who refuse to have their dreams of valor shattered, and the film’s final moment, when all those young, male corpses-to-be turn to face the camera while marching on to battle.
In addition to its best picture and best director wins, All Quiet on the Western Front was nominated for two other Academy Awards: best cinematography (Arthur Edeson) and best screenplay.
Photo: Courtesy Photofest