Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Greatest War Film Ever Made


I am commemorating the 100th Centennial of the start of the Great War by watching All Quiet on the Western Front today.  I'm talking about the original 1930 version, not the stupid remake they did in 1979.  Seriously, has Hollywood had an original thought since 1970?  Rumor has it that they are going to remake it again as it is allegedly in pre-production.  All they make today is remakes of old classics and usually crappy ones at that, but I digress.

Of course, the novel upon which the film is based is a masterpiece.  Remarque was a veteran of the war and he truly captured the horror of the First World War in a way that few other writers have done since.  It was first published in serial form in a magazine in 1928 and then in novel form in 1929.  It sold 2.5 million copies in the first 18 months alone!  That is amazing given the time period.  They didn't have Amazon back then.  It is the best war novel and the best anti-war novel at the same time.  A lot of people don't know this, but Remarque wrote two sequels to it, The Road Back and Three Comrades.  The Nazis had no use for Remarque as his novels were critical of war.  They much preferred Ernst Junger.  Once the Nazis came to power, Remarque moved to Switzerland.  His sister was executed by the Nazis in 1943 for "undermining morale."  Allegedly the judge said "Your brother is beyond our reach but you, however, will not escape us."  The judge was later killed in an Allied bombing raid on Berlin.  We call that karma.  Remarque was married a couple of times but his third and final wife was the actress Paulette Goddard.  She is one of my favorites.  She was a redhead and also incredibly hot, but those two usually go together don't they?

The film is just as remarkable as the book.  Novels do not always translate well to film but this is an exception.  It is just as moving today as it was when it was released.  The themes are universal and appeal to people across the world.  I first saw this movie when I was a young man, probably elementary school aged if my memory serves me correctly.  The depictions of the horrors of trench warfare defy any attempt to explain it.  I read the book when I was in elementary school as well.  (I was already reading on a high school level by the time I was in 4th grade.)

This fall I will begin using the novel in my US History Since 1877 course.  I am going to work in several different assignments with it that connect with both World War 1 and World War 2.  All of this is in an attempt to make my courses a little different and perhaps more rewarding for my students.  I think there is a lot that they can take away from reading this novel.  At least I hope there is.

Allow me to quote from it briefly.  "This book is to be 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.  It will simply try to tell of a generation of men who, though they may have escaped the shells, were destroyed by the war."

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who is grateful this book caught my eye on the shelf at the B. Dalton bookstore at the mall sometime around 1988.