All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

This is the first major anti-war film of the sound era, faithfully based upon the timeless, best-selling 1929 novel by Erich Maria Remarque. The film was advertised with the brooding face of one of the young German recruits sent into World War I. It was a critical and financial success, and probably the greatest of pacifist, anti-war films - the grainy black and white film is still not dated and the film hasn't lost its initial impact. The episodic film is still one of the few early sound films that modern audiences watch.

The film includes a series of vignettes and scenes that portray the senselessness and futility of war from the sympathetic point of view of the young German soldiers in the trenches in the Great War who found no glory on the battlefield, meeting only death and disillusionment. Paul Baumer (21 year old Lew Ayres in a star-making role) and seven of his friends are recruited and trained to fight for the glory of the fatherland.

In an early scene two soldiers are talking. "Well, how do they start a war?" "Well, one country offends another." "How could one country offend another? You mean there's a mountain over in Germany gets mad at a field over in France?" “I think maybe the Kaiser wanted a war.” “I don't see that. The Kaiser's got everything he needs.” “Well, he never had a war before. Every full-grown Emperor needs one war to make him famous. Why, that's history.” Paul enters the conversation, “Yeah, Generals too. They need war.” A Third Soldier speaks, “And manufacturers. They get rich.”

In another moving, powerful scene during a bombardment, the Germans are attacking through a church cemetery. A blast from a French shell knocks Paul in the head and he takes cover in the church’s graveyard. Next to him, the insides of one of the coffins is blown out of the ground by an exploding shell and flung over him - a symbolic living grave. In another shell hole, Paul becomes trapped in the shell hole with a Frenchman who he stabs in the throat. Paul cannot leave the crater during the ordeal because of overhead fire, and must remain with the groaning, dying man through the night as life slowly ebbs from the man. Paul regrets the stabbing and talks to the dieing Frenchman, “You see when you jumped in here, you were my enemy - and I was afraid of you. But you're just a man like me, and I killed you. Forgive me, comrade. Say that for me. Say you forgive me! Oh, no, you're dead! Only you're better off than I am - you're through - they can't do any more to you now. Oh, God! Why did they do this to us? We only wanted to live, you and I. Why should they send us out to fight each other? If they threw away these rifles and these uniforms, you could be my brother.”
In the unforgettable final moments of the film, just before the "all quiet on the western front" armistice and with all of his comrades gone, soldiers are bailing water out of a dilapidated trench. The faint sound of a harmonica can be heard. Paul is sitting alone, daydreaming inside the trench on a seemingly peaceful, bright day. He is exhausted by terror and boredom. Through the gun hole of his trench, he sees a beautiful lone butterfly that has landed just beyond his reach next to a discarded tin can outside the parapet. He begins to carefully reach out over the protection of his bunker with his hand to grasp it, momentarily forgetting the danger that is ever-present. As he stretches his hand out yearning for its beauty, a distant French sniper prepares to take careful aim through a scope on a rifle. As Paul leans out closer to the butterfly and extends his hand, suddenly the sharp whining sound of a shot is heard. Paul's hand jerks back, twitches for a moment and then goes limp in death. All is silent and quiet. The harmonica tune stops.