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Lewis Milestone
Louis Wolheim, Lew Ayres, John Wray
Writing Credits:
George Abbott

A group of idealistic young men join the German Army during World War I and get assigned to the Western Front, where their patriotism is destroyed by the harsh realities of combat.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 133 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 2/14/2012

• Silent Version of Film
• “Restoring the Classics” Featurette
• “Academy Award Winner” Featurette
• Introduction from Film Historian Robert Osborne
• Trailer


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All Quiet On The Western Front [Blu-Ray] (1930)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 22, 2020)

Those of us under a certain age generally seem to imagine that anti-war sentiment really didn't exist anywhere until the 1960s. I guess the Baby Boomers snowed us, as they like to act like they invented everything, and many of us believed them in this case, as it never appeared that any prior wars had inspired any sort of formal protests.

For the record, I'm not saying that I believed all citizens of all nations happily marched to their doom without any thought of the consequences. I was always very aware of the isolationist movement in the US that essentially delayed our entry into World War II, and movies like The Best Years of Our Lives showed a darker side of that conflict.

Still, I think the general impression we've received follows the jingoistic lines that always display wars in terms of unadulterated support.

1930's All Quiet On the Western Front slaps me upside the head with reality. The film deals with World War I - wasn't that supposed to be the war to end all wars? - and views the conflict from the German side.

However, don't regard that emphasis as important to the content, as it really appears irrelevant. If a similar movie were to be made about WWII-era Germany, it would need to be more ideologically-specific, but there's nothing here about the portrayal of the German characters or their opponents that requires them to be from one nation or another.

That makes the film more universal than it otherwise would appear, since we can't watch it and dismiss its lessons as being restricted to one nation. One problem with Nazi-oriented stories is that they're so completely one-sided - and appropriately so, since there was nothing defensible about their actions.

However, that means it's more difficult for us to generalize lessons learned because we regard what the Germans did as such an aberration. It's the "it couldn't happen here" syndrome.

Dramas about WWI don't suffer from that problem since it was a much more abstract battle. The lines of "good" and "evil" were much less clearly drawn.

In fact, a lot of the isolationism seen during the 1930s stemmed from the impressions that WWI was fought over little and concluded nothing. No concerns were fully resolved, so the entire brutal action appeared to be a waste of lives, money and time.

That tone comes through clearly in Front, a surprisingly searing and effective anti-war movie. Frankly, although I knew the piece viewed armed conflict in a negative manner, I wasn't quite prepared for how strong it would be. This movie shows the conflict in a nearly-unrelentingly harsh way.

The story follows a group of classmates who are all strongly encouraged by society to join the military, as they’re told it's their duty and will bring about their glory. This is most clearly demonstrated by a scene involving their teacher as he whips the boys into a nationalistic frenzy.

However, they soon realize the truth of the matter as they enter a boot camp almost as mind-numbing and unpleasant as the one depicted in Full Metal Jacket. Once that ends, they head off for combat, where the nasty realities of the situation become even clearer.

Front seemed much more graphic and kinetic than I expected. When I think of films from the era, I imagine static shots of tame action, but that's not the case here.

In fact, the battle scenes are easily the high points of this movie and I thought they were some of the best-executed I've ever seen. They lack the blood-and-guts impact of Saving Private Ryan but clearly depict the unrelenting terror of combat.

The camera swoops along the trenches and the soldiers just don't stop as they attack and attack and attack, so the segments lack melodrama and simply go straight for the throat. These parts of the film seem vicious and brutal and really work well.

The rest of Front provides a mixed bag, and for one, the film is simply too long. It makes its points over and over and just keeps going past the point of usefulness.

I also find it disconcerting that most of the actors who played the Germans were American, and really American at that. We find clean-cut, "all-American boys" and it feels odd to have them act as Germans.

I believe that was part of the point, as obviously foreign actors would have allowed audiences to distance themselves from the material. With such familiar attitudes in the roles, it makes it harder for us to disconnect. However, I don't think it works especially well, as it just seems freaky to regard these kids as Germans.

In any case, even with those quibbles, All Quiet On the Western Front remains a classic war film. Forget everything you thought you knew about "old-time" moviemaking, and ignore every prejudice you feel toward that era. This movie blasts its way through those generational concerns and stays gripping and vibrant after 90 years.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus C

All Quiet on the Western Front appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though it showed its age, the image held up much better than one might expect.

Overall sharpness looked appealing. Only slivers of softness materialized, and those usually related to the source photography.

I noticed no signs of jagged edges or moiré effects, and only a smidgen of edge enhancement seemed apparent. Print flaws occasionally manifested in terms of specks and vertical lines.

However, these appeared infrequently – usually in batches related to the weakest source reels – and they seemed minor given the film’s vintage.

Some light grain appeared, and it was clear the transfer needed to use a fair amount of noise reduction because of the lack of a first generation source. This didn’t lean toward oppressive de-graining, though, and the image retained a natural feel, without the clay-like impression that often stems from noise reduction.

Blacks looked dark and deep, while shadows mainly felt smooth. A few shots could seem a bit dense, but most looked appropriate. All in all, this became a surprisingly solid presentation for such an old flick.

The DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of All Quiet on the Western Front was seemed erratic but pleasing for its age. A fair amount of the dialogue seemed pretty clear and crisp, although the lines could be tinny and thin at times.

Intelligibility never became an issue. Effects usually appeared free from distortion. No, I wouldn’t call them clean and clear, but they were more than sufficient for recordings from this period, and the mix boasted some decent low-end at times.

Music appeared infrequently, as films of the era didn't have proper scores. Instead, we got a tune under the title cards, and we also found some music played as part of the action.

For example, one scene featured a marching band. Like the effects, these elements failed to present much punch, but they were reasonably concise.

Some hiss appeared at times, but not to a distracting degree. A few pops occurred as well, but again, these didn’t create problems. In the end, I felt that the disc represented the audio about as well as we might expect.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the last DVD from 2007? Audio seemed livelier and clearer, while visuals became tighter and cleaner, with deeper blacks. This turned into a notable upgrade.

The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras. From the last DVD, in addition to a trailer for one of the film’s re-releases, we get an introduction from film historian Robert Osborne. In this two-minute, 40-second chat, Osborne discusses the casting of Lew Ayres and other elements of the actor’s career.

He also tells us a little about the film’s success. This is a perfectly decent little clip, but it doesn’t give us much.

The remaining extras come new to this Blu-ray, and of primary interest, we find a Silent Version of Front. This cut runs 2:12:54 versus the 2:13:25 Of the “talkie” edition.

Not that we get a truly “silent” Front, as this version still includes audio effects and score. This version recuts the film in some ways as well.

View the “silent” Front as a curiosity and nothing more. It doesn’t help that the movie looks fairly terrible, so I can’t imagine why anyone would prefer it to the “talkie” Front other than as an archival relic.

Also found on other releases, we get two 100 Years of Universal featurettes. “Restoring the Classics” goes for nine minutes, 13 seconds and offers statements from Universal Studios Vault Services VP of Image Assets/Preservation Bob O’Neil, Universal Studios Technical Services VP Peter Schade, Kodak Pro-Tek Media Preservation VP of Preservation Services Rick Utley, Universal Studios Digital Services engineer Henry Ball, Universal Studios Technical Services mastering supervisor Phil Defibaugh, Universal Studios Technical Services mastering supervisor Ken Tom, and Universal Studios Technical Services supervising sound editor John Edell.

“Restoring” covers all the procedures used to bring Front and other movies to Blu-ray. It’s a reasonably informative take on the subject.

“Academy Award Winners” runs nine minutes, 35 seconds and offers an overview of some of the studio’s movies that took home Oscars. It’s entirely self-serving and comes with next to zero informational value.

90 years after its debut, All Quiet On the Western Front holds up well. The film provides a powerful and relatively graphic portrayal of war that might give pause to even the most gung-ho hawk. The Blu-ray boasts appealing picture and audio but lacks substantial supplements beyond a mildly intriguing silent cut of the film. I’d like better bonus materials, but the disc presents a classic movie well.

To rate this film, visit the prior review of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT

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