All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) is an American feature film that follows the story of a group of German schoolboys who enlist in the army at the beginning of World War I. The film, starring Lew Ayres as Paul Baumer, was directed by Lewis Milestone and produced by Universal Pictures. All Quiet on the Western Front is a film based on Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel of the same name. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1930, All Quiet on the Western Front remains one of the greatest and most influential American war films.
Film's Original Poster (

Film Synopsis and Overview

Milestone’s film follows the same story as Remarque’s 1929 novel about a group of young German boys who enlist in the German army during World War I. Convinced by their high school teacher that joining the war effort is an act of incredible bravery and patriotism, the boys enlist and begin training for the war. After little training, the group of young men are sent to the front lines. There, they engage in the chaotic and terrifying realities of war.

The film centers around the story of Paul Baumer. He experiences the fear and chaos of the trench warfare, the hopelessness and despair that can reside in the field hospitals, and the general disillusionment of the civilian population when he returns home to visit his mother. All of these scenarios, and especially a gripping scene where Baumer is forced into hand-to-hand combat with a young French soldier, work to portray an accurate account of warfare that in no way glorifies or romanticizes its ramifications. As Baumer is disillusioned by by the civilian population that is generally consumed by a blind sense of patriotism, he returns to the front where his fellow soldiers understand the horrors and futility of trench warfare[1] .

Authenticity was an integral aspect of this film. Milestone, in collaboration with his cinematographer, Arthur Edeson, creates and dramatic and realistic sense of trench warfare. By combining rapid movement and sounds, they created an atmosphere that was authentic to the violence and chaos of war. By using the powerful images and sounds of the explosion, charges, and machine guns to create and dynamic and believable setting. Furthermore, Universal purchased French and German uniforms, rifles, helmets, packs, and artillery to create authentic looks for the soldiers. German Army drill master Otto Biber was employed to instruct military drills such as the "goose step." Also, Wilhelm Von Brincken and Hans Von Morhart, two former German Army officers, were hired as military advisers for the film[2] . The emphasis on detail comes through in the film, and audiences reacted to its authentic portrayal of the First World War.


Milestone found adaption from the novel to the film particularly intriguing and simultaneously difficult. Especially important and difficult to shoot was the ending of the story. This is an integral aspect of Baumer's journey through the war, and is in fact where the title of the book appears. Therefore, throughout the course of filming, Milestone shot nearly six different endings for the movie. All of these endings were an attempt to capture the subtly powerful message of the book's last paragraph that describes Paul Baumer's death:

"He fell in October, 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to a single sentence: 'All quiet on the Western Front'. He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come."[3]

Though much of Baumer’s experiences in the film follow closely to Remarque’s novel, the ending is an essential difference. Baumer’s death at the end of the film is shown differently, for instead of learning of his death through the report from the front, Baumer is shot by a sniper as he reaches for a butterfly. The film ends with a picture of a cemetery[4] . With this ending, Milestone is able to frame both the beauty and fragility of life with the tragic and pointless death of a young man.


Disturbing scene scene in which Paul Baumer, played by Lew Ayres, is struck with guilt after killing a French soldier. (
This film was significant because it was the most successful and moving anti-war film of its time. At the time, much of the world was facing the disillusionment of a war that claimed millions of young lives. The First World War was a bloody, arduous event in human history that left many to question the nature of war. This skepticism was felt in cultures around the world, but was especially prevalent in Europe and the United States.

All Quiet on the Western Front broke many conventions, especially the depiction of the traditional evil German enemy. Though Germans were typically shown to be ruthless, evil people, the young German soldiers in film were displayed in a compassionate, humane way. Through the main character, Paul Baumer’s experience, the futile waste and tragedy of war was clearly depicted in a way that captured audiences. The striking theme of disillusionment of civilians was a very strong point of emphasis for the film and novel.

In addition to its message of war, the film also makes statements on gender roles and issues. Though masculinity is primarily depicted in a traditional way through the camaraderie of the group of soldiers, there is an important difference. With the shock and terror of life on the front and, soldiers begin to assume traditionally female roles, for they are in the position of supporting their fellow soldier physically, emotionally, and psychologically[5].


All Quiet on the Western Front won the 1930 Academy Award for Best Picture. Furthermore, director, Lewis Milestone, was awarded Best Director. Not only was this viewed as a masterpiece of the cinema, but also an honest depiction of the brutality and extraordinary tragedy of war. This was the first “talkie” war film to win an Academy Award. Furthermore, it was included in AFI’s 1998 list of Top 100 Films.

In addition to winning Academy Awards, Milestone was hailed for expert camera work and magnificent editing. With the help of Edeson, his cinematographer, Milestone was able to create shots that made the film both intriguing and tragic. Milestone's editing, especially in battle scenes that involved charges, explosions, and machine gun fire, was praised as a "master of speed and movement, cutting and cross-cutting." Milestone's work drew comparisons with Eisenstein's "montage" editing technique; however, Milestone would later say that his most important influence was German Expressionism[6] .


Though the film was critically acclaimed, it did spur some public controversy. Though the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), known more commonly as the Hays Office as a result of its first president, Will Hays, warned Universal to cut certain scenes from the film before and after its premiere, they were impressed by the film's emotion, valuable message, and accurate adaptation of the novel.

Though the film was slightly edited to remove suggestive material when being shown in different states, it met it’s greatest opposition In America from a man outraged by its honest depiction of war. All Quiet on the Western Front incensed the manager of the Hollywood United Technical Directors Association (UTPDA), Major Frank Pease. Pease was an extremely outspoken opponent of the film. He argued for censorship, and even petitioned President Hoover to stop the film from being shown[7] .

International Reception

World War I was the most significant issue that effected culture and society throughout the world. This film was groundbreaking in its depiction of the war, and its reception abroad varied from effusive praise and absolute disdain. While All Quiet on the Western Front was shown to sold out theaters and received immense acclaim and praise in Britain, France, and America, there was strong opposition to the film in Germany and Italy.

Controversy arose during the premiere of the film in Berlin, Germany, when Joseph Goebbels, the future director of Nazi propaganda, began a Nazi riot during the film[8] . The film's reception in Germany came to hold international significance, for screenings of the film were targeted the Nazi sympathizers known as 'Brown Shirts' to incite riots, set off stink bombs, and create general havoc to disrupt the showing of this film. Goebbels prompted his gang of Brown Shirt thugs to begin numerous violent demonstrations against what he called "a Jewish film" full of anti-German propaganda. Many within the German military and War ministry were opposed to the film, for they saw it as an affront to the integrity of the German people. Furthermore, the implication that the German soldiers' youth and lives were wasted in this useless, empty war that was promoted by a proud and disillusioned culture was viewed as an offense to national pride. Political pressure was nearing its height in Germany for Chancellor Heinrich Bruening and the unstable German government. As a result, the Film Censorship Board, despite originally approving of the film, announced on December 11, 1930, a prohibition of public showings of the film[9] .

Both the novel and the film have long been viewed as strong pacifist, anti-war pieces of art. Both Remarque and Milestone have been praised for their moving, honest depiction of war. The film is regarded as one of the most unapologetic anti-war films of its time. The film’s star, Lew Ayres, was also a well-known pacifist[10] .


Lew Ayres (left) and Louis Wolheim (right) starred in the film as Paul Baumer and Katzcinsky, respectively. (

Role in Film
Paul Baumer
Lew Ayres
Mrs. Baumer
Beryl Mercer
Walter Rogers
Lieutenant Bertinck
G. Pat Collins
Harold Goldwyn
John Wray
Professor Kantorek
Arnold Lucy
Albert Kropp
William Bakewell
Stanislaus Katczinsky
Louis Wolheim
Scott Kolk
Russell Gleason
Owen Davis Jr.
Slim Summerville
Richard Alexander



Kelly, Andrew (1998). All Quiet on the Western Front: The Story of a Film. New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers. ISBN: 1-86064-656-5

Remarque, Erich Maria (1929). All Quiet on the Western Front. Cutchogue: Little, Brown, and Company ISBN: 0-89966-292-7

Thompson, Kristin and David Bordwell (2003). Film History: An Introduction. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. ISBN: 0-07-038429-0


Chambers, John Whiteclay (1994). "All Quiet on the Western Front (1930): the Antiwar Film and the Image of the First World War," vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 377-411.

Eksteins, Modris (1980). "War, Memory, and Politics: the Fate of the Film All Quiet on the Western Front," Central European History, vol. 13, no. 1 (March), pp. 60-82.

Jones, Dorothy (1954). "War Without Glory," The Quarterly of Film Radio and Television, vol. 8, no. 3 (Spring), pp. 273-289.

Online Sources:

All Quiet on the Western Front - General Information Film Reference Website. Retrieved 10/25/09.

External Links


Internet Movie Database:
  1. ^ Chambers, "All Quiet on the Western Front (1930): The Antiwar Film and the Image of the First World War", p. 382.
  2. ^ Chambers, "All Quiet on the Western Front (1930): The Antiwar Film and the Image of the First World War", p. 383.
  3. ^ Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front, p.291.
  4. ^ Kelly, All Quiet on the Western Front: The Story of a Film, p.12.
  5. ^ Chambers, "All Quiet on the Western Front (1930): The Antiwar Film and the Image of the First World War", p. 382.
  6. ^ Chambers, "All Quiet on the Western Front (1930): The Antiwar Film and the Image of the First World War", p. 387.
  7. ^ Kelly, All Quiet on the Western Front: The Story of a Film, p.108-109.
  8. ^ Kelly, All Quiet on the Western Front: The Story of a Film, p.13.
  9. ^ Chambers, "All Quiet on the Western Front (1930): The Antiwar Film and the Image of the First World War", p. 382.
  10. ^ Kelly, All Quiet on the Western Front: The Story of a Film, p.2.