A young man’s harrowing experiences as a German Soldier during World War One.
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For many years, I have always tried to get round to watching this movie due to the inclusion of some great actors in its cast. Here in the UK, it is a travesty to the education system that the First World War, which is regarded as one of the bloodiest conflicts ever to be fought, is hardly taught. Cinema is often the best way in which history can be bought to the masses but it is always wise to keep in mind who and what is telling the history. The book, on which this movie is based on, of the same name and written by Erich Maria Remarque, is regarded as one of the finest representations of the horrors of trench warfare, mostly due to the author being a veteran of the Great War. Despite not knowing this at the time, this adaptation is in fact a television movie. Upon watching it, it would be easy to believe this was made by one of the major companies in Hollywood and not a television company from my home country.
Like many young men, they first thought WW1 to be an easy win; how wrong they were. Innocence was one of the biggest casualties of the war, and in the case of Paul Bäumer (Richard Thomas) and his buddies this was certainly the case. Having signed up as solders singing loud songs together, they think this little combat to be a simple one and probably over by Christmas. But, after leaving basic training and entering the field of combat, they soon discover that what they learnt was bullshit. Nothing prepares a soldier for combat when he first partakes in some action, and they soon learn that it is a shock to the system especially when they are killed off one by one either in combat or because of their injures long after sustaining them. Thankfully, they are assigned under the watchful eye of Katczinsky who becomes both an almost father and brotherly figure to the platoon. Like Bäumer, he pains at the sight of losing his boys and would do anything to help them survive the war. But, like in all wars, nothing is fair and we soon learn what happens to Bäumer and his platoon. Not all movies should have a happy ending, and this is no exception. What that happy ending actually constitutes is something I will not divulge, but watching this for the first time will shock in a similar way Darth Vader uttered to Luke those infamous words or the concluding scene in “Blackadder Goes Forth”.
Having only seen Richard Thomas as John Boy in “The Waltons” and in a number of television movies such as the evil and sadistic Richard Farley in the most excellent “I Can Make You Love Me”, I was keen to see his take on the role of Bäumer at the relatively youthful age of only 27. To my great pleasure Thomas does not disappoint. At the beginning of the film, it’s as if John Boy had just walked from the mountains to Germany; his hopes and intelligence remain despite the prospect of being killed by Allied Forces. Fast forward to the Front Line and the harsh realities of war really sink in, with his morose appearance exacerbated by the constant shelling as well as rats and trench foot constantly surrounding Bäumer and his buddies. This is certainly no movie supporting the act of war, but by all means against it and it is due to Thomas’s efforts that this message is put through to the audience. Soon after this movie’s release, Thomas was soon offered other roles worthy of his talents such as Richard Farley in the aforementioned movie.
Other members of the cast do excel within the movie. Ernest Borgnine as Stanislaus Katczinky, as Borgnine does in all the films seen to date, excels in a role in which he redeems himself for his efforts in “Baseketball”; that bastion of pure nonsensical stupidity which does raise a smirk now and then but certainly not worthy of Mr Borgnine’s talent. But this is Thomas’s film, and a vehicle to demonstrate his talents to their full. Released the year after his role as John Boy ended, this was the chance for Thomas to flex his more adult muscles in a role which is not undertaken by untalented actors. Just eleven years after this movie, Farley appeared in Stephen King’s “It”, a genuinely scary movie which is a far cry from John Boy.
It is when viewing this movie that I cannot believe it is a television one, and not a theatrical release. The fighting scenes, as well as the action shots, seem very real and not at all produced whilst under television movie conditions. With Richard Thomas supported by some quite excellent cast members, this is an anti-war movie to match the best of them and certainly on par with the 1930 version of Remarque’s novel. A classic for sure.
All Quiet on the Western Front