Behind the Scenes of the Movie All Quiet On the Western Front Part 2

About the film All Quiet On the Western Front, behind the scenes of one of the greatest movies ever made.



The cast included Lew Ayres, Slim Summerville, and Ben Alexander. (Originally Zasu Pitts played Ayres's mother; but preview audiences, used to seeing her in comedies, automatically laughed when she appeared on the screen. So all her scenes were reshot with Beryl Mercer.) The movie made Ayres a star--and during W.W.II, a pacifist. Ben Alexander's rise to fame had to wait for television, where he turned up as Sgt. Friday's partner on Dragnet.

The cast was one of the picture's two problems. The players were predominantly young and unskilled and tended to overact. The screenplay, adapted from Erich Maria Remarque's best-selling novel, was the second problem. Maxwell Anderson and George Abbott, the scenarists, filled it with sentimental lines and corny situations. However, both these faults are easily forgiven, because it is clear from the film itself that everyone who worked on it did so with conviction and dedication. The sentiments behind the cliches and mediocre acting ring true.

Milestone, previously known as a comedy director, did a masterful job. The battle scenes are among the best ever staged. He had not worked with sound before but skillfully adapted to the medium, and his sounds of warfare are a harrowing experience in themselves. He began filming at 11:00 A.M. on Nov. 11, 1929--11 years, to the minute, after the armistice ending W.W.I was signed--and finished four months later.

All Quiet on the Western Front has been in release ever since its premiere, except for the W.W.II years. (Critic Pauline Kael said that by 1968, 100 million people had seen it.) Since it is a touchstone of pacifist emotions, it is not surprising that some of its engagements have caused controversy. The first night it was shown in Berlin, in 1931, Nazis turned rats loose in the theater. The second and last night it was shown there (not to reappear until 1952), they used snakes. France, never sympathetic to Germany, did not see the film until 1963.

Even in the U.S. this picture eventually had problems. In 1950, while the Korean War was raging, it played to capacity audiences, mainly men of draft age. The Hollywood Reporter declared it was bad taste to show the film during the war and claimed the Pentagon agreed. A reporter from the Hollywood News heard "overtones of treason" as audiences cheered the film's dialogue. Strangely, the picture did not circulate during the Vietnam antiwar demonstrations, perhaps because it had already been shown so often on television, where, cut to half its length and interrupted every few minutes by a deodorant or used-car commercial, its impact was lost.

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