All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
|Year Of Production||1930|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (62:14)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||Lewis Milestone|
Universal Pictures Home Video
Owen Davis Jr.
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||Miscellaneous|
|Subtitles||English for the Hearing Impaired||Smoking||Yes|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres) and a group of his fellow school students are fired up with enthusiasm about the Great War by their teacher, and all enlist in the army. Sent together to the Western Front, they soon have their idealism tempered by the reality of war, and one by one they are wounded or killed.
This film is based on a hugely successful novel written by Erich Maria Remarque and first published in 1929. Remarque was a veteran of the war, having spent two years at the front from 1916. I have not read the book, but judging by the film and subsequent events his works must have been imbued with the pacifist idealism of the 1920s. His works were burned by the Nazis and he was forced to leave his native country, eventually settling in Hollywood. It is not surprising that he was drawn there, as most of his books seem to have been made into Hollywood product. By the time America entered the war, his sequel to All Quiet, The Way Back, had been filmed as The Road Back, and two other films, Three Comrades and So Ends Our Night, had been based on his works. His writings also provided the basis for later movies such as Arch of Triumph, A Time to Love and a Time to Die and even the Al Pacino film Bobby Deerfield. To complete the Hollywood connection, for the last twelve years of his life he was married to actress Paulette Goddard.
The rights to the book were quickly purchased by Universal, headed by Carl Laemmle, and the film was produced by his son Carl Jr., who was only in his early twenties. Lewis Milestone was engaged to direct, and the film was released in the year following the book to considerable acclaim, winning the Best Picture Oscar for 1930. Even with the passage of 75 years, it is easy to see why this film was a success. Despite the episodic nature of the story, which occurs in a series of vignettes separated by fades to black, it not only brings across the horror of war but also the despair of the combatants. It does not seem to matter that the heroes of the story are Germans, nor that their accents are all American, as the story it tells is divorced from politics and nationality. As a result it is quite moving.
Milestone's direction throughout is amongst the best of his long career. Apart from a couple of overly sentimental speeches delivered unconvincingly by lead actor Ayres, Milestone elicits fine performances from the ensemble of not so well-known actors. The battle sequences are still extraordinary, depicting the chaos and carnage of going over the top without ever lapsing into melodrama. The film was originally started as a silent film, but was eventually released with sound (there is a silent version, but it is the sound version without the soundtrack and with title cards inserted). The fluidity of the camera movement in the battle scenes indicates that these were from the original silent version, with sound effects dubbed in. Milestone captures the senseless slaughter in a well thought out series of shots showing rows of men being mown down by machine-gun fire, seemingly one per bullet. It is also of note that none of the soldiers die quickly or simply, or with that look of near-ecstasy that would become a Hollywood cliché. They die slowly, in agony, and with difficulty. The lack of sentimentality actually make the picture more moving than it otherwise would be.
The cast includes few familiar faces. Lew Ayres was not very well known at this time despite having starred opposite Greta Garbo in The Kiss the year before. He is quite convincing as the idealistic and fresh-faced Paul, despite a couple of wayward moments. Interestingly, he seems to have been a pacifist in real-life: he was a conscientious objector in World War II, and spent his time in the ambulance corps. This affected his subsequent career adversely, after he had reached his peak in the years leading up to the war in the role of Dr Kildare in a long-running series at MGM. He would, though, continue to appear on screen into the 1990s. Of the other actors, Louis Wolheim is a standout as the tough sergeant Katczinsky. Vince Barnett has a wordless bit as a cook. The French soldier who lies dying in the same foxhole as Paul is played by silent film comedian Raymond Griffith, who could not continue his career in the sound era due to an injury to his vocal cords many years earlier - this was his last screen appearance. Slim Summerville provides some comedy relief as Tjaden.
This is a classic and still affecting film, one of few Academy Award winners to stand the test of time. This also seems to be the fullest version available, restored by the Library of Congress. When first released the film ran to 17 reels, but the studio almost immediately cut it by 3 reels, and cut it in the negative so that the original cut no longer survives. Later it was cut by a further 30 minutes and some music was added. The restoration included on this disc has the last set of cuts restored and the original soundtrack.
The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, which is the original aspect ratio. The film was initially released with a Vitaphone (sound on disc) soundtrack, so there was no optical soundtrack and therefore the Academy Ratio of 1.37:1 was not used. The opening titles are shown here in a window-boxed format in an aspect ratio of 1.30:1.
The film has been restored, which means that not all of the footage comes from the same source. This has led to variations in brightness - there is a lot of flicker - and sharpness in some scenes. Despite this, most of the film is very sharp and detailed. This gives the transfer some depth and clarity, lacking in some of the flatter transfers of films of the same era. Contrast seems about right, but there are some scenes in darkness that are severely lacking in shadow detail. This may be how the film originally looked.
Film to video artefacts are limited to a couple of instances of aliasing, such as one at 8:25, plus continuous telecine wobble. Otherwise the major deficiency is the presence of continual film artefacts. There are a lot of spots and marks and plenty of scratches of both the black and white varieties. It is also very grainy. Still, I doubt whether the film has looked this good in decades, and is infinitely better than the VHS edition that was released in Australia in the 1980s.
Optional subtitles are provided, in white font. These seem to transcribe virtually all of the dialogue, and are well-paced and timely.
The disc is RSDL-formatted, with the layer change perfectly placed during a fade to black at 62:14.
The sole audio track is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono.
As noted above the film was originally released with a Vitaphone soundtrack, a format which was used for the earliest sound features such as Don Juan and The Jazz Singer. This involved having a record player mechanically synchronised to the film, with the soundtrack on the discs. The original discs were metal, and though they survive the surface noise was too severe for them to be used to provide the soundtrack for this release. Instead, optical soundtracks from re-release prints have been used for this restoration.
The sound is typical of early sound films. Dialogue comes across as lacking any deep sounds, which makes the actors sound like they all have high-pitched voices. Dialogue is not always clear, because of the general weakness of the soundtrack, but if the volume is turned up it is possible to decipher virtually all of the dialogue. Some of the explosions have a surprising amount of bass - I wonder if some tinkering has been done to achieve this. There is an omnipresent hiss, but the ear soon attunes itself.
Music is limited to sources that are seen on-screen, such as marching bands and a patriotic song in the first scene.
|Surround Channel Use|
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The US Region 1 release dates back a few years now, and while it has some extras, the print used for the transfer is not the same as that for the Region 4. Universal chose not to use the Library of Congress restoration for the Region 1 disc, while it is that restoration that appears on the Region 4. The DVD is reported to have a very poor quality transfer, worse than the US VHS release. The extras on the Region 1 are production notes, detailed biographies of five of the actors and the director, and a re-release trailer.
The Region 4 DVD is also coded for Region 2, and thus is certainly the same as the recently-released Region 2 disc.
This is a classic anti-war film, and is still powerful 75 years later. Little allowance needs to be made for the passage of time.
The video quality is excellent, taking into account the age and history of the film.
The audio quality is very good, though there is a lot of hiss.
No extras, which is almost criminal.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-S733A, using Component output|
|Display||Sony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Speakers||Main: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175|