Winner, 3rd Academy Awards
Directed by: Lewis Milestone
Starring: Lew Ayres and Louis Wolheim
Plot: During a wave of patriotism, a young man enlists in the army and is visited time and again by horror and despair during World War I.
Thoughts: Lewis Milestone's second Academy entry (his first being the pioneering gangster film The Racket) was easily the director's magnum opus. In a year with a number of good films, it's easy to see why All Quiet on the Western Front stood out. This was, without a doubt, the Saving Private Ryan of its time. Never before had the horrors of war, both on and off of the battlefield, been portrayed in such an unrelenting fashion.
This film was, of course, based on the 1929 novel by Erich Maria Remarque. Some sequences were changed from the novel, most notably the ending. However, the impact was just as powerful. The film's only failings were some soft acting at times and bouts of preachiness that worked fine in prose but fell flat on film. Despite its faults, All Quiet on the Western Front was certainly deserving of Best Picture.
The widely circulated version we have now resulted from a major restoration effort by the Library of Congress. A silent version was also produced for theaters that hadn't made the transition to sound just yet. Being a controversial film, All Quiet on the Western Front was cut down to 90 minutes when it was re-released in 1934 due to the strict Hayes Codes. In 1939, newsreel footage was spliced in decrying the Nazi rise in Europe. 1950 saw the addition of swing music to the ending. The film was banned in a number of countries due to the anti-war message and perceived anti-German sentiment; the ban in Austria remained until the 1980s.
Aside from taking home Best Production, All Quiet on the Western Front also earned a Best Director award. The film was nominated for Best Cinematography for Arthur Edeson's terrific camera work (the battle sequences remain pretty jarring to this day). It also received a nomination for Best Writing, Achievement, for the screenplay's adaptation of the novel by the trio of George Abbot, Maxwell Anderson, and Del Andrews.