The Movie Dictator Club for the month of July, 2010 is a free skate month, and I do love to skate freely!
Screenplay By: George Abbott
Directed By: Lewis Milestone
All Quiet On The Western Front is a film that I have heard talked about for as long as I can remember being serious about film. That made it one of the many films to immediately pique my interest. It is also a film directed by Lewis Milestone, and my two experiences with Milestone-Les Miserables and A Walk In The Sun–soured me on the man a great deal as a director. That meant a steady fall for All Quiet On The Western Front on the good ole Netflix queue. And that, ladies and gents, is where something like the Filmspotting Movie Dictator Club is a great friend, because I know I would have kept pushing All Quiet On The Western Front to the bottom of said queue if not for FithCityMuse dictating it to me this month.
Don’t, however, take the above paragraph as a ringing endorsement of All Quiet On The Western Front. It is, by far, the best effort I have yet to see from Mr. Milestone. But is still contains many of the elements I have come to dislike about his direction as well as some distinct early Hollywood style acting and storytelling that turned me off a great amount. You can read the above paragraph as a sign that I did in fact like All Quiet On The Western Front and that I can see why so many others love it and have labeled it as a classic with each passing year. But, as always, movies are very subjective and some facets that didn’t bother anyone in the slightest proved to be great impediments to my enjoyment of the film.
Let’s start with an area that I believe we can all be in agreement on, the effectiveness with which Milestone films the battle scenes. When the troops are in actual action I believe every second of it and that is all due to Milestone’s vivid battle scenes. I can see in those scenes the groundwork being laid for the visceral closeness sheltered by a wide open panorama that would come to define many a great battle scene in the great war movies to come. There is a lot of fluidity to be found in these scenes, much more than in the rest of the picture and that is why I believe they immediately resonated with me.
An area of contention I have with All Quiet On The Western Front is in its on the nose message and how this is accompanied by a more theatrical style of acting and storytelling. I understood very early on that All Quiet On The Western Front was anti-war, and I knew that these characters were going to be put through the wringer. What I did not need were scenes like the first shell bombardment, where Kat tells the young soldiers exactly what will happen and how they will react. The redundancy of them following through on what he says isn’t a major issue, but the theatrical acting is. Lew Ayres clutching to Kat with eyes as big as saucers while every inch of his being is screaming for the camera to notice him pulled me right out of the film. There were many moments to come just like the shell bombardment, moments that made me remember why so many performances from early Hollywood productions irk me with their loud and theatrical actions.
Where I know that most will disagree with me is in Milestone’s direction. At times it is very good, getting across the right amount of emotion with the films message while also being a bit flashy. But, for the most part I found his direction run of the mill, more workmanlike than anything else. The reason I have never really connected with Milestone as a director up to this point has been his inability to craft a tale that I felt was stirring in some way. He has yet to pull me into a film with his direction or his storytelling methods. All Quiet On The Western Front was much the same, and for the most part I was left feeling distant and remote from what I was seeing.
I don’t want this review to sound too harsh, because as I stated earlier, I did like All Quiet On The Western Front. It does fall well short of classic status for me, but the battle scenes and the moments where I did connect with the film and it did draw me in made for a worthwhile viewing experience. Still, I wish there had been more of that and less attention grabbing acting or by the books direction from Milestone. Based on that I can only give a mild recommendation to All Quiet On The Western Front and continue my search for the Lewis Milestone picture that will truly engage me.