Lewis Milestone’s “All’s Quiet on the Western Front”, based on Erich Remarque’s novel, is an incredibly disturbing and effective anti-war film. The grainy black and white film is still not outdated and carries a breathtaking initial impact. The prologue that introduces the film gives its anti-war intentions immediately and beautifully.
“This story is neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war...”
“All’s Quiet on the Western Front” includes a series of vignettes and scenes that portray the senselessness and futility of war from the point of view of young German soldiers in the trenches in the Great War who found no glory on the battlefield, meeting only death and disillusionment.
The film brilliantly portrays the war with no enemy’s, just people and relationships. It is the story of friends, Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres) and his friends joining the war through propaganda, and leaving through death.
The most unforgettable scene is the final moments of the film, just before the "all quiet on the western front" armistice and with all of his comrades gone, soldiers are bailing water out of a dilapidated trench. The faint sound of a harmonica can be heard. Paul is sitting alone, daydreaming inside the trench on a seemingly peaceful, bright day. He is exhausted by terror and boredom. Through the gunhole of his trench, he sees a beautiful lone butterfly that has landed just beyond his reach next to a discarded tin can outside the parapet. He begins to carefully reach out over the protection of his bunker with his hand to grasp it, momentarily forgetting the danger that is ever-present. As he stretches his hand out yearning for its beauty, a distant French sniper prepares to take careful aim through a scope on a rifle. As he leans out closer to the butterfly and extends his hand, suddenly the sharp whining sound of a shot is heard.