A couple more Pauline Kael snippets.
All Quiet on the Western Front 1930
Over a hundred million people have gone to theatres to see it and have — perhaps — responded to its pacifist message. One could be cynical about the results, but the film itself does not invite cynical reactions, and the fact that it has frequently been banned in countries preparing for war suggests that it makes militarists uncomfortable. Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel, on which it is based, was already famous when Lewis Milestone directed this attack on the senseless human waste of war, made in Hollywood. It follows a handful of young German volunteers in the First World War from school to battlefield, and shows the disintegration of their romantic ideas of war, gallantry, and fatherland in the squalor of the trenches. Except for Louis Wolheim, who is capable of creating a character wtih a minimum of material, the actors are often awkward, uncertain, and overemphatic, but this doesn’t seem to matter very much. The point of the film gets to you, and though you may wince at the lines Maxwell Anderson wrote (every time he opens his heart, he sticks his poetic foot in it), you know what he means. (The year 1930 was, of course, a good year for pacifism, which always flourishes between wars; Milestone didn’t make pacifist films during the Second World War — nor did anybody else working in Hollywood. And wasn’t it perhaps easier to make All Quiet just because its heroes were German? War always seems like a tragic waste when told from the point of view of the losers. It would be an altogether different matter to present the death of, say, RAF pilots in the Second World War as tragic waste.