Pop Culture 101: ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
When the Nazis took power in Germany, they hounded Erich Maria Remarque so relentlessly he left the country. They then confiscated the money in his bank accounts and burned his books at public rallies.
In 1937, Universal filmed Remarque's sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front, The Road Back, about German veterans adjusting to civilian life. James Whale directed, with Slim Summerville returning to play Tjaden. The studio cut much of the anti-Nazi material from the finished film for fear of poor sales overseas. The result was a critical and box office disaster.
For the film's 1939 reissue of All Quiet on the Western Front, Universal added a voiceover narration comparing the German soldiers in the film with German soldiers of the day (World War II was just starting in Europe). At the film's climax, the narration delivered a stinging attack on Nazi Germany, underlined with new shots of the original novel being burned.
Lew Ayres was so moved by his role as Paul Baumer that it convinced him to become a pacifist. This might not have created a problem, but with the U.S.' entry into World War II he registered as a conscientious objector, creating a public outrage. MGM, where he had been starring in the Dr. Kildare movies, dropped his contract and focused the series on elderly Doctor Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore). Ayres came back into public favor when word spread of his heroic acts as a wartime medic.
The scene in which Ayres carries a wounded comrade from the battlefield not realizing he has died, was copied in 20th Century-Fox's 1956 drama The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, starring Gregory Peck.
When All Quiet on the Western Front was sold to television in the '50s, it was cut by about 35 minutes and background music was added to the final scenes. Before his death, director Lewis Milestone begged Universal to restore the film to its original form. They finally did in 1998, with the help of the Library of Congress, though by then some of the cut footage was lost. The current running time is 133 minutes, seven minutes shorter than the version that first premiered in 1930.
The book and film's title has become a part of the language. In the years before the U.S. entered World War II, it was used by isolationists to minimize the threat of the war in Europe. More recently, it has been used to refer to any situation in which nothing is happening, be it sports, politics or the economy.
All Quiet on the Western Front was remade as a TV movie in 1979 with a $6 million budget. Richard Thomas starred as Paul Baumer, with Ernest Borgnine as Katczinsky, Donald Pleasence as Kantorek and Patricia Neal as Mrs. Baumer. Delbert Mann directed.
by Frank Miller