Unlike most "message" films which date themselves almost immediately, Lewis Milestone's low-key unpolished and deeply-felt screen adaptation of the Erich Maria Remarque anti-war novel has lost little of its original impact. Years after its release it was still being banned in countries mobilizing for war.
The plot follows a group of young German recruits in World War I through their passage from idealism to disillusionment. As the central character Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres) declares, "We live in the trenches and we fight. We try not to be killed - that's all". All Quiet is an anthology of now famous scenes: Ayres trapped in a shell crater with a man he has killed; the first meeting of the recruits and the veterans; infantrymen being mowed down to machine-gun visual rhythms; a moonlight swim with French farm girls; Ayres' pacifist speech to his astonished schoolmates; and the final shot of the soldier's hand reaching for a fatal butterfly.
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