All Quiet on the Western Front – Blu-ray Review

Universal is celebrating their 100th anniversary by releasing some of their finest.  They turn their attentions to his anti-war classic and use current technology to fix it up spectacularly.  Too bad they didn’t feel the need to put a menu on it. 

In 1914 in the early days of World War I, Paul (Lewis Ayres here billed, but in future shortened to Lew) is a young schoolboy who is buoyed by his professor to enlist to defend the fatherland against France.  He and his classmates have romantic thoughts of battle and the glories of war.

However, when they reach basic training and the battleground they discover how mistaken they are.  “Kat” (Louis Wolheim) is the old pro who has seen too much war and tries to keep the green recruits from stopping a bullet.  Paul comes to appreciate the older man as he comes to discover that war has a way of changing a man. 

It’s disturbing to see a classroom full of students worked into a frenzy to enlist by their teacher, who I imagine only knows the war from textbooks or the like and never served.  The boys happily go along with this romantic picture painted by the older man and imagine all the glory and women they will get in their new uniforms.  It’s also somewhat amusing that when they answer in chorus they sound so American when they’re supposed to be World War I Germans, but I digress.

Based on Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel, the film is an antiwar treatise and has much visual flair and is quite graphic for one that comes from 1930.  Remember, this was before the Hays Code so you have visuals of an explosion and the only thing left of the soldier we saw seconds before are his severed hands hanging onto the barbed wire he had just grasped. 

Tame to our modern eyes, but I’d imagine a horrific visage in the 30s.  The acting may be a bit creaky, but the sentiment behind it still has the power to move.  Prints before this one suffered from a bad case of flicker, but Universal has restored it to a pristine condition.  The film garnered best picture and best direction in a time when jolly escapism was the norm. 

All Quiet on the Western Front is presented in fullscreen.  Special features include the silent version of All Quiet on the Western Front that was prepared for theaters that had not yet transitioned to sound (though not as lovingly restored as the main feature), a 2 minute introduction by TCM host Robert Osbourne, and the 2 minute theatrical trailer.  The preceding was in standard definition. 

Those in high definition include a 9 minute “Restoring the Classics” about the work put into restoring films for the 100th anniversary and a 9 minute one about Universal Academy Award Winners. 

These are nicely done, but the sole focus is not on this one film and I’d imagine they will show up on others in their 100th anniversary editions.  Disc two is a DVD/digital copy.  The whole show is put in a classy book packaging that features bios and pictures. 

All Quiet on the Western Front still has the power to move if you’re willing to give it a chance.  Universal has lovingly restored it and put it together in a nice package.  I might’ve wanted more current special features (expert commentary or newly produced making of since the ones included are about numerous films) but we still get some nice stuff. 

Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.