All Quiet on the Western Front
Film and television productions based on the novel by Erich Remarque:
Director Lewis Milestone; writer Maxwell Anderson; featuring Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim
Ernest Borgnine, left, and Richard Thomas star in 1979 film of All Quiet on the Western Front
Longer war is even better
At two-and-a-half hours, the 1979 TV movie of All Quiet on the Western Front uses more modern filmmaking techniques to be more faithful to the book's complexity than the 1930 film could ever be.
Richard Thomas as Baumer buries his goody-good image as "John Boy" of TV's The Waltons once and for all in this gritty role. His former super-clean image actually helps, since the character is meant to develop from wide-eyed innocence to weary fatalism.
John Boy in the German army
Thomas carries it out surprisingly well. He is especially good in the scenes when he returns to his town for a short break from the fighting and finds himself alienated from the patriotic fervour still raging on the home front.
The whole production gives us a much more graduated development than previously experienced, taking us in credible steps from the jingoistic drum-beating as war is declared through the growing horrors of war.
It doesn't have to preach or engage in melodrama to convince us, but just to tell us the story directly and simply, as Remarque does in the novel, and let the hard and horrid facts themselves overwhelm us.
And it retains the novel's ending that shocks—although it shouldn't, given all that has gone on up to that point.
Also starring in this movie are a too-old but brilliant Ernest Borgnine as Baumer's comrade-in-arms, Katczinsky, and Patricia Neal as Baumer's mother.
Despite all the acclaim for the long-previous Hollywood film, I think this one is much better. That's a minority opinion, as film fans seem to dismiss it as falling short of the earlier film. It's difficult to win over the audience for a remake of a beloved film that was a classic for its time.
Though this one is certainly better for our times.