Year: 1930
UK: BFI (Access)
Cast: Lew Ayres, Louis Wohlheim, John Wray, Arnold Lucy, Slim Summerville, William Bakewell, Ben Alexander, Scott Kolk, Owen Davis Jr., Walter Rogers, Russell Gleason, Richard Alexander, Harold Goodwin, Pat Collins, Beryl Mercer, Edmund Breese, Robert Parrish, Fred Zinnemann
Director: Lewis Milestone
Country: USA
UK: 138 mins
UK Certificate: PG contains intense war scenes
UK Release Date: 7 November 2003 (Limited Re-release)


To coincide with the anniversary of Armistice Day, the BFI will release a new restoration of Lewis Milestone's All Quiet on the Western Front, one of the first and certainly one of the greatest anti-war films ever made. Nominated for six Academy Awards (1930) and winner of Best Picture, it remains an emotive portrayal of the tragedy of the Great War and a devastating indictment of the horror of war in general.

Based on Erich Maria Remarque's best-selling novel of the same name, Milestone's tour de force follows the fortunes of a group of idealistic young German soldiers in the trenches. Largely autobiographical, the novel draws on Remarque's own experiences as a sapper during the First World War. Its phenomenal global sales prompted producer Carl Laemmle Jr. to buy the film rights for Universal.

Milestone himself had acquired much of his early experience as a film-maker in the photographic unit of the US Army Signal Corps. Having previously directed only silent films, Milestone's sound debut was an extraordinary achievement which earned him the Academy Award for Best Director.

The restoration of All Quiet on the Western Front was a painstaking process which posed an unusual set of problems for the Library of Congress Motion Picture Conservation Center. Over the years, layers of music and other effects had been added to the soundtrack, altering the tone of the film and muting the sound of bomb blasts and artillery shelling. Technicians worked with prints secured from around the world to restore the original sound and ensure that audiences can once again experience the raw force of Milestone's masterpiece.

In an outstanding cast, the veteran talent of Louis Wolheim (Katczinsky) is complemented by the performance of newcomer Lew Ayres, whose Paul Baumer represents the everyman of war. Ayres carries the film's message of the dehumanizing effect of war as we witness his transformation from idealistic patriot to angry and embittered soldier. The inevitable journey ends with one of cinema's most affecting final scenes when Baumer's hand falls as it reaches for a butterfly.