Production Company: Universal
Top Billed Actors: Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim, John Wray
IMDb Rating: 8.1
*Best Picture Nominee*
Won 2 Oscars:
Best Director - Lewis Milestone
Nominated for 2 more:
Best Writing - George Abbott, Maxwell Anderson and Del Andrews
Best Cinematography - Arthur Edeson
Plot: A German schoolteacher convinces an entire class to enlist for World War I. While he gets an early vacation, his students have to crawl in mud and hit rats with shovels.
That message is shown in each sequence of the film. Even though this movie clocks in at over two hours long, each scene had a purpose that contributed to the overall message that war is not glamorous. From the repeated battle scenes in the trenches to the conversations between Lew Ayres' character and the rest of his troop, the importance of each and every scene shines through. A particular moment that has stuck with me over the years (I last watched this about six years ago) was when the character of Louis Wolheim, who has improved so much over his previous films in the project (The Racket (1928) and Two Arabian Knights (1927)), mentions that war should be played out with kings, queens, politicians, and generals all fighting in field in their underwear. That question of why war? is an overarching theme throughout the picture and moments like these provides various ways to keep asking it. The realness of the trenches and the grime of the soldiers is very palpable. Milestone didn't spare any expense.
Like I said before, no scene was wasted throughout the movie. However, the pacing in the movie was rather slow. Each scene had a place and contributed to the theme quite well but the scenes themselves were dragged out and took time to get to the point. It didn't help that the young men overacted to today's standards. Close-ups of the soldiers exclaiming joy or sorrow was rather painful to watch. So, just like other movies of this era, acting and pace are at fault for its shortcomings. Unlike other movies of this era, Milestone chose not to have a musical score. His reason was that music would nullify the serious tone of the film. However, I think this was the wrong move as music would have brought even more impact to the overall message.
Overall, this serious film should be the revered war drama it is today. The clear message drawn out through every sequence is artfully constructed but the absence of music and standout acting lowers the rating slightly.
My Score: 7/10