The Consensus 100 Greatest War Movies


Ad Honoris
May 2011
Navan, Ireland
While walking the dog today thought about a film I am not sure has been mentioned --" Murphy's War"

Peter O'Toole the sole survivor of a German U-Boat massacre decides to 'get even.
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Feb 2012
New York City
15. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

SYNOPSIS: “All Quiet” is based on the most famous war novel. It follows a squad of German soldiers on the Western Front. Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres) joins the war as an enthusiastic recruit and his experiences change him into a cynical veteran. His comrades are whittled away, but he maintains his humanity.

BACK-STORY: The first great anti-war film was based on the greatest anti-war novel ever written. Lewis Milestone took on the task of bringing Erich Remarque’s book to the screen and even considered casting Remarque as Paul Baumer. Lew Ayres won the role and was so affected by it that he became a pacifist and jeopardized his career by claiming conscientious objector status in WWII. His brave service as a medic helped regain much good will from the public. Milestone had learned filmmaking in the Signal Corps during WWI. He knew what war looked like from editing war footage. He recreated no man’s land on a ranch in California. Shell holes were blasted with dynamite and then filled with muddy rain water. A French village was built on a back lot and included a canal that was dug for the swimming scene. Twenty tons of black powder and ten tons of dynamite were used for the battle scenes. One explosion resulted in Milestone being hit by debris and knocked unconscious. 2,000 extras were found in California by requesting help from American Legion posts. The US Army could not provide soldiers because American doughboys could not appear in foreign uniforms on film. The 99 day shoot was double the planned 48. The $.9 million budget boomed to $1.4 million. It paid off as the movie was a smashing success and won the Best Picture Oscar. Milestone won Best Director and the film was nominated for Writing and Cinematography. It was not a smashing success in Nazi Germany, a country Remarque had been forced to flee for his life.

TRIVIA: Wikipedia, imdb, TCM

1. There is a sequel called “The Road Back” released in 1937.
2. Zasu Pitts, a comedic actress, was originally tabbed to play Paul’s mother. She was replaced by Beryl Mercer after test audiences laughed whenever Pitts appeared on the screen.
3. 2,000 extras were used for the battle scenes. Many of them were veteran German soldiers who lived in the Los Angeles area.
4. It won Academy Awards for Outstanding Production (Best Picture back then) and Direction. It was the first picture to win both. It was the first sound war movie to win best picture. It was nominated for Writing and Cinematography.
5. It was ranked #54 on the first AFI list of movies, but inexplicably did not make the 10th anniversary list. It was #7 on the list of Epic Movies.
6. At its premiere, Goebbels had the Brown Shirts release mice, stink bombs, and sneezing powder to clear the theater. The movie was pulled after a week and not shown again in Germany until 1952 ( the year Remarque returned to his homeland ).
7. One of the German extras told Milestone about an incident in the war where a Frenchman’s hands were left hanging on barbed wire. Milestone use the story for the iconic image in the film.
8. Milestone did not want a musical score because he felt it would dilute the seriousness of his work. He was upset that some theaters added music.
9. Lew Ayres became a conscientious objector during WWII because of his experience making the movie. He was blackballed in the acting business. He regained some of his reputation through heroic service as a medic in the war.
10. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Erich Marie Remarque were considered for the role of Paul.
11. Louis Wolheim (Katt) died unexpectedly of stomach cancer in 1931.
12. It was #2 at the box office.
13. The German title was “Nothing New in the West”.
14. It was banned in Italy until 1956, Australia until 1941, and Austria until 1960.
15. Erich Marie Remarque was wounded five times on the Western Front.
16. Filming started at 11 A.M. on Nov. 11, 1929. The eleventh anniversary of the end of the war.
17. Raymond Griffith (the dying French soldier with Paul in the shell hole) had lost his voice as a child, but became a silent film star. The advent of talkies ruined his career.
18. The original ending had Paul dying heroically. Milestone was dissatisfied with it, but had no alternative until his director of photography suggested the butterfly (which harkened back to the butterfly collection in Paul’s room). Since he was in post-production, Milestone had dismissed Ayres, so he shot the scene using his own hand to reach for the butterfly.

Belle and Blade = 3.0
Brassey’s = 5.0
Video Hound = 5.0
War Movies = 5.0
Military History = #1
Channel 4 = #33
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = yes
Rotten Tomatoes = #5

OPINION: “All Quiet” is a technical marvel and Milestone belongs on the Mount Rushmore of war movie directors just for this movie alone. (He also made “A Walk in the Sun” and “Pork Chop Hill”.) It is the kind of film where you notice the cinematographic flourishes in a positive way. Milestone has a penchant for framing scenes through doorways and windows. This tends to detach the audience or the main characters from the exterior events. This is apparent from the opening scene where we see the parade through a doorway and then we transition to Kantorek’s class as the parade passes by. Milestone then has the fired-up boys marching out to join the war. The battle scenes include a variety of shots. There is a magnificent panning shot over the trench intercut with views of no man’s land. We even get some POV which was rare for films from that era. The interplay of the machine gun mowing down the wave of French does a chilling job of depicting modern mechanized warfare. The most memorable sight is of the French soldiers leaping into the trench.
The main flaw in the movie and the main reason why I had disappointing results from showing it to students is the elements that reflect the carryover from the silent era. This is mainly reflected in the acting which tends to be hammy. Some of the actors’ facial contortions and scenery chewing are distracting. The dialogue is not part of the acting problem. It is actually not bad and has an appropriate dose of cynicism and soldier humor. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that much of the dialogue comes from the book and Remarque knew how soldiers talked.
The acting keeps the film from being great entertainment. On the other hand, the themes make it an important war movie. The movie is a good retelling of the most significant war novel ever written. You do not have to read Remarque’s novel to get his messages. The movie does that for the audience. Remarque clearly intended to write an anti-war testament and the movie passes this on admirably. It has been said that all war movies are anti-war. I disagree with this, but “All Quiet” has got to be one of the most unambiguous examples of this theory. The movie is much deeper than “war sucks”. It also posits that the soldier age generation was betrayed by the establishment (teachers, fathers, generals). A third theme is that the soldiers were the same no matter the side. This was hammered at in the shell crater scene. The scene with the French women expands this theme. A corollary to this is the soldier discussions that emphasize that soldiers don’t have a clue about what war is all about and why they are fighting. The cynicism and disillusionment that effect soldiers because of the incompetence and pomposity of leadership are effectively depicted.
In conclusion, “All Quiet” is the king of war movies. It clearly belongs higher on this list. Its ranking was skewed by the mediocre review from Belle and Blade. In many ways it created the genre as we know it, although it is not the first war movie. You could argue it was the first anti-war movie. Hollywood took a while to evolve to clearly anti-war movies. Before U.S. entered the war, most war films advocated neutrality. Then they supported preparedness (The Battle Cry of Peace). Once we entered, the movies favored intervention. In the Twenties, Hollywood depicted the war as an adventure (What Price Glory?, Wings, The Big Parade). By the end of the decade, books like “All Quiet” steered the industry toward cynicism and thus it is the granddaddy of movies like “Platoon”. More important, the movie established many of the tropes that define war movies. The comradeship and bonding of soldiers at the front. The detachment from the home front. The clueless leaders. The crusty veterans. The officer who lets power go to his head. The friends who go to war together and evolve into experienced soldiers until they die. Specifically, it created the subgenre of “who will survive?” It’s a testament to the greatness of the book/movie that the deaths are not predictable and are so memorable.
The TV version starring Richard Thomas and Ernest Borgnine was also excellent and in some ways better than the original.
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Feb 2012
New York City
I'm not surprised that one of my favorites is not on the list. War Hunt is a relatively forgotten movie about the Korean War despite the involvement of a lot of big names. Robert Redford is the most famous but B-movie star John Saxon is most memorable as a psychopath (possibly a serial killer) who finds his niche killing enemy soldiers and gathering intelligence on lone wolf missions.


Forum Staff
Apr 2010
T'Republic of Yorkshire
I preferred Zulu Dawn over Zulu (despite Bert Lancaster's leprechaun accent), but the war movie I enjoyed the most was Der Untergang.
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