All Quiet on the Western Front

Alternate Title: The Ants Go Marching
1929 Winner

This is not a pretty sight. All Quiet on the Western Front opens with a group of school boys being told by their teacher how the fatherland needs them to fight in the war (World War I, in this case). Most of the boys, with one exception, are excited at the prospect of becoming soldiers and eagerly enlist.

Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres) is the leader of the pack. He and his friends manage to make it to the front together, where they soon discover that war means living in cramped trenches, underfed, and with the sound of bombs going off as the only music in their ears. There is no glory; there is no victory; there are no girls; and there isn’t a lot of explanation as to what any of them are doing there. Though Paul is a self-starter, his attitude darkens as he watches the war change all of his friends around him from young boys into dead men.

https://youtu.be/_SQr8I3lcW8

The movie is old, but marks an early example of an anti-war film from a German’s perspective – a perspective that doesn’t get a lot of air time after that second World War. The story describes how war eats away at humanity and begs the question asked by every anti-war film since this one: What is this for, and is it all really worth it? Furthermore, why are the people who aren’t doing the fighting always the ones with the loudest voices?

Now it’s Your Turn…
All Quiet on the Western Front won Best Picture in 1929, but did the Academy get it right?

Wings

Alternate Title: All’s Fair in Love and War
1927 Winner

Wings marks the very first winner of the Oscar for Best Picture.

Just to clear the air, yes, this movie is quite old. In fact, it’s nearly 100 years old. It’s also a bit on the long side at a run time of close to two and a half hours.

Jack Powell (Charles Rogers) has a neighbor named Mary (Clara Bow) and she is totally smitten with him. Unfortunately, Jack is too focused on sprucing up his new car called The Shooting Star to give her much thought. Meanwhile, he daydreams about being a fighter pilot in the army at the height of World War I. It also turns out that Jack is sweet on another local girl, Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston). Like all great love stories though, almost none of the love here is reciprocated. Sylvia’s affection is for David (Richard Arlen), the wealthiest guy in the town. David also ends up joining the army a fighter pilot.

Before leaving for the front lines, both Mary and Sylvia give pictures of themselves (fully clothed) to Jack. Mary’s intentions are clear, but Sylvia only gives a locket with her photo in it to Jack when he mistakes it as a gift for him – but it was actually meant for David all along.

During training, Jack and David become unlikely friends. Mary decides to join the war effort as a driver and eventually, the three reconnect under some bubbly circumstances.

The movie is entirely silent – restored with a music score. Title cards give the impression that the movie is both a school play and a storybook, which is surreal and refreshing since no movies out now are like this one and some of them feature way too much jibber-jabber. Clara Bow plays the lead female, but her career was short-lived because the advent of sound in film exposed her heavy New York accent. Actresses back then had to even fucking sound pretty to keep their jobs.

History class aside, this movie is pretty good. There’s vaudeville-style theater acting, which is delightfully over-the-top. There’s a love story wrapped up in a war film; and there’s exciting air battles. There’s even a lingering shot of a Hershey bar, which could constitute one of the earliest examples of product placement in a movie. Plus, for other film buffs, Gary Cooper makes a brief appearance.

Given the special effects in the 20’s were giant steps behind their capabilities today, the sky fighting still manages to be exciting. Although, I personally have a hard time watching a movie about fighter pilots without listening to “Danger Zone.” I’m not sure audiences in the 20’s would agree with me on that one…

Now it’s Your Turn…
Wings won Best Picture in 1927, but did the Academy get it right?