Filled with a cast of men, dead before you even have a chance to know them, watching All Quiet On The Western Front is as close as anyone is ever likely to get to the horror of the First World War.
Lewis Milestone's 1930 drama is an unflinching adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's anti-war novel, about a group of young German boys who are convinced to enlist in the Great War after their teacher gives them an impassioned speech about honour and heroism. Milestone's film (made for Universal Pictures) was provocative to say the least.
In Germany, where the defeat of the war was still a bitter memory, screenings were stormed by Nazi Party rabble-rousers who objected to its "lies" about the glory of combat. Even in the United States it was boycotted by the American Legion, but despite the negative publicity, it still scooped a Best Picture Oscar.
Displaying technical brilliance - in particular the stupendous tracking shots over trenches where lines of infantry stand in wait - this doesn't skimp on the misery either. It hammers home a distressingly realistic vision of the inanity of war: soldiers chasing rats, a bottle of spirits being passed from one grasping hand to the next after an exhausted platoon recovers from yet another pointless push across no man's land. And, in one of the film's most celebrated moments, an infantryman blown up in an artillery strike. He all but vanishes apart from the hands left dangling on a length of barbed wire.
Released by the BFI uncut, in a newly restored print, this deserves a place alongside Renoir's La Grande Illusion and Kubrick's Paths Of Glory as one of the most effective pacifist arguments ever committed to celluloid. It is a torturous vision of death devoid of glory.