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All Quiet on the Western Front

For my second entry in the 79 Oscar winners in 2007 campaign, we go with the best picture of 1930, All Quiet on the Western Front. Based on the Novel by Erich Maria Remarque, the movie shows Paul, a German soldier who enlists out of his high school classroom at the outbreak of World War I, as do all of his classmates. We follow the group through training and into the trenches, and then one by one they are killed in action and those who remain become more and more disillusioned by the war.

This is the proto-type for nearly all war movies made today. There's the training sequence featuring the tough drill instructor who all the new recruits hate, the first taste of battle when all of the older veterans tell the new guys what war is really like, and by the end the soldiers we've come to know are the grisled veterans showing the ropes to the new recruits.

But what those later movies don't often reproduce is All Quiet on the Western Front's dim view of war and depiction of the hypocracy surounding the war effort. In the beginning the two people most giddy about the fight are the mailman who is in the reserves and the school teacher. Once the mailman finds himself in the trenches he freezes up. The teacher meanwhile never leaves the classroom, and when Paul goes on leave three years later and visits his hometown, the teacher is still giving the same "Fight for the Fatherland" speach he used in 1914 to encourage Paul and his classmates to sign up. This leads to a powerful scene where Paul tells the new class what war is really like, much to the teacher's dismay.

But the main thrust of the movie is Paul's gradual breakdown. He deals with the death of a close friend by simply being happy that he himself is alive, but a night in a bomb crater with a dead French soldier begins a downward spiral that leads to the not-so-triumphant return home. As the title card at the beginning states, many of these soldiers "may have escaped its shells, (but) were destroyed by the war."

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