If you want the big picture of these films (plot, actors, etc.) you can google that in a heartbeat. So emphasis: subjectivity.
What impresses me the most about these early films is their existential character. I know that’s a cliché buzzword for pseudo-academics who want to sound deep. But what it means is the lack of a moral (though not necessarily amoral), the fact that life just happens ... and then ends.
Sometimes the hero doesn’t win, or worse yet, isn’t even really a hero. Time goes on with no guarantee that what happens is really the ‘best of all possible worlds’ at all.
For example, the Wikipedia description of the plot of All Quiet on the Western Front seems to cover every single scene with perfect accuracy, except mysteriously leaves out entirely one scene: the one where the ‘hero’ sleeps with a French peasant – never saw her before, never will see her again. Why have it in the film? Why leave it out of an otherwise thorough synopsis? Freaking life man!
A huge epic and a strange mix. On the one hand, it is full of all that bombastic bravado characteristic of many WWII propaganda films (you know, the ones with “VICTORY” in the title) … but under it all there is loss and devastation, covered up (as with cheap white paint) by people’s need for heroes and villains and cheering and parades.
But we see underneath the real personal devastation of knowing that there was so much more more beneath the headlines - some black smudging that white and most likely some white smearing the black on the other side of this damned yin/yang war.
So there's the existential element to a film with enough flash to please the glorifiers and enough gloom to speak to those who actually endured it -- a victory story yet with an ultimately not-so-happy ending.
Overall, quite impressive! Amazing battle scenes (a couple of people actually died in the making of this film) mixed with tales of heartbreak and coming to home to a grateful nation that will never understand.
All Quiet on the Western Front:
My grandfather served in World War two … and like many vets of the great war, he had that intimidating depth and untouchable honor of someone who had gone through the unspeakable and returned to live a new life. Their marriages and kids and houses and cars were like having grown men play children on stage.
What would I have to do today to get that kind of depth today?
This movie shows us a snapshot of that first life.
There were stories my grandfather never told.
How could you ever argue with a man like that … he knew things that you simply could not.
Nietzsche says (and, no, I don’t know where) … you cannot trust someone’s speaking unless they personally have earned the right to say it (he uses this to critique preachers, I believe).
One of the great things about All Quiet is the way the ‘hero’ in the end could not have been predicted from the characters we meet in the beginning. The ‘hero’ is simple the one who survived, which, I imagine, is so life-like. So death-like. So wartime-like.
He’s not the best one, not the worst one, not the one that makes the most sense, like a script, but just the one who didn’t happen to die. People in the late 20’s maybe deserve more philosophical credit than I expected!