All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

allquietonthewesternfront_1Starring Louis Wolheim, Lew Ayres, John Wray, Arnold Lucy, Ben Alexander, Scott Kolk, Owen Davis Jr., Walter Rogers, William Bakewell, Russell Gleason, Richard Alexander, Harold Goodwin, Slim Summerville, G. Pat Collins, Beryl Mercer, Edmund Breese

Directed by Lewis Milestone

Expectations: Moderate. I’m not too excited to watch this for some reason.

fourstar


All Quiet on the Western Front is a remarkable film for its day, and it’s one that still holds up impressively well today. It is a war film that contains everything you could possibly want in one: battles, boot camp, camaraderie, patriotism, disillusionment, the list goes on. The film opens on the patriotic high of classmates enlisting for their country’s greater good, spurred on by the rousing words of their professor, and it eventually works its way through the war to a very natural and emotional anti-war ending.

Set during World War I and focusing on the German side of the struggle, All Quiet on the Western Front is largely plotless and driven simply by the various episodes and struggles the characters go through. There’s no grand goal for them to achieve; the film doesn’t even attempt to convey the context of the war and which side is which. This one is specifically from the point of view of the enlisted man, the man who must die for his country and who stands to gain nothing more than the right to go back to his life if he survives the war.

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Gangs of New York (1938)

gangsofnewyork_1Starring Charles Bickford, Ann Dvorak, Alan Baxter, Wynne Gibson, Harold Huber, Willard Robertson, Max ‘Slapsie Maxie’ Rosenbloom, Charles Trowbridge, John Wray, Jonathan Hale

Directed by James Cruze

Expectations: Moderate.

onehalfstar


Gangs of New York was the first full script that Sam Fuller wrote and sold on his own, so it’s something of a shame that it’s not a better movie. Of course, as a Fuller fan I can always point to the other writers’ names that appear above Fuller’s in the credits as the ones who screwed up the story, or perhaps director James Cruze. They’re the ones that took Fuller’s script and reshaped it into the film at hand, after all. But Sam Fuller, as great as he became, is not infallible, so I’m sure some of the blame is his too. But what makes me lean away from this notion (other than my fandom) is the opening shot of the film. Fuller included the beginning of his screenplay in his memoir, so this opening is without a doubt the creation of Fuller.

Technically, this wonderful shot is the film’s second, but it’s hard for me to count stock footage of an elevated train as a shot. Anyway, we open on a dingy looking business with a car sitting curbside. The street is silent, until the sound of gun fire ricochets out from the building. Three men quickly descend the stairs exiting the building, jumping inside the car just before it speeds away. An injured man stumbles in pursuit, firing a pistol at the getaway car before keeling over. Some bystanders rush to help him, and a policeman comes from behind the camera, walking into the foreground to blow his whistle. This is all contained in a single, static, incredible shot, dense with action and storytelling to whet the audience’s appetite for a thrilling gangster picture. It’s the first of many fantastic, gripping openings from Sam Fuller’s mind, but unfortunately that’s about all the Fuller influence to be found here… outside of a few shots of story events being broken in the newspapers (which hardly counts).

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