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All Quiet on the Western Front follows a group of German schoolboys, talked into enlisting at the beginning of World War I by their jingoistic teacher and sent to the Western Front, where their patriotism is destroyed by the harsh realities of combat.
It not only seeks to straddle the high dramatic of the silent era with the more staid aesthetics of the sound era, but it seeks to reveal wartime horror to such a heart-wrenching degree that it will undo war altogether.
The performances are also exemplary, but it is primarily a film of great moments -- the climactic sequence of the young conscript reaching out for a butterfly in the sun -- that, once seen, are never forgotten.
The film's strength now derives less from its admittedly powerful but highly simplistic utterances about war as waste, than from a generally excellent set of performances (Ayres especially) and an almost total reluctance to follow normal plot structure.
So magnificent, so powerful, that it hardly behooves mere words to tell of its heart-rending appeal, of its dramatic fire, its breath-taking battle shots in which men stab and kill each other, for the glory of war.