Art Vs Commerce: Beginnings (20s/30s)


Okay, the 1930s. Drought, unemployment, the rise of fascism in Europe, bad decade. Cinema had to step up its game to distract from the Great Depression. What did they go with? What wowed the Academy?

And The Oscar Goes To…

Image: Universal

Oh. Good. More World War One stuff. Cool. Cool cool cool. Not like there was another even worse war brewing or anything.

Okay, now this one I get winning the big prize. Where Wings had the mission statement of “Let’s hear it for the air force, ain’t they swell,” All Quiet on the Western Front is a brutally effective anti-war film, as we follow a group of young men from being incited to enlist in the newly declared war by their professor… and can I just pause to point out how proud that asshole was that his “Hooray for dying for your country” speech worked…

Look at this smirking jackass, thrilled his entire class has agreed to get killed before age 25. Was he getting a commission?

Right, so, we follow them through the trials of boot camp to the front lines, where a veteran soldier takes them under his wing, and from there it’s an incredibly well done and staggeringly bleak look at the horrors of war; the stress of living through constant bombardment, the trauma of losing your friends one by one, and the sheer, unmitigated bloodbath of trench warfare. It’s one of the better war movies I’ve seen, better on orders of magnitude than American Sniper, and the interesting twist? It’s an American movie with an American cast, but our point-of-view characters are German.

An American movie about a war that America fought in, entirely from the perspective of the other side. How many of those can you find? Fox News would never let an American filmmaker get away with making a movie sympathetic to the Iraqis. The only big name that springs to mind for me is Letters From Iwo Jima, 76 years after this one. Don’t say Valkyrie, yes Valkyrie was about German soldiers but not so much about the front line. Here we see the universal struggles of the front-line infantry, and we see it from the other side to drive home just how universal they are. I guess it helps that World War One didn’t have good guys and bad guys, just soldiers drawn into a conflict started by the great powers not realizing that the weapons of war had evolved past the point where quick and simple wars were an option to solve all their conflicts.

Good movie. Bleak, but good.

And Rotten Tomatoes Says: With an adjusted score of 106.477%, All Quiet on the Western Front comes in 13th out of 93. Not too shabby. That’s beating at least one Godfather.

An enduring classic, then? What could beat it at the ticket booth?

The Box Office Champ

A sexy musical about a white woman who runs away from home to be with her half-indigenous boyfriend who’s played by a white guy oh good lord how racist is this gonna be… [checks internet]

Wow. Very racist. In ways it doesn’t even need to be. The plot hinges on the idea that a mixed race couple is inherently bad, the guy trying to get these kids together does a blackface number, after which the female lead, the heroine, is viscerally enraged at the idea that a black man might talk to her, what indigenous actors are present are heavily sexualised (that’s a Bad Thing, ask around), the indigenous boyfriend turns out to have been “pure” white all along which he unreservedly celebrates…

Okay you know what, I don’t care if it is from the creator of Ziegfeld’s Follies, I don’t need this, let’s let history forget this one.

Bad job, 1930. Bad job.

And Rotten Tomatoes Says: The five reviews this movie has are somehow favourable. The audience score is slightly less forgiving.

Other Events in Film

  • Remember that aerial combat movie Howard Hughes dumped a lot of money into in The Aviator? It was called Hell’s Angels and it came out this year.
  • A young John Wayne made his cinematic debut in The Big Trail.

Next Page: A King Arrives

Author: danny_g

Danny G, your humble host and blogger, has been working in community theatre since 1996, travelling the globe on and off since 1980, and caring more about nerd stuff than he should since before he can remember. And now he shares all of that with you.

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