Saturday, 31 October 2015

Film Fri(Satur)day: "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1931)

This week's "Film Friday" is a very special one. Since it is Halloween, I thought it was only fitting if I told a little bit about what is considered to be one of the greatest horror films of all time (incidentally, this is the only classic horror picture I have seen so far). However, with the Universal Pictures Blogathon, I was not able to post this on time, so this week's "Film Friday" is actually a "Film Fri(Satur)day," which makes it even more appropriate.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) tells the story of Dr. Henry Jekyll (Fredric March), a respected physician in Victorian London who is convinced that man lives with an eternal struggle between his good and evil sides. One evening, Jekyll attends a party at the home of his fiancé, Muriel (Rose Hobart), and asks her father, Brigadier General Sir Danver Carew (Halliwell Hobbes), permission to marry her earlier than they had originally planned, but he sternly refuses. Later, while walking home with his colleague, Dr. John Lanyon (Holmes Herbert), Jekyll saves bar singer Ivy Pearson (Miriam Hopkins) from the advances of a brutish attacker. Ivy then tries to seduce Jekyll, but he resists her charms.

Meanwhile, the Carews leave London for a few months and Jekyll develops a potion to bring forward the evil persona within himself so that it can be anihilated. In doing so, however, he transforms into Mr. Edward Hyde, a hideous creature without compassion or remorse. As "Mr. Hyde," Jekyll then goes to the music hall where Ivy works and promises to tend to her financial needs in return for her company. Although repulsed by him, she accepts his offer, but Hyde soon becomes violent, torturing her physically and pshycologically. When Ivy goes to see Jekyll and begs him to save her from Hyde, he realizes the pain that he (Hyde) has caused her and gives his word that she will never see Hyde again. Later, however, on his way to the Carews' home to celebrate their return, Jekyll suddenly changes into Hyde again, without the use of his potion, and kills Ivy. Turning back into Jekyll, he realizes the monster that he really is and goes to the Carews' to break his engagement. As he arrives, he transforms into Hyde again and assaults Muriel, who is saved by her father. Enraged, Hyde viciously murders Sir Danvers and then runs aways, just as the police arrive and chase him back to Jekyll's lab. He changes back into Jekyll, but when the police reach the lab, he becomes Hyde again and is fatally shot by one of the officers. As the evil Mr. Hyde dies, he transforms one last time into the good Dr. Jekyll.

Dr. Henry Jekyll: Oh, God. This I did not intend. I saw a light, but did not know where it was headed. I have tresspassed on your domain. I've gone further than man should go. Forgive me. Help me!

One day in late 1885, Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson announced to his family that he was "working on a new story that came to him in a dream, and that he was not to be interrupted or disturbed even if the house caught fire." After writing furiously for three days, he revealed that his new story told of a "seemingly respectable" Dr. Jekyll, who invented a potion that transformed him into another person, the "bestial murderer" Mr. Hyde. Upon hearing this, Stevenson's wife, Fanny, pointed out that he had "missed the allegory" and suggested he turn the wicked Dr. Jekyll into a good man who has trouble controlling his evil instincts, as though he represented "the dual nature of Victorian society: prim and proper on the surface, unrestrained and lewd underneath." Following Fanny's advice, Stevenson threw his manuscript into the fire and re-wrote the story in six days, naming it Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Published in January 1886, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was an instant success on both sides of the Atlantic. The Victorian England which birthed the novella was both shocked and fascinated by it. While the story openly defied the concept most valued by the Victorian rulling class, "moral propriety," it was also the perfect description of the "outward respectability and inward lust" that characterized the largely hypocritical English society of the time. In 1888, Stevenson's short novel was adapted for the London stage, but its run was cut short by accusations that it encouraged a series of gruesome murders by the killer known as Jack the Ripper. Since then, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has become a worldwide favorite and the phrase 'Jekyll and Hyde' has even entered the language of psychiatry in association with the rare mental condition called dissociative identity disorder, or "split personality," where within the same body there exists more than one distinct personality.

Fredric March and Rouben Mamoulian
on the set
As Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson's novella has been adapted for the screen numerous times, beginning with a now lost one-reeler released in 1909. Two of the earliest surviving versions include a 1912 short starring James Cruze and a silent film made by Paramount Pictures in 1920 with John Barrymore in the dual role of Jekyll and Hyde. However, neither of these adaptations nor the subsequent ones have the same prestige as Paramount's 1931 Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, widely regarded as the most remarkable screen version of Stevenson's story.

Paramount's decision to produce a second adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was in response to the enormous success of Universal's Dracula (1931), which had whetted the American moviegoing public's appetite  for horror pictures. To helm Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Paramount hired newcomer Rouben Mamoulian, who had been a stage designer and director before coming to Hollywood in the late 1920s. Mamoulian's morally complex interpretation of Stevenson's novella did not involve the usual theme of "good versus evil," but "the spiritual versus the animalistic," with Hyde representing a "primeval man" rather than a monster. As a result, his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde focuses on the relationship between man and nature and the consequences of instinct repressed and distorted, transcending the horror genre by aiming "not to frighten, but to entertain and disturb." Mamoulian's version also emphasized something that was absent from the original story, the contrasting characters of two leading ladies, Jekyll's upper-class fiancé and Hyde's promiscuous music hall singer, both of which had been created by playwright Thomas Russell Sullivan for his 1887 stage adaptation.

Transformation from Jekyll to Hyde
Paramount wanted middle-aged character actor Irving Pichel to star, but Mamoulian thought "Jekyll should be young and handsome" and pursued instead 34-year-old Fredric March, who had just received his first Oscar nomination for his performance in The Royal Family of Broadway (1930). Although hesitant to play a monster, or even an animal in Mamoulian's term, March was attracted to the psychology of the role and soon accepted the offer. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde also provided a golden opportunity for him to break away from the mostly light comedies he had appeared in until then and showcase his dramatic acting abilities.

The shambling image of the Neanderthal man was Mamoulian's model for Hyde's appearance, complete with protuding false teeth and hairy hands created by make-up artist Wally Westmore, who also used pieces of surgical cotton to force open his eyes, drooping the lower lids to suggest "an animalistic leer." To accomplish the remarkable Jekyll-to-Hyde transition scenes, Mamoulian and expert cameraman Karl Struss, winner of the first ever Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his work on F. W. Murnau's Sunrise (1927), covered March's face with specially toned make-up, exposed in stages to a series of variously colored filters to reveal the beastly aspect of Hyde. As an eerie accompaniment to the transformation sequences, Mamoulian applied a sound collage combining the recorded sound of his own heartbeat with the reverberations of a gong played in reverse. Because of the heavy make-up that almost damaged his face permanently, March later called Hyde the most "unpleasant" role of his career.

I conceived Mr. Hyde as more than just Dr. Jekyll's inhibited evil nature, I saw the beast as a separate entity — one who could, and almost did, little by little, overpower and annihilate Dr. Jekyll [...] To me, those repeated appearances of the beast within him were more than just a mental strain on Jekyll — they crushed him physically as well. I tried to bring this out by increasing lines and shadows of Jekyll's makeup as the picture progressed, until, in the last scenes, he looked as though he already had one foot in the grave. Hyde was killing Jekyll physically as well as mentally.
(Fredric March)

Miriam Hopkins as Ivy Pearson
Mamoulian wanted the "big-boned and bovine" newcomer Miriam Hopkins to play Soho temptress Ivy Pearson, but she thought the part was "unsympathetic" and campaigned instead for Muriel Carew, "the safe character." To convince her to take on the role, Mamoulian "walked out on her and snapped: 'All right, that makes it easy, I'll have no trouble finding someone to play Ivy. Half the actresses in Hollywood would give their eye teeth for the part.' She called me back and gave in." The role of Muriel was then given to another newcomer, Rose Hobart, who had recently made her film debut in Frank Borzage's drama Liliom (1930).

Although at the time "censorship was lax and Hollywood made the most of it," the erotic nature of Ivy's scenes still caused some agitation within the Hays Office. In August 1931, the Association of Motion Picture Producers (AMPP) advised Paramount studio chief B. P. Schulberg against the line in which Ivy tells Hyde, "Take me!" and Hyde's line, "I am going to take you!" deeming the dialogue "overly brutal" and "too suggestive." Additional caution was recommended for the scene in which Hyde snaps Ivy's garter, as well as for the reference to her "customers." The censors also objected to a sequence that showed Ivy undress in front of Jekyll when he first comes to her room because it was too long, stating that it should not drag "simply to titillate the audience." Despite the warnings, the Hays Office praised Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as "magnificently done" and passed it without making any cuts to the finished product. However, the unbridled violence and sexual undertones of the story finally alarmed the Hollywood censors in 1935 during a crackdown on films released before the Production Code was rigorously enforced. In order for the picture to be re-issued, Paramount had to eliminate the undressing scene and the line in which Jekyll tells Ivy he "wants her."

The set of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Paramount was confident enough in the film to grant Mamoulian seven weeks of shooting time and a budget of $500,000, twice the cost of most A-pictures at the time. Art director Hans Dreier brought a German expressionist aesthetic of menace to the streets and interiors of Victorian London in 35 historically accurate sets constructed to allow the greatest variety of camera angles and control over lighting, rain and fog. Mamoulian explained that camera angles "must be used to match the dramatic angle of the scene, never for their own sake," adding that the angle "definitely enters the realm of the psychological. It can convey the underlying significance of a sense as nothing else can."

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde premiered at the Rivoli Theatre in New York on December 31, 1931 and it was an instant critical and commercial hit, becoming one of the biggest money-makers of 1932. Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times, for instance, wrote that the film "emerges as a far more tense and shuddering affair than it was as John Barrymore's silent picture." Much of Hall's praise was directed at Fredric March, whom he called a "stellar performer," adding that "[his] portrayal is something to arouse admiration, even taking into consideration the camera wizardry. As Dr. Jekyll he is a charming man, and as the fiend he is alert and sensual." Hall finished his review by noting that "Miriam Hopkins does splendidly as the unfortunate Ivy [and] Rose Hobart is clever as the sympathetic Muriel," additionally commending the detailed settings for enhancing the scenes.

At the 5th Academy Awards on November 18, 1932, March won his first Oscar for Best Actor, "tying" with Wallace Berry for his work in the boxing drama The Champ (1931), though the Academy later revealed that March had in fact topped Beery by one vote. In addition, Karl Struss received a second nomination for Best Cinematography, while Percy Heath and Samuel Hoffenstein were mentioned for Best Adapted Screenplay. Although Miriam Hopkins did not win an Academy Award for her acclaimed performance, her Ivy reigns as the top "bad girl" of Horror's Golden Age, even though Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was largely "lost" for decades. As Gregory William Mank writes, "the theatricality and ferocity of the actress work in the character's favor; those piggy eyes and hungry smile suit a Soho streetwalker making her all the more striking in her climatic humiliation and horror."

Publicity still for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

While I am not a huge fan of the horror/gothic genre in general, I did like Robert Louis Stevenson's novella, which I think captured the decadent charm of Victorian London perfectly, in addition to offering a reasonable examination of the duality of human nature. In contrast, I did not enjoy Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at all. Firstly, I think the female characters are a pointless addition to the story and Ivy ultimately turned Hyde into an oversexed creature rather than the menacing beast that he should have been. Furthermore, Fredric March, although effective as the tormented Jekyll, was too twitchy as Hyde, making the character look a bit silly at times. Neverthless, I do have to praise the film for its amazing sets and visual effects as well as Mamoulian's expert direction, all of which succeeded in imbuing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with the same dark atmosphere that is present in Stevenson's original story.

Dark Romance: Sexuality in the Horror Film by David J. Hogan (1986) | Horror and the Horror Film by Bruce K. Kawin (2012) | Mamoulian: Life on Stage and Screen by David Lurhssen (2013) | "On My Way": The Untold Story of Rouben Mamoulian, George Gershwin and 'Porgy and Bess' by Joseph Horowitz (2013) | Robert Louis Stevenson: Finding Treasure Island by Angelica Shirley Carpenter and Jean Shirley (1997) | Women in Horror Films, 1930s by Gregory William Mank (1999) | IMDb | TCMDb (Article) | TCMDb (Notes) | The New York Times contemporary review by Mordaunt Hall

Friday, 30 October 2015

The Universal Pictures Blogathon: «All Quiet on the Western Front» (1930)

This story is neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war.

Original release poster
Directed by Lewis Milestone, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) tells the story of a group of German schoolboys, led by the sensitive Paul Bäumer (Lew Ayres), who decide to join the Kaiser's Army after their patriotic teacher, Professor Kantorek (Arnold Lucy), convinces them of how «sweet and fitting it is do die for the Fatherland.» Their romantic delusions are soon shattered, when they reach training camp and are bullied by their sadistic drillmaster, Corporal Himmelstoß (John Wray). Arriving at their billets, Paul and his friends meet a group of already hardened and cynical veterans of the war, including Stanislaus 'Kat' Katczinsky (Louis Wolheim), Detering (Harold Goldwin), Tjaden (Slim Summerville) and Westhus (Richard Alexander). 

The troops then move to the trenches, where they soon experience the full violence of the Western Front. In an attack on a cemetery, Paul stabs a French soldier, Duval (Raymond Griffith), but finds himself trapped in a shell-hole with the dying man for two days. When the Frenchman dies, Paul cries bitterly and begs the dead body for forgiveness, promising to help his family after the war. Paul eventually manages to crawl to safety and the company marches into a new town, where they enjoy a brief romantic interlude with a group of French farm girls. While marching out of town the next morning, they are attacked and both Paul and his friend Albert Kropp (William Bakewell) are injured. In the hospital, Albert's leg is amputated, though Paul soon recovers and is allowed home leave. Back home, Paul finds his mother (Beryl Mercer) ill and is shocked by how misinformed everyone is about the actual situation of the war. Visiting his old school, Paul sees Kantorek still delivering the same patriotic speech and angrily tells the students that «when it comes to dying for your country, it's better not to die at all.» Accused of cowardice, Paul returns to the front before his leave expires and learns that only Tjaden and Kat remain alive. However, Kat is soon injured by a strafing aircraft and dies as Paul carries him to a field hospital. Back on the battlefield, Paul sees a butterfly just beyond his trench and as he tries to reach it, he becomes to exposed and is shot and killed by an enemy sniper. All is quiet on the Western Front.

 Paul Bäumer: Up at the front, you're alive or you're dead and that's all. You can't fool anybody about
that very long. And up there we know we're lost and done for whether we're death or alive. Three years
we've had of it... four years! And every day a year and every night a century! And our bodies are earth
and our thoughts are clay, and we sleep and eat with death! And we're done for
because you can't live that way and keep anything inside you. 

Erich Maria Remarque was only eighteen years old when, in November 1916, he was drafted into the German Army along with some of his classmates from the Catholic Teachers' Seminar. Following eight months of training in the Caprivi Camp in his hometown of Osnabrück, he was sent to a position behind the Arras Front in France, shortly before being assigned trench duty near Houthulst Forest in the Belgian region of West Flanders. On July 31, 1917, the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele (also known as the Third Battle of Ypres), Remarque was wounded by British shell-splinters and taken to the military hospital in Duisburg, Germany. He stayed on for some time as a clerk at the hospital and then returned for training to Osnabrück, where he remained until the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. After the war, Remarque completed his teacher training and even taught for a short time, but he soon realized that his passion lay somewhere else: writing.

Starting in 1920 with The Dream Room (Die Traumbude), Remarque wrote fifteen books during his 50-year career as a novelist. The majority of his works dealt with the theme of war and its aftermath, though none had the impact of All Quiet on the Western Front (originally Im Westen nichts Neues). First published in serial form in the German newspaper Vossische Zeitung between November and December 1928, All Quiet on the Western Front was released in book format the following year to great international success. However, many of Remarque's countrymen censored the novel for being defeatist, due to its strong anti-military sentiments and its desolate vision of a generation that had been «destroyed by war, even though it might have escaped its shells,» and it eventually became one of the first «degenerate» books to be burnt publicly in Nazi Germany. In contrast, pacifists declared it a seminal anti-war book, hailing Remarque as a valuable spokesperson for the 'Lost Generation', «a generation that could not and would not forget the faults of those who had created such a senseless war.»

Lew Ayres and Louis Wolheim
While All Quiet on the Western Front was dividing opinions around the world, Carl Laemmle, president and founder of Universal Pictures, gave the job of head of production at the studio to his son, Carl Laemmle Jr., as a 21st birthday present. Notorious for his expensive taste, «Junior» Laemmle persuaded his father to bring Universal up to date by converting the studio to sound production and change its focus from low-budget «short stuff and potboilers» to high-quality prestige pictures. Little did he know that this fooray into first-class production was going to bring the end of the Laemmle era at the studio. 

Laemmle Jr. was an avid reader and as soon as he came across All Quiet on the Western Front, he knew it had to be filmed — and at a studio whose president was German-born. After purchasing the screen rights to Remarque's novel for $25,000, Laemmle offered the picture to Irish-born director Herbert Brenon, notable for such silent classics as Peter Pan (1924) and Beau Geste (1926), both filmed for Paramount Pictures. When Brenon asked for a higher salary than Universal was willing to pay, Laemmle hired Lewis Milestone instead. 

Born in Moldova in 1895, Milestone emigrated to the United States at the young age of seventeen and had his first exposure to filmmaking during World War I, when he served in the Army Signal Corps, editing newsreels and photographic images of the front. After the war, he moved to Hollywood and worked as a film cutter and screenwriter, before making his directorial debut in Seven Sinners (1925), which he wrote in collaboration with the future founder and studio chief of 20th Century Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck. Two years later, Milestone became the first and only person to receive an Academy Award for Best Comedy Director for the wartime comedy Two Arabian Nights (1927), starring William Boyd, Mary Astor and Louis Wolheim.

Lew Ayres as Paul Bäumer
Feeling that Maxwell Anderson's initial screenplay strayed too far from Remarque's original story, Milestone decided to rewrite it with the help of Del Andrews, a close friend from whom he had learned how to edit film before he had started directing. They delivered a treatment, then asked Anderson to add in the necessary dialogue. Renowned stage director George Abbott, whose successful 1926 play Broadway had recently served as the basis for Universal's first talking picture with Technicolor sequences, was later brought in to complete the script for All Quiet on the Western Front to Milestone's satisfaction.

Both Milestone and Laemmle Jr. wanted to cast Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in the leading role of Paul Bäumer. Fairbanks, however, had a lucrative contract with United Artists and the already financially stressed Universal would have to pay an excessive amount of money to secure a loan-out. Unable to reach an agreement with Fairbanks's home studio, Universal decided to hold auditions to find another actor the part. Meanwhile, 20-year-old Lew Ayres, who had just made his screen debut opposite Greta Garbo in her last silent film, The Kiss (1929), had read the novel and like so many young actors was desperate for a role in the film. When Ayres showed up for an audition two weeks before production was scheduled to begin, he immediately caught Milestone's attention. The director proceeded to tell Universal that he wanted the role to go to Ayres, but Laemmle was reluctant to cast «a nobody.» Determined to get Ayres, Milestone ordered additional screen tests and even had the film's dialogue coach, future director George Cukor, to shoot the test which ultimately convinced Laemmle Jr. to sign the newcomer.

I watched this boy [Ayres]. It was not even a close shot, it was kind of a mid-shot. But I liked everything I saw about this guy — I liked the way he stood, I liked the way he talked and I liked the way he impressed the lieutenant with the justice of their demand.
(Lewis Milestone)

For the role of the boys' mentor, Katczinky, Laemmle Jr. wanted to cast James Murray, the star of King Vidor's critically acclaimed The Crowd (1928), but Milestone insisted on hiring his friend and popular character actor Louis Wolheim, who had appeared in the aforementioned Two Arabian Nights as well as the director's The Racket (1928). Despite his rough physical traits, which often relegated him to roles of thugs or villains, the 50-year-old Wolheim was a caring and well-educated individual who had spent six years as a mathematics professor at Cornell University in New York before deciding to enter the film business in 1914.

Louis Wolheim in a publicity still
The supporting cast members of All Quiet on the Western Front included a mix of experienced actors and newcomers. Theater-trained actor Arnold Lucy signed on to play the boys' overly patriotic professor, while real life World War I veteran-turned-actor Pat Collins, who had appeared with Wolheim in The Racket, was cast as their company officer, Lt. Bertinck. Character actor John Wray, briefly considered for the role of Paul, was hired as the boys' jovial town postman who later becomes their abusive drill instructor. Popular comedians and frequent co-stars Slim Summerville and ZaSu Pitts were cast as Tjaden, an older soldier in the boys' unit, and as Paul's sickly mother.

Renowned silent film comedian Raymond Griffith took on his first sound role, appearing as the French soldier who slowly dies in a foxhole as Paul watches (due to a childhood respiratory disease that permanently damaged his vocals chords, Griffith could only speak with a husky whisper, making him perfect for the part). Finally, a number of up-and-coming actors, including Ben Alexander, William Bakewell, Russell Gleason, Scott Kolk, Owen Davis Jr. and Walter Rogers, were all cast in secondary roles as Paul's fellow soldiers, the last of whom was on the original advertisements and posters.

Lew Ayres and Raymond Griffith
From the beginning, Milestone and Laemmle Jr. were determined to make their portrayal of World War I Europe as authentic and realistic as possible. Consequently, Universal's set and art department spent months transforming a large area of a ranch in Laguna Beach into a stand-in for the «no-man's land» of the Western Front. In addition, the studio hired expert cameraman Arthur Edeson, who had created a «quiet sound camera" that allowed talkies to be shot outside a soundstage, and commissioned a special camera crane which could be placed on tracks to film the battle scenes from above. During pre-production, Milestone also made sure that authentic weaponwry and uniforms were used and employed over a thousand extras, including hundreds with actual military experience, to fill the trenches and play small supporting roles in the film. To train the young cast for their battlefield sequences, the studio hired former German Army drillmaster Otto Biber, who taught them actual German military exercises and basic training maneuvres to the point that «each could perform on command a perfect Goose Step.»

Principal photography on All Quiet on the Western Front started at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1929, exactly eleven years after the end of World War I. An authoritative but always prepared and self-confident director, Milestone was respected by the entire cast and crew, particularly the young men playing soldiers, who called him «Millie» and referred to him as their Captain. Although he was rather introverted on the set, Ayres developed friendships with Alexander and Bakewell, who would remain his closest friends for the rest of their lives. He would also occasionally approach Wolheim between takes and chat with him about academia and his previous work as a teacher. When Ayres commented about his own developing interest in the study of philosophy, Wolheim kindly sent him a book on the subject after the film finished production.

Beryl Mercer and Lew Ayres
Both Laemmle Jr. and Milestone had intended to remain faithful to Remarque's novel and conclude the film as originally written, with Ayres dying on camera. However, the scene did not work on screen and was subsequently scrapped. Pioneering German cameraman Karl Freund, who had replaced Edeson in the last few weeks of shooting, then suggested the iconic ending they filmed, in which Paul is killed by a sniper while reaching for a butterfly he sees just beyond his trench. During the editing process, Milestone decided he needed a close-up of «Paul's» hand to make the scene more powerful, so he simply shot the scene using his own hand as a stand-in. 

By the time production wrapped, All Quiet on the Western Front had gone several weeks over schedule and $557,863 over budget, bringing the final cost to an extravagant $1.45 million. When the picture previewed at a Universal City theatre, audiences burst out laughing at the sight of ZaSu Pitts in the role of Mrs. Bäumer. Despite her tragic and acclaimed performance in Erich von Stroheim's Greed (1924), which had led to a brief reign as a dramatic leading lady, she had returned to comedy by the advent of sound and was so recognizable as a comedian that the moment she appeared on screen, audiences automatically expected a funny scene. As a result, Universal immediately withdrew all domestic prints of the film and proceeded to reshoot her scenes with Spanish-born actress Beryl Mercer, who later became known for a series of motherly roles in several high profile pictures. However, Pitts can still be seen in European prints and the trailer for the film's silent version, which was produced simultaneously.

From the moment it premiered at the Manhattan Central Theatre in New York in April 1930, All Quiet on the Western Front was lauded by audiences and critics alike as a masterpiece. Howard Barnes of the New York Herald Tribune called it «courageously bitter,» Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times deemed it «a notable achievement, sincere and earnest,» and Variety described it as «a harrowing, gruesome, morbid tale of war, so compelling in its realism, bigness and repulsiveness that [it] becomes at once a money picture.» As expected, the film was banned by the Nazi government for being «anti-German» and would not receive proper screenings in Germany until 1956. Ironically, it was proscribed in Poland on the grounds that it was «pro-German.»

Louis B. Mayer and Carl Laemmle Sr.
at the 3rd Academy Awards
At the 3rd Academy Awards held at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on November 5, 1930, the first Oscar of the night, Best Director, was presented to Lewis Milestone. Later on, MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer pronounced All Quiet on the Western Front Best Picture, «adding, with a touch of hyperbole characteristic of the night, that it might win the Nobel Piece Prize.» The film also received nominations for Best Writing and Best Cinematography. Over the next six years, there would be few more nominations for Universal, but no more Oscars until 1937, a year after the Laemmle era at the studio ended. 

All Quiet on the Western Front proved to be pivotal in Lew Ayres' life a decade later when the United States entered World War II. A confirmed pacifist ever since playing Paul Bäumer, Ayres caused a wave of controversy by declaring himself a conscientious objector after being called up for military service. The announcement that a Hollywood actor opposed to the war was a major source of public debate and Ayres found himself being shunned by the studios (in some cities, exhibitors even refused to show his films). He said that to bear arms would cause him «to live in a nightmare of hypocrisy.» Following two months at a labor camp, Ayres joined the U.S. Army Medical Corps as a non-combatant and was one of the sixteen medics who arrived during the invasion of the Leyte to set up evacuation hospitals under fire, providing care to both soldiers and civilians in the Philippines and New Guinea. For his efforts in the Pacific theatre of war, Ayres received three battle stars and later donated all the money he had earned as a serviceman to the American Red Cross.  

Shortly after the film's release, Carl Laemmle Sr. said: «If there is anything in my life I am proud of, it is this picture. It is, to my mind, a picture that will live forever.» Although he had nothing to do with the picture's being made, Laemmle Sr. was right: All Quiet on the Western Front remains one of Hollywood's most durable testaments to the cruelty of war. By presenting the war as «slaughter and waste» rather than «victory or glory,» and confirming that «the ordinary soldier on one side [i]s equal to those on the other,» the film comes across as arguably the most important anti-war pictures ever made, providing a long-lasting message of peace and hope.

At a time when warfare and genocide have reemerged [...] there is a continuing need to remember and to warn. In the absence of personal witnesses [...] the arts provide this service. And as the most popular of arts, the cinema reaches the widest audience. Out of the thousands of films made about the war, only a few can be described as classics. All Quiet on the Western Front is the most important of them all. It comes down through the years with an ever-timely message: where cinema exists, this most disastrous of wars, this appalling waste of a nation's youth, will never be forgotten. It is a memorial — and an ever-present warning — as fitting and honorable as any that grace a village, town, or city.
(Andrew Kelly)

This post is my contribution to The Universal Blogathon hosted by Silver Scenes. 
To view all entries to the blogathon, click HERE.

'All Quiet on the Western Front': The Story of a Film by Andrew Kelly (I.B. Tauris & Co, 2002)
City of Dreams: The Making of and Remaking of Universal Pictures by Bernard K. Dick (The University Press of Kentucky, 1997)
Lew Ayres: Hollywood's Conscientious Objector by Lesley L. Coffin (University Press of Mississippi, 2012)
The War Film edited and with an introduction by Robert T. Eberwein (Rutgers University Press, 2005)
War Cinema: Hollywood on the Front Line by Guy Westwell (Wallflower Press, 2006) 
TCM's article of All Quiet on the Western Front 
The New York Times review by Mordaunt Hall 
Variety review by the Variety staff 
Lew Ayres' obituary on The New York Times

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Happy Birthday, Jack Carson & Teresa Wright!

(October 27, 1910 January 2, 1963)
Fans are people who let an actor know he's not alone in the way he feels about himself.

(October 27, 1918 March 6, 2005)
I only ever wanted to be an actress, not a star.