My god. This movie really is one of the best of all time, and it's held up so well as a film that you forget the vintage (1930).
I remember reading the book for the first time in school (and re-reading it many times in the years since) and being shocked at the tragedy of war. I still think that the book is perhaps the most bleak piece of modern literature in existence (and I've read most of Cormac McCarthy).
There is a scene in the middle where the french are charging the German trenches (probably at Verdun, though it is never mentioned) which fully illustrates the soul-crushingly futile human cost of the War. The French first cross no-man's land while being pummeled by the German guns. Once they reach the German wire, the machineguns make mincemeat out of them. Perhaps one quarter of the first wave make it to the German first line trench, where Paul and his company make short work of them in merciless melee combat. After dispatching the first wave of French attackers, Paul's 2nd Company fall back to the reserve trench in a fighting retreat, taking potshots at the French second wave clambering haphazardly over the parapets of the abandoned trench. Finally, the Germans reach the reserve trench, upon which their artillery -- already registered specifically on the killzone between their first and second line of trenches -- utterly decimates the French second wave just as they are within sight of their goal, routing them instantly. A victory for the Germans? No -- Paul and company are ordered to counterattack where they fall victim in turn to the same exact defenses and are themselves mauled to half-strength. Only belatedly does the order come down to fall back to their own line.
This is truly a great film. A contemporary reviewer wrote that if the League of Nations (precursor to UN) bought rights to it and distributed it globally, the very notion of war could be eradicated. I completely echo that sentiment myself.
Anyone else want to talk about the book or the film?
Tu Ne Cede Malis Sed Contra Audentior Ito