Tag Archives: Nazi Germany

Film Review: All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)

STORY

Young Paul Bäumer and his school friends join the Imperial German Army. They get excited when the uniforms are handed over to them and begin to romanticize their gallantry on the battlefield. Not a single clue do they have what they are about to watch as they are moved to the Western Front to fight trench warfare against the French.


BOOK

In 1928, the German novelist Erich Maria Remarque published “Im Westen nichts Neues” based on his experience when he joined the army to fight the great war. The book achieved widespread critical acclaim and sold 2.5 million copies in the first 18 months.

Two years later, the book was adapted into an American film “All Quiet on the Western Front”. The film won both the Best Picture and Best Director awards at the Oscar, the first to do so. Also, the first to win Best Picture that was based on a novel.

Unsurprisingly, the author was declared ‘unpatriotic’ by the government in the following years, and his books were banned, removed from the libraries, and burned. There had never been a film produced in any part of the world that adapted this novel until none other than a German film production decided to adapt it.


REVIEW

‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is based on the final events of the first World War dramatizing blood-boiling painstaking action sequences that reflect the mental and physical trauma the German soldiers faced and suffered.


ANTI-WAR

The most successful point about the film is that it is a period film that magnificently establishes and serves its purpose to be an anti-war film. Usually, films based on war try to glamorize the heroics of one and satanize the other. Some war films focus on basing the film on a depressive note highlighting a tragic story that suffered during the war. But the essence of this film lies in the negative nature of the war. This film successfully proves that war brings no hope but despair.


HUMANISM

‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is extremely human with a realistic approach towards the mannerism and wants. For example, a few soldiers witness some French women walking in the fields. It is such a delight for them to watch after such rough times on the field. One of the soldiers couldn’t resist and spent some time with one of them and returned with a woman’s scarf as a souvenir. When the soldier shows the scarf to his friends, each of them smells and feels it. An accurate and very understood affection the human is bound to take pleasure in after fighting on the field.

There are a few such scenes that recognize trying to establish some sense to the most powerful people in the world today. An illiterate soldier asks Paul to read his wife’s letter to him. A soldier collects the lockets of identifications and spots the one who saved him before. The one that was very compelling was when Paul repeatedly stabs a French soldier and distances himself. Seeing him dying remorses him and then he makes an unsuccessful attempt to save him but it is too late. The message was clear in this incredibly shot scene, the war brings no peace but destruction.


GAS

The significance of gas masks has been highlighted in this film. Somewhere in the first 20 minutes, the German troop is immediately alarmed by the gas attack and ordered to wear a gas mask. In the midst of the film, 60 of the missing troops are killed by the gas because they mistakenly took off their masks soon.

The use of this psychological weapon of a chemical attack was the counterattack of the French. Because it was the Germans who introduced this poison gas when they used it in the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium in April 1915. If I am not wrong, this was the first ever poison gas attack in warfare history. How ironic to see the German Army being the victim of what they created!


UNIFORMS

One of the most critical observations about this film is at the beginning of the film. Rational and thoughtful. When the soldiers get killed in the war and buried in their coffins. Their uniforms are washed, pressed, properly starched, sewed, and made to look new and fresh product that gets reused by the new recruits who wore them excitedly.

This matter can be taken lightly or pressed in a positive or a negative matter. Fully depends if you are okay with that or if you find it rubbish. From a positive angle, it is the transfer of honor from one to the other.

From a negative and a more critical perspective, the uniforms were handed over without respecting the martyred because the uniforms could have been delivered to the families. Perhaps the film wants to show that the-then army didn’t want to invest in the new uniforms. Or maybe this is how it is in some parts of the world. I have no knowledge about it but in all honesty, I feel the uniform of the martyred either should be handed over to their family or bury the martyred in that uniform.


ARMISTICE

The film remarkably settled the balance of the noisy battles and the table-talk silence. The latter part is the people in power trying to outdo each other. I found out on the internet that the scene of the armistice is not in the novel. But I am okay with it because including the events of the armistice was extremely important as the film intended to show how the first World War actually concluded.

It is highly accurate that the armistice was signed between Germany and the Allied Governments at 5am and would take effect at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month. And the battle was intentionally fought until 11 am.

But I am not sure about the real reason behind the six-hour delay. Why the war has to end at 11am? Why not at 5am when the armistice is signed? There were nearly 11,000 casualties on the final day of the war. 3000 of those lost their lives in those six hours. A very costly delay but the film took the responsibility to dramatize the fight of those six hours that you may rather call brave and courageous or foolish and madness.


CLOSING REMARKS

I didn’t base my film review to develop a discussion about history but to inform the readers that ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is one of the most human films based on a great war and reflected on its consequences. An anti-war film that does not allow to glamorize heroism but rather dramatizes it as the need of the hour.

The ugly sense of blindness about the harsh realities of war are well dramatized. The displaying of horrifying war action sequences in compelling cinematography is breathtaking. This film would have looked more realistic if directed in monochrome.

One of the biggest achievements of the film is that despite the fact that it is a German film based on the Imperial German Army, the audience will not distinguish it but consider it as a loss to humanity showing no concern about what side you are on.

The film is a dead man’s poetry that flew away and sunk into the mud. It is one of the most honest representations of the tragic human phase of the fighting soldiers who died in the most brutal fashion with a picture of his wife and kids in their pockets.

RATING: 9.3/10



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The Stooges: Those Fools On The Mean Streets

Born and raised in Jeddah, I had the luxury in my childhood to enjoy many memorable American sitcoms and cartoons on local channels. In the early 90s, Saudi Channel 2 entertained me with countless shows. One of those was The New Three Stooges cartoons, a very popular animated series of the mid-60s. I was hardly seven or eight and wasn’t aware about those three characters in the cartoons were real. I would have never known in my childhood about their being real had my school timings not changed.

In 1994, when I studied in the 5th standard, it was the afternoon shift of my school Pakistan International School Jeddah (PISJ) but my timings shifted from afternoon to morning when I entered my 6th class. The year was 1995 when Sony Entertainment Television was launched later that year and the channel was airing three American television series one after one in the afternoon. First The Three Stooges (in English), then Dennis The Menace and I Dream Of Jeannie (both dubbed in Hindi). As Paulo Coelho says, Maktub, isn’t it? And I was astonished at the Stooges being real and funnier than the cartoons. I had to return from school and try to catch this show as soon as possible.

The Three Stooges were the vaudeville team in the golden age of comedy which mostly featured Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard. The man who made me laugh at that show was that fat bald funny guy Curly but I used to get annoyed sometimes when I return from school and catch the show and notice that someone else than Curly was featuring on that day’s episode. And I asked myself where did that fatty go? With time, I came to understand the backstories of unarguably the most well-known comedy team the world has ever known.

When The Three Stooges came to prominence in the mid-1930s, the golden age of comedy was still on the run with Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Laurel And Hardy, and The Marx Brothers already dominating in the United States for more than twenty years. And this team, along with other greats like Abbott And Castello began to carry the torch.

But those were the sickening times as the world moved towards the second Great War. Sometimes I wonder how the golden age of comedy coincided with those depressing decades. Perhaps the entertainers with a disturbed struggling journey, unhappy life, and tragic personal tales know the meaning of happiness and have the best of laughs.

How The Team Was Created?

In the early days, Moe and his brother Shemp were seeking work in show business. Then in 1921, Moe got the chance to work in Ted Healy‘s vaudeville shows. Two years later, Moe was performing in one of Ted’s stage performances when he noticed Shemp in the audience. Moe yelled at him and Shemp responded which led to a funny argumentative performance between the brothers leading to amuse the spectators. Ted took notice of all this and immediately hired Shemp.

Larry’s parents, in his teenage years, were sending him to a European music school to make his professional career as a violinist and he would have joined if the first World War had not interfered. By 1925, Moe had prematurely retired from acting when he got married and focused on his new life. So only Shemp was working under Ted for some years until Larry met them and joined in 1928. By the end of the same year, Ted pulled Moe out of retirement to rejoin him. By 1929, Moe, Shemp, and Larry worked as a unit for the first time.

Readers! this is how Ted Healy created the team or to be more precise, the three stooges were unified to perform with their boss. Moe, Shemp, and Larry were the original line-ups and along with Ted, they were named ‘Ted Healy and his Racketeers’. Later on, they were ‘Ted Healy and his Stooges’. Together they performed for some years until their contract expired in 1934.

It is said that employer Ted Healy was alcoholic and abusive. Shemp gave up on his behavior, quit the team, and focused on his solo career. And then entered the man who carried this team on his own to make them world-famous, Moe’s other brother Jerome Howard.

When Moe introduced Jerome to Healy, he was unimpressed because he thought he doesn’t look funny with long chestnut-red hair and a mustache. Jerome left and returned with a shaved head and said “Boy do I look girly”. Healy heard girly as Curly and hired him as Shemp’s replacement with a convincing shaved funny face. Boy, I wonder if Shemp had not given up, this team would have never made the name for which we remember them. It seems like sometimes giving up is the best idea. It was a golden twist of fate as, after the contract expiry in 1934, Ted Healy departed and they officially became The Three Stooges and signed with Columbia Pictures.

Curly’s Peak to Tragic End

Columbia Pictures first offered them $600-a-week for the first year with a renewable option. After the huge success of the first film, they earned $1000 for it and the future offer went lucrative with $7500 per film. This hugely successful journey continued for 23 years with the production company. During the period, the team made 190 short films out of which Curly featured in the first 97 films and is widely considered to be the most successful period for the team.

Curly was the God-gifted mercurial talent of the slapstick comedy. Before joining them, Curly used to hang around backstage and enjoy his brothers performing with Healy and enjoying their acts. For me, he is one of the greatest comedians of all time for one major reason, he was an original performer without formal or professional training. Most of the comedy greats of his time were trained but he was handpicked by his brother to take Shemp’s place and the rest is history. His childish mannerism, funny facial expressions, high-pitch voice, silly noises, and physically nonsensical comic timings were his features making most of his fans entertained.

Change of moods...
Three different expressions in 0.75 SECONDS!!!

This is from their short film Pardon My Scotch, a short film released in 1935 (their 9th of 190 films). Here you see his reaction to the bread as if it is staring at him. These are the three different facial reactions he gave to bread in around 0.75 SECONDS! If I include the retakes, I wonder how many times he pulled his muscles to one single shot. And many more in his career. And that was Curly’s greatness in the comedy. He was fast and holds an absolute distinction in physical comedy.

Viewers often remember Jerry Lewis, Rodney Dangerfield, Jim Carrey, Peter Sellers, and many many more in the category of one of the greatest physical comedians from the talking cinema of the 20th century. And Curly is mostly forgotten.

Collectively, the team peaked from 1934 to 1941 and many critics agree that Moe, Larry, and Curly were physically at their best to make the viewers laugh. But to the team’s unfortunate innocence, the team never realized their potential and worth. They could never believe how significant was their rank in the world of comedy that for 23 years of business with Columbia Pictures, they remained underpaid and their salary never increased. The biggest culprit was Harry Cohn, the co-founder of Columbia Pictures whose deception of their misjudgment made them realize too late that they were worth millions. All those prime years, Harry Cohn kept lying to them that the market of comedy shorts was meeting downfall.

Harry Cohn’s biggest damage to the team was not taking Curly’s dropping health into a concern for once. In the early 40s, Curly’s physical decline began, and suffered minor strokes. His weight increased, wasn’t physically and verbally quick as he used to be. In 1945, Curly was found to have serious hypertension, obesity, and retinal hemorrhage. The doctors had recommended the rest so that he can regain his health and strength. Moe had pleaded to give him rest for good but Cohn was afraid of losing profits. So he refused to give Curly rest and forced him to continue working leading to disturbing consequences.

As expected, Curly’s health deteriorated further. In the last few films from 1946 onwards, Moe was coaching him in his dialogues as he was forgetting. Frequently collaborated director Jules White had admitted difficulties shooting with Curly. Curly’s voice went deeper and his actions slowed further. A viewer can easily observe the decline in Curly’s comic timing in his final 20 films out of 97. Curly had to prematurely retire from acting when he suffered a stroke during the shooting of Half-Wits Holiday. Shemp was immediately called back to take his place.

Curly's facial difference in 11 years!!
Curly on the left in 1936 picture ‘Disorder In The Court’ and on the right in 1947 picture ‘Half-Wits Holiday’.

Curly being the biggest reason for The Three Stooges’ success faced the most painful years. The miseries hadn’t ended at retirement. After work, he suffered a massive stroke in 1947. A few years later, he was partially paralyzed and was in a wheelchair by 1950. He suffered another stroke the very next year and had to live in the hospital. Later that year, the Howard family was informed to collect him as his mental condition was collapsing and had become a problem for the nursing staff. Moe, being under the contract, was unable to give his family the much-needed time and moved his brother to the other hospital. In early 1952, the Howard family was informed that Curly has died in the hospital. He was only 48.

With Curly’s departure from the films, the team met an obvious decline in humor. It was pretty obvious and predictable that none of his replacements (Shemp, Joe, DeRita) will match his comic timing or fill the gap he left wide open. The weakest of all replacements was Joe Besser. While joining the team, he actually put a clause specifically prohibiting not hitting him. The physical beating was one of the norms of the team’s prime segments of comedy when Moe used to hit the other stooges. In Curly-Joe DeRita‘s time, the team met resurgence when they featured in six films and the animated series ran in the 1960s.

My Favorite The Three Stooges Short Films

1934 – Punch Drunks

1934 – Men In Black

1934 – Three Little Pigskins

1935 – Pop Goes the Easel

1935 – Pardon My Scotch

1936 – Ants in the Pantry

1936 – Disorder in the Court

1936 – False Alarm

1936 – Slippery Silks

1937 – The Sitter Downers

1938 – Tassels in the Air

1939 – We Want Our Mummy

1939 – Calling All Curs

1940 – You Natzy Spy!

1940 – A Plumbing We Will Go

1942 – What’s the Matador?

1942 – Sock-a-Bye Baby

1943 – They Stooge to Conga

1943 – Dizzy Detectives

1943 – Back from the Front

1943 – Three Little Twirps

1943 – Higher Than a Kite

1943 – I Can Hardly Wait

1944 – Idle Roomers

1944 – Gents Without Cents

1944 – No Dough, Boys

1945 – Three Pests in a Mess

1945 – Booby Dupes

1946 – G.I. Wanna Come

Men In Black, released in 1934, is the only Stooge film to reach the Oscars when Jules White got nominated for Best Live Action Short Film.

The Natzy Spy! became the first Hollywood film to satirize Nazis, The Third Reich, and Adolf Hitler. Moe Howard was the first actor to play a comic version of Hitler, nine months before Charles Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.


In the past few weeks, I have watched all the 97 short films featuring Curly and I want to sum up that there is no comedy team like The Three Stooges who could perform better surreal humor than them. Their nonsensical slapsticks are a separate dimension of comedy-verse. You can pull the same silly actions they attempted but you won’t get that popularity and acceptance that they built in their time. They were unique assembling. They were hardworking and dedicated comedians. In one of the earliest films, Pardon My Scotch in 1935, Moe broke three ribs during one shot. The camera continued to roll, he lifted and walked towards Larry and Curly, slapped them, and then fainted down.

See, every comedian or a comedy team had the artistry to attract the viewers. But The Three Stooges had no honest quality of presenting comedy of above par standard. They were the stooges who make people of all ages and in every period laugh and burn their bellies out. Entertaining the people by being stupid was their main charisma. They didn’t hold any critical acclaim but watching all those short films makes me think about their characters being lower-class fellas struggling to find work and failing again and again when the Great Depression was alarming at their very pinnacle of comedy.

A bunch of degenerates faking as highly reputed officers, doctors, scientists, and businessmen joining elite parties and ending up throwing pie cakes at each other was a slap on society. How immoral of those socialites!

Besides Curly, one major reason for the team’s success was that Moe Howard and Larry Fine stayed from the beginning until the end. The Three Stooges lasted for around 50 years in the business, and Moe and Larry featured in almost every single project.

circa 1939: American comedian Moe Howard stabbing his fellow comedians, Larry Fine (left) and Curly Howard with forks. The trio starred in countless films together as ‘The Three Stooges’. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Movie Review: Bridge of Spies (2015)

BRIDGE-OF-SPIES-QUAD-UK

Bridge Of Spies is one of the most terrific historical drama I have seen in last few years. Directed by Steven Spielberg and written by the Coen brothers, the movie is somehow based on James B.Donovan’s book “Strangers on a Bridge“. James B.Donovan was an American insurance lawyer, who after his experience of Nuremberg Trials in 1945 (also mentioned in the movie) was asked by US Govt to defend Soviet spy Rudolf Abel.

Now who was Rudolf Abel? Shortly speaking, Abel was born in UK to Russian émigré parents, which means born to the couples living in political exile. He served Soviet military and fought against Nazis in WWII. After the war, he lived as spy in US where years later he was caught by FBI. The director began his part in the movie from here and I think that was a good decision.

The movie has two phases blended splendidly. One is Donovan/Abel phase and the other is Powers/Pryor phase. The other phase is story of two Americans. Francis Gary Powers was American pilot whose CIA spy plane was shot down by the Soviets in 1960 and Frederic Pryor, a graduate student, was caught by East German police without any charge a year later, who was studying there since 1959.

Spielberg offers sharp visual historic presentation of the famous exchange occurred in Glienicke Bridge. The famous exchange scene has been shot at very same historic site. The dare and gallantry of James B.Donovan is well explained, his wit saved Abel’s hugely expected hanging sentence into a 30-year imprisonment which turned into nationwide massive shock.

Bridge-of-Spies-Mark-Rylance

When it comes to tell history, the most important aspect to the viewers and readers is ‘deep intensity’. Spielberg successfully sketches deep realistic intensity hitting your head hard, specially at two different scenes. One is the court scene when the judge declares Abel’s punishment to 30 years instead of hanging, next 5 minutes are the peak of boiling points. The other scene is Donovan witnessing Berlin Wall shooting, facial expressions of Tom Hanks who plays Donovan here are priceless.

Bridge of Spies is committed with 90% historical accuracy with slight alterations i.e., all critical points under the incidents happened and presented in the movie are true. Spielberg’s frequent collaborator John Williams did join to compose movie’s score but left for Thomas Newman due to health issues but Newman justified his musical presence and didn’t make us miss John’s score. Production and costume designs were super-excellent, one simply cannot expect an error in these two departments as Speilberg has been veteran of many many historic movies.

Pace is slow but adaptable. Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel is a showstopper who deservingly won Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role. Overall, Bridge of Spies is a decent history digging movie from a very important time-zone of the 20th century.

Ratings: 8.8/10

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