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A fine adaptation on its own merits
on 6 November 2007
Although often dismissed - usually by those who haven't seen it - the1979 version of All Quiet On the Western Front is surprisingly impressive and well worth a look. Originally made for American television as one of a slew of superior adaptations of classic novels by producer Norman Rosemont that also included The Man in the Iron Mask, The Count of Monte Cristo, Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol, this earned a theatrical release outside the US and certainly stood up admirably on the bigger screen.
Unlike the 1931 version, this version follows the flashback structure of Remarque's novel much more closely and provides a slightly different ending (because it was a new adaptation of the novel rather than a remake of the Universal film, they couldn't use the butterfly ending invented for the 1930 film), but still retains much of its power. The cast is starrier but good - Richard Thomas, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasance, Patricia Neal and Ian Holm are all memorable - the attack sequences are well staged and the ugliness and daily horrors of life in rat-infested trenches are portrayed with more discomforting realism than you'd expect for 70s US TV. Indeed, footage from them has even crept into historical documentaries over the years. It may not be as great and enduring a piece of filmmaking at Lewis Milestone's version, but it's still a forceful and worthwhile adaptation.
The version currently available on DVD in the UK is the theatrical release, which is slightly shorter than the US TV version. The German DVD includes both the two-and-a-half hour TV version and the feature film version with English soundtrack option (though here are synch problems with the German soundtrack). But the best release to date is ITV's Blu-ray release (also released by Beyond in Australia), which is the full 156-minute version in its original fullframe ratio with stills galleries and the film's cinema trailer as extras. The only irritant is an infuriating 90-second trailer for ITV's other releases that it's impossible to skip.