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Film / Westfront 1918

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Westfront 1918 is a 1930 German war film directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst. It was adapted from the novel Vier von der Infanterie (Four of the Infantry) by Ernst Johannsen, who was a veteran of the battle of Verdun.

Set mostly in the trenches of the Western Front towards the end of World War I, the film deals with the impact of the war on a group of four German infantrymen: a jovial fellow from Bavaria, a student who has fallen in love with a French girl, the company's lieutenant, and Karl, the only one named, who has a wife waiting for him back home.

The film was one of the first European talkies and featured an ensemble cast led by screen veterans Fritz Kampers and Gustav Diessl.


Westfront 1918 contains examples of:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Karl is on a leave and goes back home, only to find out his wife cheated on him while he was on the front.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: The only thing Karl wants to do after finding out his wife had a lover when he was on the front is to kill the lover with his rifle.
  • Darker and Edgier: The picture is noticeably bleaker than the already War Is Hell-heavy All Quiet on the Western Front, which was made and released at the same time. Especially with the cheated on husband who goes into a murderous rage, the PTSD Lieutenant losing his mind mid-battle and the final scene at the field hospital with all the mutilated, PTSD and sanity-losing soldiers.
  • Downer Ending: Three of the four infantrymen are dead by the end of the film, and the lieutenant, the sole survivor, has had a complete mental breakdown.
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  • The End: The closing card says "ENDE?!". Pabst of course was correct in guessing that World War I was not the end.
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: An attractive, leggy singer is part of a show to entertain the men at the front.
  • Mood Whiplash: The jovial horsing around in the opening scene ends instantly when Allied artillery starts falling.
  • Ominous Fog: The trenches become wreathed in smoke as the French attack proceeds, which makes it all the more frightening when French tanks emerge.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: For whatever reason everyone seems content to call the student "the student".
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: In what is probably the movie's most memorable scene (photo), the Lieutenant (played by Claus Clausen) has a mental breakdown when seeing the battlefield's horror, salutes a pile of corpses and shouts "HURRAH!" repeatedly and uncontrollably. He is then transported at the field hospital.
    • Many if not all wounded soldiers at the field hospital also lost their sanity at war, to varying degrees.
  • Silence Is Golden: A long segment near the end shows the French attack on the German trenches. There are lots and lots of explosions but very little dialogue.
  • Tank Goodness: The French deploy tanks as they are breaking through the German lines. To a latter-day viewer they look more like armored tractors, but they are still terrifying to the German soldiers in the trenches.
  • War Is Hell: The film carried an obvious pacifist message, never leaving room for any glorification or positivity of war whatsoever and never glossing over its horrible consequences on men, both physically and mentally. Soldiers being buried alive by shellings, Shell Shocked Veterans, amputees... You name it.