On the verge of a new nightmare, Germany looks back at an old one. Affable groping overcomes the language barrier between the Teutonic infantrymen and a local maiden in an outpost in France until war intrudes, most pas galant. The young Student (Hans Moebus) has his Gallic sweetheart (Jackie Monnier), dodges grenades and rushes from one side of no man’s land to the other, and is last seen mid-scuffle rolling into the muddy puddle at the bottom of a crater. The fleeting furlough finds the soldier (Gustav Diessl) back in Berlin, where his mother is stuck in endless breadlines and his wife (Hanna Hoessrich) is not alone in bed. (The scene -- hausfrau tearfully explaining her reasons, uninformed husband grimly ignoring the subject -- is all but retold from another angle by Fassbinder some five decades later.) In his first talkie, G.W. Pabst plunks down in the winding trenches for a grunt’s view of dirt and shrapnel, preparing for devastation while hoping for comradeship. The camera tracks alongside a road where wooden crosses are erected against a backdrop of explosions, and then it holds still on a patch of mauled terrain as wave after wave of men stumble and die. The music-hall from Grand Illusion (or is it Paths of Glory?) is already here, the remembered daisies of a singalong and the clown’s geysering tears are momentary diversions against the barbed-wire waiting outside. "Don’t break your neck, there’s plenty of time to die in battle." Otto Dix’s Der Krieg sketches, Dovzhenko’s frozen hand (Arsenal) and Peckinpah’s lumbering tanks (Cross of Iron), the glass of brandy for the fallen messenger. The shell-shocked lieutenant (Claus Clausen) exits with a salute and a yowl, a conciliatory gesture between supposed enemies at a makeshift infirmary states the anti-nationalistic credo. The Nazi Party’s censoring of the film unhappily answered the closing title’s question mark. Cinematography by Fritz Arno Wagner and Charles Métain. With Fritz Kampers, Else Heller, and Carl Balhaus. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce