Sunday, May 15, 2016

Westfront 1918 (7) vs. Beneath Hill 60 (10)



VS.



PLOT:  “Westfront 1918” is the story of four German soldiers in the closing days of the war.  They are in the same unit and are stationed on the Western Front.  Two of them have romantic scenarios.  One falls in love with a French mademoiselle and the other has wife problems when he returns home on leave.  The plot effectively depicts soldier as well as civilian life  It includes the extended home front scene, a cabaret scene and several combat scenes.  It is unpredictable other than the clear implication that things will not end well for the main characters.  Director Georg Pabst brings a sober realism to his work.  A fact that was not appreciated by Joseph Goebbels.  GRADE  =  A

“Beneath Hill 60” is the true story of Australian mining engineer Oliver Woodward and his mining unit on the Western Front in 1916.  Their claustrophobic endeavor is to dig a tunnel under German lines to literally blow a hole in the enemy defenses.  The movie features dueling arcs as we follow Woodward’s courtship of a lass through flashbacks while the movie advances toward the climactic explosion.  Along the way, the small unit of diggers is fleshed out and the soldier experience is realistically portrayed.  GRADE  =  A

FIRST QUARTER SCORE:  Westfront  -  9    Beneath  -  9

ACTING:  “Westfront” has a limited cast of solid German actors.  There are really only four main roles in the film and yet there is not a lot of character development for the actors to work at.  The acting is noted only for what it is not.  It is not the typical scene-chewing style of the early talkies.  None of the performances are squirm-inducing.  Karl the cuckold (Gustav Diessl) and the jolly Bavarian (Fritz Kampers) stand out, but the acting is not what makes the movie memorable.  GRADE  -  C

“Beneath Hill 60” is well acted, especially by Brendan Cowell as Woodward.  He has a lot of charisma, but underplays the role.  He makes Woodward a likeable character who has some tough decisions to make.  The supporting cast provides excellent work.  You care about the men and some of the deaths are powerful.  GRADE  -  A

HALFTIME SCORE:  Beneath  -  18    Westfront -  15

COMBAT:  “Westfront” has about 13 minutes of combat.  There is a French raid on their trench that has more grenades than any other WWI movie that I can recall.  The masterpiece comes at the end of the movie when the French make a major attack that goes on for over eight minutes.  This scene has more grenades, but throws in some lumbering tanks.  It is realistically chaotic and the shell-shock the lieutenant gets is well-earned.  GRADE  -  A

“Beneath Hill 60” also has 13 minutes of combat. Although the movie concentrates on the tunnel construction, it does manage to get some action in.  In fact, there is even some combat underground as both sides are countermining.  The director throws in a nifty night raid on a German machine gun position.  GRADE  -  B-

THIRD QUARTER SCORE:  Beneath  -  25    Westfront  -  24
  
ANTI-WAR:   Goebbels’ banning it should tell you something about “Westfront 1918”.  It is one of the most anti-war movies ever made.  The death rate of the main characters is very high.  One of them is killed in a man-to-man death match in a shell crater.  When his body is later seen by his buddies, all they see is one of his arms above ground.  They toss some dirt on it.  The movie gets bleaker as it moves along. Even the home front scene is depressing.  In the charnel house of a hospital in the closing scene, a character sums up the horrific war with the line: “It’s everyone’s fault.”  GRADE  -  A+

“Beneath Hill 60” is not designed as an overtly anti-war film.  There are some heart-tugging deaths, but they are not of the futile variety.  The movie is more anti-command, as it has the clueless general you see in so many WWI movies.  There are no suicidal attacks.  GRADE  -  B-

FINAL SCORE:   Westfront 1918  -  34     Beneath Hill 60  -  32

MATCH ANALYSIS:  I am a big fan of both of these films and it is a shame either has to exit the tournament this early.  I have a feeling that because of the seeding we will have at least one movie that makes the second round that will be inferior to “Beneath Hill 60”.  It just ran into a classic that holds up even against a modern war movie.  I do not reflexively bow before the old school “masterpieces”, but “Westfront 1918” is a great movie that has unfortunately been overshadowed by “All Quiet on the Western Front”.

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