Sog.: dal romanzo La via del ritorno di Erich Maria Remarque. Scen.: R.C. Sheriff, Charles Kenyon. F.: John J. Mescall, George Robinson. M.: Ted Kent. Scgf.: Charles D. Hall. Mus.: Dimitri Tiomkin. Int.: John King (Ernst), Richard Cromwell (Ludwig), Slim Summerville (Tjaden), Maurice Murphy (Albert), Andy Devine (Willy), Larry Blake (Weil), John Emery (Von Hagen), Henry Hunter (Bethke), Noah Beery Jr. (Wessling), Gene Garrick (Geisicke). Prod.: Universal Pictures Corp. 35mm. D.: 101’. Bn
A moderate success when it was first released in 1937, James Whale’s sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front was withdrawn and re-released by Universal in 1939, in a version heavily altered – with re-editing and the insertion of new scenes – to appeal to mounting anti-German sentiment. Whale’s understated drama about the difficulties and disappointments of soldiers returning home to a defeated nation had become a bluntly anti-Nazi propaganda film, one of several that year urging Americans to wake up to the mounting crisis in Europe.
Although it has often been reported that The Road Back was cut in answer to protests from the German consul in Los Angeles, there is no evidence that this happened – and in fact the reissue version is far more caricatural in its portrayal of German officials than the original cut.
That original 100 minute cut – unseen for decades – has now been reconstructed by the Library of Congress, and it reveals a nuanced, compassionate film, centered on a group of four men (John King, Richard Cromwell, Maurice Murphy and Slim Summerville, the latter continuing his role in All Quiet) who return to their native village to find it transfigured by anarchy, hunger and opportunism. When one of the boys shoots his ex-fiancée, whom he has found in the company of a notorious war profiteer, blame is placed on the government for training him to kill in the first place – a pacifist sentiment that itself would hardly be tolerated as the decade drew to its dark conclusion.