The Road Back is a 1937 American drama war film directed by James Whale, starring John King, Richard Cromwell, and Slim Summerville.
The screenplay is by Charles Kenyon and R. C. Sherriff from the novel of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque.
Combining a strong anti-war message with prescient warnings about the rising dangers of the dictatorship of Nazi Germany, it was intended to be a powerful and controversial picture, and Universal entrusted it to their finest director, James Whale.
A new adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front was released in 1979.
German soldiers who survived World War I on the Western Front struggle to adjust to civilian life in the months following the Armistice of 11 November 1918.
- One makes a fortunate marriage.
- Another is attacked while still wearing his uniform and medals by a gang of “socialists” and is saved from death by other men from his unit.
- Another discovers that the woman he believed was his fiancée has been cheating on him with a man who avoided military service and made a fortune as a war profiteer.
- At least some are experiencing what is now known as PTSD.
- All find that Germany changed tremendously while they were at the front.
The betrayed soldier kills the wealthy war profiteer and is tried for murder. Several of his fellow soldiers speak in his defence.
- John King as Ernst.
- Richard Cromwell as Ludwig.
- Slim Summerville as Tjaden.
- Andy Devine as Willy.
- Barbara Read as Lucie.
- Louise Fazenda as Angelina.
- Noah Beery Jr. as Wessling.
- Maurice Murphy as Albert.
- John Emery as Von Hagen.
- Etienne Girardot as Mayor.
- Lionel Atwill as Prosecutor.
- Henry Hunter as Bethke.
- Larry Blake as Weil.
- Gene Garrick as Geisicke.
- Jean Rouverol as Elsa.
- Marilyn Harris as Maria (as Hedwig Ibsen).
- Spring Byington as Ernst’s Mother.
- Frank Reicher as Ernst’s Father.
- Arthur Hohl as Heinrich.
- William B. Davidson as Bartscher.
- Al Shean as Mr. Markheim.
- Edwin Maxwell as Principal.
- Clara Blandick as Willy’s Mother.
- Samuel S. Hinds as Defense Attorney.
- Robert Warwick as Judge.
- Harry Cording as Attendant (uncredited).
- D’Arcy Corrigan as Cab Driver (uncredited).
- Francis Ford as Street Cleaner (uncredited).
- Dwight Frye as Small Man at Rally (uncredited).
- Edward LeSaint as Porter (uncredited).
- Bob McKenzie as Barber (uncredited).
- Edward Van Sloan as President (uncredited).
- The novel on which the film is based was banned during Nazi rule. When the film was made, Universal Pictures was threatened with a boycott of all their films by the German government unless the anti-Nazi sentiments in the script were watered down.
- Carl Laemmle and his son, Carl Laemmle, Jr., the former heads of Universal, had recently been ousted by a corporate takeover. The new studio heads, fearing financial loss, caved in to Nazi pressure and the film was partially reshot with another director, and the remainder extensively re-edited, leaving it a pale shadow of Whale’s original intentions.
- To the director’s further displeasure, writer Charles Kenyon was ordered to interject the script with comedy scenes between Andy Devine and Slim Summerville, which Whale found unsuitable.
- Disgusted with the studio’s cowardice under its new management, Whale left Universal after completing Wives Under Suspicion, an unsuccessful remake of his own The Kiss Before the Mirror. He returned two years later to direct Green Hell, but never made another film for Universal after that.
- In the film Gods and Monsters, Whale (played by Ian McKellen) speaks of his hatred of making The Road Back, the film he intended to be the crowning achievement of his career.
- Despite the film’s negative reviews and production problems, it went over its $800,000 budget, it was one of the top-grossing films of 1936-37.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): James Whale.
- Producer(s): Edmund Grainger and Charles R. Rogers.
- Writer(s): Charles Kenyon and R.C. Sherriff.
- Music: Dmitri Tiomkin.
- Cinematography: John J. Mescall and George Robinson.
- Editor(s): Ted J. Kent and Charles Maynard.
- Production: Universal Pictures.
- Distributor(s): Universal Pictures.
- Release Date: 01 June 1937.
- Running Time: 100 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.