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The Road Back Reviews

This largely forgotten sequel to the all-time classic ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT suffered from a checkered production history replete with Nazis trying to stop the production and a series of bad decisions by the top brass at Universal. The film concerns the survivors of the company that set out so merrily to war in the first film; now only a few remain. After a last battle, the Armistice is signed, and the men are sent home. Their commander, Emery, assembles them for one last roll call. Only a dozen or so appear, but scores of their dead comrades are seen like ghosts behind them. Once home, each man has difficulties in adjusting to life in a defeated Germany after four years in the trenches trying only to survive. When Devine returns to the school where their heads had been filled with patriotic nonsense, his teacher gives him a toy gun that only a few years before had been taken away from him. In the runaway inflation and shortages that plague the country, a mob forms to storm the shop owned by the mayor. Summerville manages to stave off the mob, so, out of gratitude, the mayor allows the exsoldier to marry his daughter. Another mob forms and another of the former warriors, young Blake, now turned revolutionary, steps in front of it to present its demands. Under the orders of his former commander, Emery, Blake is shot by soldiers. Murphy returns to his old sweetheart only to find that she has been sleeping with an unsavory war profiteer. Murphy kills the man and is put on trial for murder. He tries to defend himself by telling the court that for four years he was trained to kill men just because he was told to, men who had never done anything to him. Why could he not now kill a man who had taken away his love? The film ends with a new batch of schoolchildren out on the playground being drilled in goose stepping by a malignant-looking dwarf. Universal studios had just been wrested from the control of Carl Laemmle, and the new owners, a syndicate headed by Charles R. Rogers, wanted to get their concern off to a good start, so they got their best director, Whale, and put him in what they felt to be a sure-fire hit, a sequel to one of the studio's biggest hits ever. The studio had purchased the rights to Remarque's sequel years before, but they had never gotten around to filming it. They realized that the film would probably be banned in Germany, as ALL QUIET had eventually been, and some other nations as well, but they counted on the publicity that such measures would garner the film to make it a big hit in the US and Britain. The Germans weren't content, however, to simply keep the film from most of Europe; they actually tried to stop the production by such measures as sending letters to all the actors threatening that any film they appeared in would henceforth be banned in Germany if they stayed with the film. Protests were filed with the State Department, and the press took notice. When the film was finally finished, it was the strong statement Whale had hoped to make, and, when Life magazine reviewed the first cut, they called the opening battle sequence "...the most cruel war scenes ever filmed by Hollywood." Suddenly, though, Universal backed down from its original "Damn the European Market" attitude and decided to reshoot some scenes and recut the film to blunt its punch, turning it into little more than a sad comedy in which the Germans could find nothing objectionable. The studio tried to get the German ambassador to view the film, but he refused, and the film never received the sought-after approval of the Nazis. It was, however, permanently ruined. Some of Whale's film does show through, though. The battle scenes are still powerful, and a special traveling crane was developed to shoot them, a gadget the director was so enamored of that he used it throughout the film. Whale, for the most part, found the whole experience very disheartening, and it marked the beginning of the end of his career.