REWIND / Pitched cattle: Fred Zinnemann, director of High Noon, recalls his only acting role, as an extra in All Quiet on the Western Front
Friday 01 October 1993
The extras were a motley crew. 'First of all there was a kind of aristocracy we called 'dress extras'. White Russian refugees - ex-generals and ex-ambassadors who knew how to wear evening clothes and look truly elegant. But there was also a lot of flotsam and jetsam, some very peculiar and unsavoury characters. At 21, to be in the middle of all that and to see human nature in the raw was fascinating.
'There was a very interesting thing about the psychology of the Germans and the Americans. A famous German cameraman got a job in Hollywood. One Saturday, at the end of the day, he called his assistant, who was an American, and said, 'Tomorrow, I want you to come to my house and wash my car.' The man looked at him, laughed and walked away. In Germany, he would have said, 'Yes sir,' and done it. This was really why I went to America.'
That said, he found a military regime in operation on All Quiet on the Western Front. 'I learnt from the worm's perspective what it was like to be an extra in Hollywood. To make 600 men function as extras, the first assistant director had several assistants under him who in turn were in charge of small groups. These squad leaders were usually ex-corporals or ex-sergeants. And they would start remembering the good old days and try to get very, very military.' After six weeks Zinnemann got into an argument and was let go: 'I'm glad I got fired, otherwise I'd probably still be an extra today.'
All Quiet on the Western Front plays at the National Film Theatre on Sunday 10 October in a month-long season of WW1 movies. 'Fred Zinnemann: An Autobiography' is published by Bloomsbury at pounds 25.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food