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PATHS OF GLORY (1957)
Writer-director Stanley Kubrick's powerful anti-war opus casts Kirk Douglas as Col. Dax, commander of an exhausted regiment of French army soldiers stationed in the trenches on the western front during World War I. When French generals order Dax's men to launch a suicidal charge against a heavily-fortified German position, some of the men refuse. The charge, when finally mounted, is a disaster. When the army later tries three of the soldiers on charges of cowardice, Dax, a criminal defense lawyer in civilian life, becomes their defense attorney..
Director Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" is a powerful, and timeless, look at the madness of war.
Promotional 1957 Line: "BOMBSHELL! the roll of
Kubrick's Paths of Glory is one of the great anti-war films, that is described as being terrifying, tense and powerful, and a near masterpiece. While some incidents that happened in 1917, obviously inspired this great screenplay, one must appreciate "Paths of Glory" as a realistic, anti-war, somewhat fictional masterpiece, and not a purely factual documentary. Creative license was taken to enhance the message of the film, which is common practice in many films based on actual events. While war is often a terrible waste that brings out the worst in human nature, Stanley Kubrick's strong liberal humanist views about war are vividly brought to life in his screenplay, where he blends history with fiction, exploring the lengths to which the human ego will go to massage and protect itself, despite pain and sorrow brought to others.
The basic story takes place in World War I France, in the year 1916. A Senior at Staff HQ, General George Broulard, (Adolphe Menjou), starts this maddening tragedy when he offers a General Paul Mireau, 701 Regimental Commander, (George Macready), a choice promotion if he and his troops could take a heavily defended German position known as "Ant Hill." Knowing full well that there wasn't adequate military support to back up this attack, and that the men are tired, and not prepared mentally to do battle, Mireau, who was puffed up about his troops' abilities, sends Col. Dax (Kirk Douglas) to lead this suicide mission. Douglas decides to retreat when his troops are bombed by his own General, unknown to him, due to this commanding General's incompetence. The troops refuse to make another attempt at taking "Ant Hill."
To cover up the mistakes & misjudgment of the military staff, Douglas's men are accused of cowardice. Three of his men, picked at random, are to be shot by a firing squad, as an example to the others. A short court martial is held at the demand of Kirk Douglas, who planned to defend his men but he isn't allowed the opportunity to do so. Only after the three soldiers die in disgrace does Douglas finally find out that his superior, General Paul Mireau, had unwittingly ordered a bombing on his men. There was a hint of punishment coming to Mireau, who was to be removed from his command, but it was too late for the three executed soldiers. Often in Kubrick's films, there is usually hope given the audience that the bad guys will get their just consequences, after the bad deeds have already done their damage and caused pain.
Paths of Glory is considered one of Stanley Kubrick's best efforts, a shining example of his genius. "The film showed Kubrick's complete mastery of traditional film grammar and techniques, as first exemplified by Griffith and Pudovkin."
Having conquered these well-established principles of movie making, it is interesting to see in his following films how Kubrick steps out away from traditional methods, using his genius to experiment with them writing a new page in the use of narration and characterization.
The cast did a terrific job with the wonderful script provided to them, under Kubrick's masterful direction. Kirk Douglas excels as a man of courage and integrity, determined to defend his men, possibly giving the performance of his career. A touching scene is when Douglas attempts to lead a second attack against "Ant Hill," only to be dragged back into the trench by the deadweight of one of his dead men.
George Macready does a fine job portraying General Paul Mireau, the self-centered, ambitious but, incompetent military man, who was willing to destroy three men to cover up his own blunders.
Adolphe Menjou also stars as General George Broulard who persuades General Paul Mireau to risk the fool-hardy attack, by appealing to his pride and personal ambitions.
Ralph Meeker, Timothy Carey and Joe Turkel give strong performances as the unlucky three picked to bear the unjust punishment for the others.
The gritty Black & White photography helps add to the WW I mood. The battle and trial scenes are brilliantly filmed. The attention Kubrick pays "to the composition of his shots reflects his background as a still photographer and foreshadows his other great films to come."
The music by Gerald Fried is most enjoyable and complements the drama and action of the film.
As you can see, this is not a "feel good" movie, but an emotionally draining one. This film has the effect of bringing our every negative emotion one has, and isn't recommended for depressed people, looking to be cheered up, or those in a sour, cranky mood.
However, Kubrick gives us a bone of optimism in the ending scene, that leaves the audience with hope for humanity. After the trial Douglas finds his men in a café. A German girl is brought before them to at first endure their hoots of derision. When she sings a love song in her native tongue, the soldiers recognize the tune, and hum along with tears in their eyes, remembering their pre-war world, and pre-soldier lives.