Paths of Glory (1957)

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I hope you all have had a blessed holiday season, and with another month coming to a close, now comes the inevitable last-ditch effort to watch and review movies about to leave my Netflix.  This is the first of seven that will go away.  We shall see how many I get through.

Paths of Glory was the first collaboration between Kirk Douglas and Stanley Kubrick.  It is based on an incident that took place during World War I and was covered up by the French government for a long time.  A company of soldiers is ordered to take what a couple of generals believes is a key spot in WWI.  It is very clear from the onset that this is essentially a suicide mission, and after the first wave of attackers is unsuccessful, at the cost of many lives, the others do not move forward and the battle is lost almost before it began.

One of the generals, General Mireau (George Macready), orders the artillery to fire on the soldiers who won’t leave the trenches.  Colonel Dax (Douglas) defies the order and has his men retreat.  Hoping to make an example of the perceived cowardliness, Mireau orders 3 men be put on trial and eventually executed.

Something that bothered me was the way in which the army treats those seen as cowardly.  In the end three random soldiers are executed because of the failure of the attack.  These men are more pawns in the higher-ups grand scheme to inspire or instill fear in the rest of the men.  It sickens me to think that someone an put their life on the line in battle and be thrown under the bus so easily.  One of the executed was one of the few living soldiers from his group after the battle.  Another, who is selected by lot, had 2 commendations for bravery, but as one of the judges said, they didn’t matter because the soldier was being tried for his performance in that one battle.

This is a movie that was the first of many that Stanley Kubrick is known for, the next of course being Spartacus. “The bitterly ironic and moving film established Stanley Kubrick as an important figure in American cinema.”  The film, though, was met with controversy, first because of the cover-up from the French, but was also helped because it was released after the Korean War and Joseph McCarthy’s fall from grace.

This is shot entirely in black-and-white.  I find that a fitting format for war films.  It almost gives a raw, unfiltered serious tone to the film. The content cannot be taken lightly.

“A particularly poignant scene is towards the end when a young German woman (played by Kubrick’s wife Susanne Christian) stills a crowd of rowdy French veterans with a song in a cafe.  It is perhaps significant that this outspoken movie never won a major award.”

I always love and appreciate when a director can convey the great emotion and ethical dilemma in a way that tells the story while communicating the weight these issues have on characters.  Another thing that I found interesting was the fact that Colonel Dax leads his troops in the battle.  A high-ranking officer in the clear line of danger, especially in the trench warfare, was something that impressed me.

I probably won’t watch this film again, but as with so many others I am glad I’ve seen it once.  It’s also interesting to watch this as a predecessor, at least withing Kubrick’s career, to later war films like Full Metal Jacket.  I look forward to seeing how the years of experience will show through in his later works.

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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