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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I think that Stanley Kubrick is the greatest of all film directors, and in
"Paths of Glory" is Kubrick's best film because:
1. It is FAR AND AWAY the most realistic, most emotionally draining, and most beautifully photographed movie ever made about trench warfare in WW I, which has to be considered to be one of the significant episodes in all of human history. The story is fiction, but the events are patterned after some actual mutinies in the French army that took place in 1917.
2. I first saw this film 46 years ago, and it not only made me an avid Kubrick fan for the rest of my life, it made me want to watch it over and over again -- more than 250 times over the years, and every time I see it, I cry at the end (when Kubrick's future wife, and the only woman in the film, sings "The Faithful Hussar", causing the audience of French soldiers to change from a jeering crowd to a hushed, teary-eyed group of lonely men).
3. Everything about the movie is PERFECT!! There are no flaws in the acting, the pace of the movie, the photography, the dialogue, etc. Scene after scene is more powerful and ironic than the preceding one, building to a shattering climax. It is simply a gem.
4. Try as I might to think of actors that could have been substituted in their places, I think the casting for each and every part in the movie really could not have been any better. No one could have been better in their respective roles than George Macready, Adolphe Menjou, Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, and all of the others. Many of these actors appear in Kubrick's other films.
5. Has there ever been a better scene than the one in which one of the condemned soldiers (Ralph Meeker) stares at this cockroach and cries that tomorrow that bug will still be alive and he will be dead. Whereupon one of the other condemned men (the fatalistic Timothy Carey) squashes the cockroach and says "Now you got the edge on him".
6. You could probably change a few things in most of Kubrick's other masterpieces to slightly improve them, but I DEFY anyone to single out anything in "Paths of Glory" that could be improved upon. I could go on and on raving about the beauty and pathos of this film, but I think I will stop here.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
At only 29 years of age and in only his second major studio release,
Kubrick showed the world that he was a force to be reckoned with. By the
time he died 42 years later his films were epochal events waited for
breathlessly by his large band of devotees who considered him a director
without equal. He seldom disappointed them.
This movie is set in World War I amidst the incredibly destructive and futile trench warfare between France and Germany. Kirk Douglas plays Frenchman Colonel Dax, who is ordered to make an impossible assault on a heavily-fortified enemy position. The only reason this charge is being made is that his commanding general, played by George Macready, believes that capturing the position will earn him a promotion. When the assault does not go forward under heavy enemy bombardment, the general is infuriated and demands that three men be arbitrarily chosen to stand trial for cowardice, an offense punishable by death. Col. Dax defends these men at their court-martial.
The battle and trial scenes are about as good as have ever been filmed and the high level of tension is sustained throughout the movie. After the film's climax has occurred, Col. Dax goes looking for his troops and finds them relaxing at a cafe. What he and the viewer witness there is possibly the most affecting scene I've ever seen on screen.
Looking at this film in perspective, it's easy to see Kubrick's trademarks even at this early stage of his career. The attention to the composition of his shots reflects his background as a still photographer and foreshadows his other great films to come. I find myself most impressed today with the way he could handle a dramatic story like this one without any innovative techniques or unusual special effects to hide behind, then turn around and make such totally different films like '2001...' and 'Dr. Strangelove...' Other films like 'The Shining' and 'Barry Lyndon' combined a strong story line with breakthrough film techniques. His versatility astonishes me.
Adolphe Menjou also stars as the general who convinces Dax's superior officer to risk the ill-fated charge. Ralph Meeker, Timothy Carey and Joe Turkel give strong performances as the men on trial. Turkel turns up 23 years later in another Kubrick film, 'The Shining,' playing the bartender.
You can take your pick: 'Paths of Glory' can rightly be described as one of the greatest war movies of all, or one of the great anti-war films, or as one of Kubrick's best. Or simply one of the best, period.
Almost one hundred years later the concept of that static war of the
trenches that was the Western front of World War I is almost
unfathomable. After the French army stopped the German offensive at the
Battle of the Marne, the French and British armies faced the Germans in
a line of trenches that stretched from Belgium to Switzerland. About a
quarter of France was occupied for four years in that time. The
casualties ran into the millions in that stalemate that gains were only
measured in meters.
It was always just one more offensive over the top charging into automatic weapon fire that would break the other guy. Just such an offensive was planned one day in 1916 against a German stronghold dubbed the ant hill.
General George MacReady, promised a promotion by his superior Adolphe Menjou, orders a beaten and tired battalion to charge the ant hill. The attack flops and MacReady looks for scapegoats. He decides after coming down from shooting 100 men to a selected three drawn by lot. The unlucky three are Joseph Turkel, Ralph Meeker, and Timothy Carey.
The commander of the three Kirk Douglas asks to serve as their counsel and he makes a good show of it at the kangaroo court martial they have. But the fix is definitely in.
Except for Spartacus, Kirk Douglas rarely plays straight up heroic types in film. Even his good guys have an edge to them, a dark side. But as Colonel Dax, Douglas is at his most heroic. He may be one dimensional here, but he's great. Especially in that last scene with Adolphe Menjou when he tells the man off in no uncertain terms, mainly because Menjou has misread Douglas's motives.
Menjou and Macready portray two different military types. The arrogant MacReady as versus the very sly Menjou. Not very admirable either of them. Menjou was not very popular at this time in Hollywood because of the blacklist. He favored it very much, his politics were of the extreme right wing. Nevertheless he was a brilliant actor and never better than in this film, one of his last.
The enlisted men are a good bunch also. They're kind of like the posse in The Oxbow Incident, just an ordinary group who become ennobled in martyrdom as they go to the firing squad for the sake of politics.
Paths of Glory is one of the best anti-war films ever made. It ranks right up there with All Quiet on the Western Front which showed the war from the German point of view. Both will be classics 200, 300, a thousand years from now.
What to say that hasn't already been said. This astonishing cinematic work
of art (no kidding) unquestionably is the GREATEST FILM EVER - bar none. I
deeply and passionately LOVE this brilliant early Kubrick production.
Congratulations to expert screenwriters (and unique pulp writers of the
5O's) Calder Willingham (who also penned his own excellent adaptation of
"The Strange One"; highly recommended) and Jim Thompson ("The Grifters" "The
Killer Inside Me"; which strongly influenced Tarantino), who both present a
superbly incisive script with powerfully effective dialogue that really
rings more than true. If only we had more real writers and scripts like
this remarkable achievement, we'd be writing far more favorable reviews.
"Paths of Glory", alone, would serve as anyone's lifetime achievement award.
I don't care how much you HATE B&W films - put this one on your MUST-SEE. Compelling cinema-verite photography creates astounding visuals from a varity of incisive angles; like the famous mobile wide-angle tracking shot of Dax (probably Kirk Douglas's most stirring and important performance) moving through the squalid and horrifying trenches as the battle begins with explosions breaking out all over. The suspense and tension is frightening, but almost beautifully eerie in the most compelling ways as Kubrick takes us through the deadly limbo of no-man's land - the 'paths of glory' which finally leads to the grave. The action, skillfully combined with powerful moral and existential themes are amazingly conveyed through the bleak yet articulately stunning visuals. THIS IS A FILMMAKER'S FILM!
The moral outrage of the sadistic injustice of the military courtmartial never fails to make my blood fully boil. The hypocrisy and corruption is degradingly infuriating. If anything will make a cynic out of you, it's this appropriately pessimistic and depressing cinema chronical based on a true stupid incident in WWI. What's even worse is how POG, in many perceptive ways, serves as an allegory for all the B.S. in real life: Pig-headed leadership in the parasitic hands of the superior greed freaks, two-faced deceptive manipulations, double-standards, backstabbings, social bigotry, arm-chair warriors, egotism, corrupt politics, the militaries's abuse of too much power - and it's destructive desire at satisfying it's lust for vainglory (sounds a little like Hollywood) - Did I leave anything out? You name it, POG has it - and I'm not being sarcastic.
The entire ensemble cast is superb with special mention to George Macready as the utterly pompous power-mad glory-seeking "soldier", General Mireuo (who thinks nothing about ordering his troops to open fire on his own men for not charging out of the trenches and dying for his "country"; which smells a bit like ME ME ME). Don't worry, you'll throughly hate his guts. It truly is true method acting. Again, kudos to Macready, a fine actor who was always too good at playing highly unethical villians. (Incidently, this was a favorite film of a young 195O's Marlon Brando and old salty Winston Churchill, who praised Kubrick's incisive authenticity in the exciting battle scene, which does resemble news footage).
Timothy Carey (also ultra-offbeat-cool in Kubrick's other exceptional early flick, "The Killing") is morbidly humorous and gut-wrenching as one of the poor fools coldly picked to be executed; all in the ruthless 'patriotic' name (and amoral game) of 'glory'. ARE ANY OF OUR LEADERS LISTENING? Too bad that Carey's memorable talents were so underused by Hollywood, but that always seems to be the unfortunate norm. A little like what ironically happens to him in this intriguing but downbeat story.
Ralph Meeker (who was also memorable as the brutal and ruthless Mike Hammer in the 5O's cult gem "Kiss Me Deadly" - a complete opposite role that shows a true range of his acting abilities) delivers another wretching performance as the true brave soldier unjustly sentenced for "Cowardice in the Face of the Enemy". (Maybe he should have turned 'about face', but it would have still been 'damned if he did and damned if he didn't' - another grim moral theme here). His breakdown scene right before he is to be taken out and shot is terribly heartbreaking, for I felt so wanting, but helplessly unable, to come to his help.
Take my word for it, everyone else is awesome; a true actor's dramatic show with dark satirical overtones. POG goes beyond the mere preaching anti-war diatribe (though it does convey that almost naturally, like going without having to say). It's a great classic morality play that will really make you stop (many, many times) and truly make you think (many many times). Airheads not allowed. Moreover, this haunting and disturbing masterpiece is top entertainment, something too many art films aren't. >
It will really make you question things about our troubled, convoluted world and how things are to often immorally and inhumanly run all in the sick name of greed and destructive power. Not too lovely, for the director pulls no punches. This film really has grown more profound (and currently pertinent) since its initial release. Also the editing is taut and concise; there isn't a single wasted moment. Count the number of films on one hand that has accomplished that miraculous feat; that most critics and user commentators are always rightfully harking on. I'll shut up now. Go see this one-of-a-kind film, then see it again - and again, etc. >
In France, in the First World War, the insane and ambitious general Gen.
Paul Mireau (George Macready) orders Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) to lead his
men in a suicide attack against Germans in the unattainable Ant Hill. After
a massacre of the French soldiers, Gen. Mireau orders his artillery to drop
bombs between the French front line of attack and the trenches, to avoid the
soldier to return to the protection of the trenches. The commander of the
French artillery refuses to accomplish the order. Gen. Mireau asks his
superior, Gen. George Broulard (Adolphe Menjou), to send three men to Court
Martial and execute them for cowardice through shooting, as an example to
the other soldiers. Colonel Dax, a former lawyer, defends his men in the
unfair trial. Yesterday I watched this outstanding masterpiece for the first
time and certainly it is among the best movies of the cinema history. The
disgusting story shows the insanity of a war, where men are treated like
numbers and not as human beings. The reality of the battles scenes is
amazing. The cast has a stunning performance, highlighting the trio George
Macready, Adolphe Menjou and Kirk Douglas. The lack of sensibility and
respect for the human life and the cynicism in the dialogs of the two
generals are fantastic. Two other points that called my attention are the
fancy reception for the general staff, while their subalterns are fighting
in the front and the misunderstanding of the real intentions of Colonel Dax
by Gen. George Broulard. A must-see movie! My vote is ten.
Title (Brazil): `Glória Feita de Sangue' (`Glory Made of Blood')
I consider Paths of Glory as one of the most memorable of Kubrick's entire output. The most remarkable aspect of this pioneer anti-war film is the complete absence of any persons depicting the "real" enemy. Therefore, the significance of the film lay not so much in its anti-war message, but in its brilliant expose of the "monsters within" the general staff, superbly acted by Adolphe Menjou and George Macready. The message here is that the enemy lurks much closer to home. In most war films, whether they glorify or condemn the carnage, there is rarely any venturing at all into the darker side of the politics. This film is a tour de force in its unabashed depiction of just how misguided is the quest for glory as an end in itself; and in the portrayal of the leaders who would shamelessly sacrifice others for their own self aggrandizement. Truly, one of my all time favourite movies.
An arrogant French general (a superb George Macready) orders his men on
a suicide mission and then has the gall to try to court marshal and
execute three of them for cowardice in the face of the enemy. A former
lawyer turned colonel (Kirk Douglas in his prime) is the voice of
reason against gross injustice. This excellently staged and wonderfully
acted production is as much an acting showcase for Douglas as it is a
directorial masterstroke by a young Stanley Kubrick who adapted this to
the screen from a novel based on actual accounts.
Kubrick displays a great control of sound effects and camera movement in the brief but effective battle scenes that expertly depict the controlled chaos that was trench warfare during WWI. Things get juicier during the ensuing courtroom battle where the deafening disparity between the elite who propagate and profit from war and the common citizens who suffer and die in war is shown with great lucidity.
Unlike later Kubrick epics, this runs at a crisp 90 minutes, though suffers briefly from a slow and awkwardly staged opening ten minutes before Douglas comes on screen. Ultimately, this holds up very well to modern scrutiny thanks to the flawlessness of Kurbick's craft, the amazing ensemble acting, and the surprising depth of its philosophical and psychological pondering. "Paths of Glory" is more anti-arrogance than anti-war, and is unapologetically sentimental and pro-soldier. As such, much can still be gleaned from its message.
"Paths of Glory" (1957) (and this is personal opinion of course) is
Stanley Kubrick's first real masterpiece in what would be a long line of
subsequent masterpieces. I know that Kubrick had a reputation for making
cold, unemotional films (which is a false impression, but that's the subject
for another essay) but I don't believe there are many people who can deny
how powerful this film is. Through the editing, camera movement, incredibly
realistic dialogue, and a now more fully realized use of irony, Kubrick
creates an unforgettable anti-war parable. I realize that my love for this
film is incredibly obvious, but I'll try to focus on an analysis of the film
rather than a review, but the movie is just so good!
Francois Truffaut once said that there is no such thing as a true anti-war film because the battle scenes make the war look exiting. "Paths of Glory"'s scenes of battle are certainly gripping, but gripping in the way that a nightmare is gripping. There is no way a person can see these scenes and wish they were participating (like the action scenes in say, "The Dirty Dozen"). I vividly recall the scene where three men try to sneak behind enemy lines in the middle of the night. The battlefield is cloaked in darkness. Someone shoots a flare. Silently, a brief burst of light illuminates the field, revealing several corpses strewn over the ground. Darkness quickly covers them up again. Kubrick uses silence and sparse sound effects in this scene like a musical score. Any actual music would be intrusive and rob from the moment, a flaw found in too many otherwise good films of the nineteen fifties (personal opinion of course).
Point of view is used very well in the film to illustrate the inner concerns of the major characters. We see General Mireau's Point of view when he looks through the binoculars at the ant-hill he wants his men to take. When he hands over the binoculars to Colonel Dax, we don't see his view of the ant-hill. Later however, when Dax walks through the trenches before the big battle, we do see his point of view looking at his men. This contrasts with an earlier scene when Mireau walked through the trenches and we did not see his point of view. This clearly illustrates what is important to each man. For Mireau, it is victory at all costs; for Dax, it is the welfare of his soldiers.
For me one of the most impressive things about "Paths of Glory" was it's realistic, yet still poetic, and sometimes even chilling dialogue. This is in sharp contrast to the clever yet purposefuly stagy dialogue of "The Killing".
One scene sticks out my mind where a soldier is nervously rambling about what it would be like to get shot: "Most guys say that if they got shot they'd want to die quick. So what does that tell you? It means there not afraid of getting killed, they're afraid of getting hurt. I think if you're gonna get shot and live, it's best to get shot in the rear than in the head. Why? Because in the rear its just meat, but the head, that's pure bone. Can you imagine what it's like for a bullet to rip through pure bone?" When I first saw this film in a theater, there was some nervous laughter in the audience during this scene. It's true, the scene's dark humour helps illustrate the insanity of the situation.
In my introduction I stated that there was great use of irony in the film. Perhaps the greatest irony is the title. In the end no one finds glory. Dax, although he nobly fights to defend his men wrongly accused of treason, loses the fight. Even though he is later offered a promotion, he turns it down because of his disgust for the army. Mireau is found out to be the cad that he is for ordering his own troops slaughter, and is court marshalled. The film successfully states that in a war even the supposed victors lose something as well.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've read some of the last comments and all I can say is that I think
most of you missed the point in this film. No offense to everybody, but
I've never regarded this movie as an antiwar movie or something like
that. The fact, that my interpretation is not corresponding with most
of the others lies in the simple truth that 50% of work is done by the
"author" and the rest is done by the audience.
Kubrick used his films as little pieces of the great image of mankind. In all his movies one can see one or multiple depictions of individuals or groups and their feelings and actions, which are not only typical for the protagonists, and antagonists, but also for the viewer.
In the Paths Of Glory this special feeling is perhaps the most ordinary of all: hope.
From the beginning there is no hope in this movie. The battle is lost before it even started. Those three poor creatures are sentenced to death before even the trial had started. And still the audience hopes for a happy end, that the general may stop the execution in the last second. But nothing happens. At this point the viewer is as hopeless as the figures in the movie. The following breakfast scene leaves everybody in a state of paralization, nothing changes.
And then at the end. this helpless and beautiful girl begins to sing a German folk song, which none of the present soldiers knows what it's all about. But the mood of the mob changes away from hate and anger and they all begin to cry like babies. In this very moment hope is reborn and comes back to the battlefield of feelings as the glorious winner. This is when we regain our hope.
Many people wrote, that the last scene didn't fit in the film at all. I would say, that without this scene the movie would have never become the classic it is now. Of course the filming and actor performances are brilliant, but this specialty of the last scene makes this movie unforgettable.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The end sequence is beautifully symbolic.The soldiers in the bar watch as a frightened German girl is brought before them. As the poor lass struggles to sing her song (it really doesn't matter what song), they begin to realize that this hapless creature is enduring what their three executed comrades had endured themselves. Their three comrades were brought before the military tribunal as a formality before their execution. Now these soldiers are the tribunal for this pitiful girl who now stands before them awaiting their judgment. But unlike the cold inhuman justice that the French military machine has dealt to their compatriots, they watch intently as this German girl strives to sing in spite of all their cat calls and hoots and hollers, realizing that she is trying her best in spite of overwhelming opposition, just as they and their three dead friends had tried in attacking the ant hill. They cry because they see themselves up there on the stage.........a poor frightened soul that finds themselves in a situation they'd rather not face but is compelled to do so. Colonel Dax realizes this and allows this brief respite of humanity to engulf the troops before they are sent back to face the horrors of the war. This film is indeed one of the best war films ever made it simply overpowers the viewer with emotion.
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