Paths of Glory (1957)

Paths of Glory (1957)It’s been a long time since I last saw a Kubrick film, that being Full Metal Jacket (1987) which blew my mind. Paths of Glory (1957) has been on my watch-list for sometime too, simple because it is directed by the master that is Stanley Kubrick, sometimes overlooked in comparison to A Clockwork Orange (1971), (2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

We spend little time in the trenches of the French army as they engage the enemy in an attempt to take back The Ant Hill from the Germans. A move that would see Colonel Dax’s (Kirk Douglas) regiment placed on trial for cowardice, when the faced impossible odds on the battle field so do his men in the court room.

When orders are given by the brass in the form of Gen. Paul Mireau (George Macready) who trusts his colonel to see Dax’s men take back this installation that would boost the morale of the men during the mid-point of WWI. It seems like an impossible task, with losses calculated at over half the regiment, is it really worth it? Still the first wave go over the top, brave and ready to fight in a sequence that seems to go on forever, a brave tracking shot that seems to cover a good stretch of chewed up land. Soon covered in bodies of the fallen and wounded.

Whilst back in the trenched the next wave has not left to back-up those who are falling like flies. This is the crux of the situation, held back by enemy fire, making it impossible to even leave before falling back down dead. The brass are not slow in reacting to the mass act of cowardice, wanting to make an extreme example. Something Dax wont stand for. Resulting in a farce of a court-martial of three men who each are prime examples of what happened and why in the face of the enemy. Whatever they say falls on deaf ears to the court whose line of questioning leads to an open and shut case.

Probably one of Kubrick’s shorter films found in perfect condition, a mark of the carefully composed cinematography. Every shot counts in building up this picture of military hypocrisy. A regiment facing impossible odds, having to answer to the public and the government whilst trying to win the bloodiest war in human history to that point. Douglas is on fine fighting form as he stands up for his men, even to his superiors, a fair man in an unfair situation. I expected more action in the field of battle, still there was an internal battle going on, which is a common theme in the directors work. Making me appreciate his work on a new level of subtext.

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