Paths Of Glory


Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Paths Of Glory
"Douglas imposes his presence and manages to walk the tightrope between edgy and intense without chewing up the scenery." | Photo: Criterion Collection

During World War One, after French Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) fails in an impossible mission, General Mireau (George Macready) decides to have three men executed for apparent cowardice. As a former defence lawyer, Dax sets out to save these men and soon finds himself in a difficult position.

You can imagine today’s MTV generation viewing Paths Of Glory as Saving Private Ryan’s grandfather, starring a guy that looks a lot like Michael Douglas. To the more cinematically knowledgeable audience, it might be viewed as Stanley Kubrick’s first feature war movie before the more well-known ones like Dr. Strangelove or Full Metal Jacket. However, to those willing to give it a chance, it’s a powerful and moving anti-war movie in its own right.

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Indeed, after its 1957 release, Paths Of Glory caused such a stir that it was banned for 18 years due to its negative portrayal of the French army (it’s loosely based on true events). Given its obvious and hateful attack on military hierarchy, this can perhaps be understood. The fictional General Mireau is painted as an egotistical man with few morals and less concern for his own troops. Forcing a suicide mission to further his career, ordering the artillery commander to fire on his own troops and attempting to have hundreds killed as motivation for the rest, Mireau is hardly a ‘Your Country Needs You’ poster-boy. Fancy a career in the military? Skip past, Paths Of Glory on the DVD shelf.

It is, however, an extremely accomplished movie. The plot has no fat on it and only gives the bare minimum we need in order to make such an impact. It might be talky when it gets into a scene, but there is no way Kubrick could be accused of being over-indulgent or of adding superfluous material.

Rather unexpectedly, the main conflict of the movie is within the French ranks themselves. Instead of examining of France versus Germany or following the war with a side to root for, the ‘war’ here is a battle of wills between Douglas’ intelligent man-of-the-people and Macready’s slimy, ambitious general. There’s also a clear difference evident between the chateaux-dwelling upper ranks and the trenches-bound low-level grunts. While the top brass wine and dine at fancy dances in posh surroundings, the average footsoldiers toil in muddy shelters with constant fear as bombs burst over head and the war takes its mental toll.

In the lead role, Douglas imposes his presence and manages to walk the tightrope between edgy and intense without chewing up the scenery. He did this confident in the movie’s quality, as he commented at the time: “There's a picture that will always be good, years from now. I don't have to wait 50 years to know that; I know it now.” Providing the perfect foil for him is Macready’s General Mireau, who boasts a certain Edward Longshanks quality in that he values his own position and status much more importantly than the safety of his own men. The rest of the cast all have smaller parts but prove useful for each of the varying scenes they feature in.

Kubrick sadly died in 1999 and left behind him a legacy of many talked about movies. Though opinions on his work differ between audiences, Paths Of Glory is an undoubtedly important picture that should be at the top of your Kubrick watch-list.

Reviewed on: 14 Dec 2008
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Paths Of Glory packshot
A soldier tries to stop the court martial of three of his men after a military advance goes awry.
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Director: Stanley Kubrick

Writer: Stanley Kubrick, Calder Willingham, Jim Thompson, Humphrey Cobb

Starring: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, Wayne Morris, Richard Anderson, Joe Turkel, Christiane Kubrick, Jerry Hausner, Peter Capell

Year: 1957

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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