Paths of Glory is a film made in 1957. Behind the camera was my all-time favourite director Stanley Kubrick. It was this film, and his previous effort The Killing, that really showed what a tremendous talent he would become.
The film is set in 1916, in the midst of World War One. It follows a French Colonel named Dax, played by Kirk Douglas. He is to lead an attack on a highly fortified German position known as the Ant Hill. To make matters worse, they must also cross no man’s land in broad daylight while expecting more than half of the men to be killed or wounded. Everyone sees the absolute futility of the attack except the ‘arm-chair generals’ in charge, who have no concept of real life in the trenches.
To cut a long story short, the attack is a complete disaster and many men are killed. Worse still, they do not advance very far, due to the savagery of the aerial bombardment and the machine gun fire that awaits them. Some men could not even leave their trenches. This infuriates General Mireau and he demands that one hundred men be shot as punishment for cowardice. His tirade includes the classic line ‘ if those little sweethearts won’t face German bullets, they’ll face French ones!’ The number is later whittled down to only three men after Dax intervenes. Dax, who is a lawyer in civilian life, is given the opportunity to provide the defence. So as to preserve the plot, I shall say no more about it.
The acting in this picture is superb on all fronts. Douglas is fantastic as the compassionate and honest Colonel, who only wants justice for his men. The acting award, however, is shared by Adolphe Menjou and George Macready who play Generals Broulard and Mireau respectively. They are nothing short of sensational. They are utterly believable as the out of touch generals.
Because this is a Kubrick film, one can expect all his usual flourishes. The long tracking shots during the trench scenes are classic Kubrick. Also, his love of three-way confrontations are present and correct. Here it is most evident between Dax, Broulard and Mireau. As well as Douglas, it also features actors Timothy Carey and Joe Turkel who are well known for appearing in his movies.
Despite the brevity of the battle scenes shown in the movie, they are extremely realistic. The trenches are pelted by debris from deafening mortar explosions and you can almost imagine what it was like to be there … almost. Filming in black and white also lends marvellously to the realism, at least in my opinion.
This is a true cinema classic. It is a great film, an exceptional anti-war vehicle and at only 83 minutes long you could do a lot worse than watching this of an evening. If you do not watch it I will pity you as I would the village idiot (refer to the film ).