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Crime, Drama, War
IMDB rating:
Stanley Kubrick


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Kirk Douglas as Col. Dax
Ralph Meeker as Cpl. Philippe Paris
Adolphe Menjou as Gen. George Broulard
George Macready as Gen. Paul Mireau
Wayne Morris as Lt. Roget / Singing man
Richard Anderson as Maj. Saint-Auban
Joe Turkel as Pvt. Pierre Arnaud (as Joseph Turkel)
Christiane Kubrick as German singer (as Susanne Christian)
Jerry Hausner as Proprietor of cafe
Peter Capell as Narrator of opening sequence / Judge (colonel) of court-martial
Emile Meyer as Father Dupree
Bert Freed as Sgt. Boulanger
Kem Dibbs as Pvt. Lejeune
Timothy Carey as Pvt. Maurice Ferol
Paths of Glory Storyline: The futility and irony of the war in the trenches in WWI is shown as a unit commander in the French army must deal with the mutiny of his men and a glory-seeking general after part of his force falls back under fire in an impossible attack.
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One of the great anti-war movies.
In an attempt to enhance his own reputation, General Mireau (George MacReady) orders his troops to advance and seize the heavily fortified `Ant Hill' from the German army. Despite realising the hazardous nature of the order, Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) reluctantly agrees to lead the charge. As expected the attack goes badly and many French troops lose their lives which results in a large number of men refusing to leave their trenches. General Mireau sees this from his safe position and, refusing to admit that the attack was suicide from the outset, blames the cowardice of those who refused to fight for the devastating outcome of the battle. As a result Mireau demands that three soldiers from the regiment be held accountable and face an immediate court martial followed by death by firing squad. Dax seeks for the French military hierarchy to admit the truth.

This dramatic condemnation of the politics-over-people attitude of military forces during World War I is an all too accurate portrayal of how the conflict resulted in one of the largest and most pointless losses of life in all known history. Taking place in the trenches amidst the height of the futile conflict between France and Germany, director Stanley Kubrick (in only his second feature film) seeks to press home a fiercely anti-war statement backed up by actual historical facts rather than the typical embellishment that can be found in more modern war films. While the story itself is somewhat fanciful, the portrayal of the morally corrupt military leaders that sent hundreds of thousands of men to their deaths for no more reason than to satisfy their own expanded egos and enhance their perfidious reputations is, unfortunately, all too accurate and a powerful indictment of not just the French army, but all those who participated in one of the most bloody conflicts in human history. What makes the film so stinging in its approach is the flat out lies told by protagonist Mireau, who claims that one man's life is worth more to him than a reputation, yet when presented with the opportunity for political acclaim and honours is all too willing to send troops to battle when freely admitting that four thousand will probably perish in no man's land. A quick glance through history proves such on-screen bald faced lies to be inherently and tragically true off-screen, even in relation to Britain's very own Field Marshall Hague. The French government found the representation of their military too close to fact and banned ‘Paths of Glory', eventually lifting the ban in 1970.

The film does not stand out in mere message alone. For those familiar with Kubrick's later work such as ‘2001: A Space Odyssey' (1968), ‘A Clockwork Orange' (1971) and ‘Full Metal Jacket' (1987) the director's soon-to-be trademarks can easily be spotted. As with many Kubrick films there is a remarkable ability to portray to the viewer what is not seen on the screen. The full carnage of the war is displayed in a darkly amusing, yet chilling scene where one soldier questions another on whether he is scared of death or merely getting hurt. As this precedes the actual battle scenes by a matter of minutes the viewer becomes rapidly acquainted with the carnage, fear and suffering these men faced despite a distinct lack of on-screen bloodshed. One could argue that the short, virtually bloodless battle scene in ‘Paths of Glory' is even more powerful than the bloody, disturbing and prolonged beach scenes from ‘Saving Private Ryan' (1998). Kubrick wonderfully crafts this movie around the composition of the filming rather than relying on any sort of special effects or visual trickery. Throughout the movie, particularly during the battle scenes, the viewer is given a third person perspective of the struggles of men to come to terms with life and death under such harsh conditions. Incredible acting performances from Kirk Douglas, George MacReady and Adolphe Menjou attract the viewer's attention and become the central focus in a war film with scarce amounts of action. Kubrick condemns the politics of war through the use of the politics that control war.

It is very difficult to write about this film and fully do it justice. The pre-Vietnam anti-war sentiment is easily the main focus of the movie and it is through competent acting that the movie is made great. It becomes somewhat irrelevant that the movie is set in WWI as the same message applies to every major war, particularly the following decades Vietnam War. It wasn't until Oliver Stone's ‘Platoon' (1986) that viewers were again treated to an historically based condemnation of war that focused less on heroes and more on the way things really were in battle. Wisely, the movie opens with a narrated epilogue which informs the viewer of the absurdity of WWI and then ends with a melodramatic and almost tear-inspiring scene which, although not in place when compared to the sombre and melancholy feel of the previous eighty minutes, ends the film in such a way that the film itself must be contemplated. ‘Paths of Glory' is easily one of the most powerful films of all time and a pejorative anti-war statement where the only real failing is the short length of the movie and occasional poor performances from the supporting cast. My rating for ‘Paths of Glory' - 7½/10.
A Miniature of the Real Battle
The film effectively depicts, in miniature, a historical reality—General Nivelle's spring offensive to regain the Chemin des Dames position in April, 1917. The real offensive involved 19 divisions, and not just one regiment, as in the movie. Forty thousand men were lost on the first day, with almost nothing to show for it.

Such a vast undertaking can be dealt with only in non-fiction works such as Barbara Tuchman's GUNS OF AUGUST, which marvelously depicts on a vast canvas, involving the movements of whole armies, the opening of the war in 1914, the events which led up to "the Miracle of the Marne." The irony here is that by stopping the Germans at the Marne, the French doomed themselves to four years of slaughter, eventually losing 1,400,000 young men killed.

Art cannot deal with such scope, but must miniaturize; thus the offensive in PATHS OF GLORY is confined to one regiment, and then focuses on just five men in that regiment—its colonel (Douglas), a cowardly company commander (Wayne Morse), and three privates who are randomly selected as scapegoats. Of course, the selection is not really random; the Ralph Meeker character, for example, is selected by Morse because he had witnessed the latter's cowardice, which cost the life of one of his men on a scouting expedition.

In addition, two generals—perfectly played by a self-righteous George Macready ("If those sweethearts won't face German bullets, they'll face French ones") and a cynical Adolphe Menjou (who is surprised to learn that Dax is an idealist)—are also individualized as the "bad guys." The point is often made that the bad guys are too bad. Of course they are. In a movie, more so than in a novel, you have to paint in broad strokes. The essence of film is melodrama.

The Macready character is loosely based on the real Nivelle, who was appointed commander-in-chief after the ten-month-long battle of Verdun, in which the French lost half a million men. Nivelle, more mistaken than evil, felt that what was needed was a major gung-ho offensive by artillery and infantry. But the Germans, forewarned, had taken the high ground (called the "Ant Hill" in the movie), along the Chemin des Dames, and had prepared impregnable positions. In WWI, unlike WWII, the defense almost always won.

The movie, based on Humphrey Cobb's novel, perfectly illustrates art's practice of miniaturization, individuation, and humanization of large historical events. As viewers, we need to see specific persons we can relate to. The Vietnam movie PLATOON, carries this idea still further, in that a platoon is only part of a company, which is part of a regiment. A WWII movie which does the same thing is A WALK IN THE SUN.

For me, PATHS OF GLORY remains a classic, and is not just an antiwar film—though it is that too.
One of the all-time best antiwar movies
If you can watch this movie all the way through to the final scene in a bar in which a German girl (played by Kubrick's wife!) sings a song and all the grizzled veterans in the room cry--and not cry yourself--then something's wrong with you. This is one heck of a powerful film and makes a better statement against the senselessness of war than many films with vastly bigger budgets. It blew me away the first time I saw it.
A Brilliant Indictment of the Military Institution
Before indulging in the ponderousness that could mar his otherwise exceptional later films, Stanley Kubrick directed this terse, no-nonsense account of a group of men tried for mutiny during the horrific trench warfare of World War I.

"Paths of Glory" exists mainly as a scathing indictment of the bureaucracy behind the world's wars. The accused men in this film are scapegoats for commanders who failed at their own duties, but in the military, as in the world outside the military, the power resides with a few, and the masses have little power against them.

Kirk Douglas delivers a fierce performance as an officer who sees the injustice and refuses to tolerate it. There's a throbbing human passion in the way he attacks the character, as there is throughout the entire film, somewhat rare for Kubrick, whose later movies would tend toward the emotionally detached.

A surprisingly candid film for its time, "Paths of Glory" would be tough medicine for people to swallow today, when everyone wants to believe that the military establishment has nothing but our best interests at heart. The film suggests that soldiers have as much to fear from their allies within as they do their enemies without.

Grade: A+
A French tragedy without any French in sight.
Let me state from the beginning that this film shows, on one hand, that there was a time when Kubrick's movies had a soul, a feeling--something they were losing along the years and of which there was nothing left at the time he made Clockwork Orange--and that he, once more, tackled here a subject he knew little about. And I'm talking about the French as a people; or the French military, the military in general. (I can't imagine any place, any country, where a general would behave in such a way as Broulard did in two occasions with Dax--trying to justify his decisions in front of a subordinate--or that this subordinate could give him such a stern lecture without suffering any consequence.) But let's start with the French.

I think it's important to address the subject of the idiosyncrasy, the mentality, of the French, as radically different from that of the men shown in this movie—Anglo Saxons--to explain my lack of interest and emotional involvement while watching it. If you really know French people you cannot bring yourself to take POG seriously. Why? Firstly, the Americans--as Kubrick--are the kings of the black and white; the champions of the rather reductionist POV of absolute and opposed categories. They have the perennial tendency to separate good and bad, nice and not-nice, beautiful and ugly, etc. The French, instead, are the kings of nuance; for them everything in this world is relative, depending of your POV; and much more than seeking the absolute true, they love arguing about it. If you know that already you'll take POG for what really is, a film made by Anglosaxons for Anglosaxon audiences. See how everyone here is totally good or totally bad, there are no nuances. So much so, the only thing missing here is a sign over everybody's head, indicating to which group he belongs. And in the midst of it all, the idealistic, throughly courageous all American hero—Kirk "look at my gorgeous torso" Douglas--the only one who keeps his confident smile while marching onwards along the trenches, while all others cower and stick themselves to the dirt walls for their dear lives. That's not the French; that's not even reality but pure, unadulterated, Hollywood trite. We are invited in this movie...sorry we are taken firmly by the hand, and dragged if necessary, to convene that all the generals are awful, that they are a miserable and despicable gang of rascals, while the soldiers are pure, immaculate, victims. Maybe so, and maybe what happens here can occur any day in any country but that's not the point. The point is that there's no nuance. Maybe if this movie had been done by the French the plot would have been just the same, but to arrive to the execution climax many things would have have happened before; things would have happened that didn't happen here. See, the French love to talk, they love to argue and most of all, they love philosophizing. The direct, to--the--point, discussions we see her between Dax and both generals would have turned instead into intense arguments on the nature of good and evil, about the essence of duty in even its most abstract meaning; on the true value of human existence, and so on. The French love to talk about all those things and they would have profited of every occasion to do it, even the condemned men. Instead of that phony, contrived, moaning and lamenting of Ferol in his way to the sand bags he would have kept asking the priest abut the possible existence of life after death, or arguing with him about the same thing, or he would have completely lost himself in some Camus--like musings about Nothingness and the overall futility of human existence. What Kubrick presents us in his film had nothing to do with all that; the French mentality, idiosyncrasy, are nowhere to be seen here. What we got here is nothing but a bunch of Anglo Saxons taking a French story and playing it their own way. Anglo Saxons are far less expressive, far more stoic than the French. They are rather practical, realist, and fully anchored in the physical world. For them to die is the most horrifying thing that may happen to a human being; the end of everything, something to grieve and be sad for and not, in any way, to use as an occasion or excuse for philosophizing or for abstract discussions on human nature. That's why this Ferol moans so much—because he got nothing to say—and that's why I couldn't get into POG.

Concerning the movie as a Kubrick work I'm not the first to mention that already here we start noticing his usual, future, trademarks: the long tracking camera, following a general, a Colonel, in the trenches, for what it seems the whole 500 miles of the Western Front—and that for absolutely no reason at all. That's the kind of camera trick his fans adore--for some inscrutable reason--but which we, the no-fans, hate. Ditto for the moving around of the characters, for no other reason than to show us the sumptuous surrounding he wants them to be floating in--the best ex. of it being that first meeting of the two generals, which includes even a ridiculous dance around a flower vase and then a walk towards a mirror. Mercifully the scene was cut there, as I was fearing that at any moment both generals would embrace each other and start waltzing.

Contrived, stereotypical, artificial--especially the waltzing party, where I could even picture the extras standing on their respective spots, waiting for the director's cue. Most of all, with very little French flavor in it, if any at all. By far the best scene and probably the most beautiful in all of Kubrick's career, the German girl singing to the soldiers. Sublime. Only for that, 6/10
Brilliant War Film.
Stanly Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" (1957) is one of the very few First Wold War movies. I my opinion, the reason is that the death in WW1 was unbelievable. On the the first day alone in The Battle of the Somme (1916), the British suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 dead, the single most bloodiest day in the history of the British Army - and remember, this was before the Atomic Bomb. Hollywood would probably not be able to tackle something so grim and depressing (althouh Hollywood might do a WW1 film nowadays, especially after such films as "Shinderlers List" and "Saving Privet Ryan") when Hollywood mainly deals in escapism. And that what makes "Paths of Glory" so unusual. Seen from the French's point of view, it has three French solders being executed after taking lots because their unit is found guilty of cowardice while trying to take a German controlled hill, called the "Ant Hill". Kirk Douglas gives a fantastic performance as "Colonel Dax" and so do Adolphe Menjou and George Macready. Stanly Kubrick's first masterpiece, and one definitely one to watch.
Kirk kicks butt!
The film was remarkably quick, not even 90 minutes in length, but being a very young director at the time, I'd say Kubrick filled it well. It almost reminds me of the earlier "The Life of Emile Zola" (1937) with Paul Muni because of the corruption that exists in the French army, and how someone like the character played by Kirk Douglas can stand up to it even in the face of death itself. I work at a video store and some of my customers that watch numerous classic movies like I do said that they thought this was Kirk Douglas' finest hour (and 26 minutes). They were right. But this isn't his only great picture, he's got plenty to offer in just about every film he's been in right from the beginning of his career. If you are a newcomer to Douglasania, this is a great movie to start off with.
the best war movie you've never seen.
Man o Man, just finished watching this. The download was finally 100% completed when being hanged in Bitcomet at 85% for almost a fortnight. This is one Stanley Kubrick movie which was eluding me for so much time. Haven't yet seen Spartacus and Barry Lyndon, which are the only two left to see. How many films have you seen, or war films for that matter, in which every scene is so powerful and shot with glorious perfection. Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan and other blah blah, but this movie delivers, captures human emotion with such fervor and affectively that you'll be surprised that this movie was made in 1957 about the infamous trench warfare. Kirk Douglas as Col. Dax was excellent, cannot imagine anyone else playing that role, not even James Mason. Remember, a war movie is not always about a soldier killing another shot in a gory manner. What it is about is what this movie's all about.
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. >
One of the greatest anti-war movies eve
This movie, along with the original screen version of "All Quiet on the Western Front" must rank as one of the most tragic versions of what war is really like. The arrogance and total disregard for the welfare of the soldier as beautifully portrayed by Menjou and McReady, in opposition to the care and concern of the Colonel so humanly portrayed by Douglas adds to the reality of what the world was like in the days of the "Great War." Additionally, the roles played by Wayne Morris, Ralph Meeker and the self serving aide to McReady add to the greatness of this memorable motion picture. There is no "Viva La France" here.
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