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Paths of Glory
Crime, Drama, War
IMDB rating:
Stanley Kubrick
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
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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Not really a war movie
In reading other reviews I see a lot of them saying this was one of the finest "war movies" ever made. I agree that it is one of the finest movies but I do not believe it is a war movie. The war is merely the backdrop for the drama that is human politics, selfishness and greed. The backdrop could be a corporate board room, any place in government, anywhere in which a bureaucratic system is in place with little accountability at the top. The lessons in this film extend far beyond the battlefield. I would say it is a must see to anyone interested in movies about moral inconsistencies, abuse of power, and the realities of the way the world operates.
About Acting ... Adolph Menjou
There's not much one can add here to what has been said regarding this excellent and classic War World I film based on actual facts.

Perhaps just point out that in a brilliant cast (Kirk Douglas renders one of his best performances ever and George McReady his best), the one who steals the show is Adolph Menjou in my opinion.

In his General Broulard character Menjou shows superb acting. He is a cynic and egocentric man who doesn't seem to care much about his men but a lot in his career and position, yet in his calm and at he same time strong manners he shows he will let some things pass but will not tolerate others. His meeting with Douglas while a party is going on downstairs is an acting class; he brilliantly avoids a serious conversation until he is told about MacReady's order to open fire against his own men. Menjou is perfect also when -while having lunch with Mac Ready- and with a sort of total lack of interest informs the man that there will be an inquire to judge for his behavior but you notice his eyes look clearly to see the other man's reaction and enjoy it. But mostly, in such a complex and unlikeable character (he goes along with the three soldiers shooting knowing perfectly it won't serve justice) his General Broulard transmits a sort of dignity and sympathy to the viewers.

And incredibly natural performer, Menjou died 5 years after this film at age 73. A great actor indeed.
simply put.
Everyone else will tell you about the story over and over again. So I won't need to do that. But, what description I'll give is one in its most simplistic form. One that summarizes the overall feeling, because to put into words such emotion for each scene is not possible. You will understand what I mean once you see this masterpiece of heartache. For it is just as impossible to put into words the emotions of any soldier during wartime. I should point out that I saw this movie on an old B/W set and give my review from this standpoint. To me it was seeing this movie minus the color that really maked it stand out. What makes it timeless. Anyway, to give you a feel for this movie here is one simple sentence. Black and white, and red throughout.
An Anti-War Film for the Ages
The French Army calls it the Anthill. Mere kilometers away from Paris, German WWI forces have dug trenches and fortified the area for a little over a year. Gen. Paul Mireau (Macready) believes taking the Anthill is nearly impossible and says so within the first frames of Paths of Glory. Yet after the insinuation of a promotion by Gen. Broulard (Menjou), Mireau reconsiders, rationalizing and demurring such a feat of improbability for the sake of glory. Enters Kirk Douglas; cleft chin, movie-star good looks, and despite playing Col. Dax, a Frenchman, Douglas carries a signature American swagger. Surprised by the General's tactical decision, Dax nevertheless strives to carry out his orders.

Thus the wheels of Paths of Glory begin to screech and turn. The movie is infamously known not only as a damning anti-war film but as one of Kubrick's first great masterpieces in a career marked by nothing but. As an anti-war film, Paths of Glory is downright incendiary choosing hubris, human frailty and visual metaphor as a means to an end. Generals sit in a comfy château making decisions about the cannon-fodder in the trenches who are shell-shocked due to months of constant skirmishes. Those in the trenches who hold to some semblance of rank, take advantage of it to hide mistakes and keep up appearances. The end result of Mireau's gambit, which according to Dax "will weaken the French Army with heavy losses for no benefit"? So bitter and damning as to become farcical if it wasn't so unfailingly human.

Even as early as 1957, the late Stanley Kubrick displayed a mastery of his craft with a particular affinity to asymmetrical spacing, alienating long shots and mechanical tracking shots. He keeps his camera at a safe distance, robbing the audience of superfluous or unnecessary human emotions; concentrating instead on the chaotic wartime experience on an almost cosmic scale. Each 35mm frame of Mireau and Douglas coolly inspecting the foxhole huddled with frightened soldiers says more about inhumanity than can be found in the pages of a mediocre novel. The cynicism and pessimism of everything proceeding the battle is enough to make anyone revolt. Is it any wonder the film went unreleased in France for over twenty years?

But while the first tracking shots are an attack on the inhumanity of war, the scenes of the battle for the Anthill are a full frontal attack on the way Hollywood made war movies. While films like Sergeant York (1941) are drenched in patriotism, Paths of Glory's long, unforgiving battle scene dares to be cruel, emotionally complex and absurd. During an ever escalating barrage of artillery, mortar and machine gunfire, soldiers are dispatched with mechanical coldness, superiors shout out in the organized chaos while Col. Dax's story surreptitiously disappears into the ether. Meanwhile the enemy remains unseen.

As early as the forties, Douglas had been attracted by ardent bleeding-heart roles with a penchant for little-man-against-the- system melodrama. In the moments when the film veers into courtroom drama, Douglas oozes carefully controlled personal branding. Many claim that if not for Douglas's involvement, Kubrick would have shown his intellectual colors a lot earlier. Yet there's little doubt that without the interest of Kirk Douglas, Paths of Glory (twice rejected by United Artists) would cease be. While Douglas's star power does on occasion overwhelm the frame and he does chew the scenery with higher-than-thou proselytizing it feels almost like a release. It's almost as if Kubrick brings you to the edge of the abyss while Douglas warmly touches your shoulder and tells you not to jump. He's the bridge and arbiter between the entrenched studio system and the vanguard still percolating in France, raging in Japan and under-appreciated everywhere else.

Paths of Glory is a near perfect anti-war film and a high water mark for film in general. While a little stark for some, one can't help but find hope and beauty in the small moments such as when Christine Kubrick (longtime wife of the director) solemnly sings a German folk song to a squad of French troops. Douglas once called Kubrick a "talented s***," yet despite well documented friction, the two tall figures of cinema managed to make something real special here. Something too unique, too beautiful and too scornfully, maddeningly perfect to be ignored.
Essay In The Master's Craft
This is early proof of why Kubrick especially loved the topic of war -- it inherently gave him two levels of directorial control: the 'normal' one at the director-over-the character level, and the implied one at the director-over-actor level. Douglas would later give profanely grudging praise to Kubrick about his methods.

The best part of this is the meta-level of conflict: that of rogue director against studio bosses, which is mirrored in the story narrative. Kubrick exploits this meta-narrative to get some fine performances from the battle within between Douglas and Macready.

Along the way, we get the nascent Kubrick visual treats centering on his trademark use of camera inertia - he would later build entire cinematic worlds on this notion (after gaining full auteurship).

Especially striking is the first sight of no-man's land when the flare briefly illuminates a landscape from hell. Also a striking effect, on the macro scale, is the jarring relocation of the story from the obliterated battlefield to the court-martial in Schleissheim castle, a neo-Classical beauty.
Should be required viewing for everyone
I saw this on video back in the 80's, and my buddy and I were the only ones in the room. Two big burly guys wiping the tears from our eyes...If the execution doesn't get to you, the final scene at the bar will. This stands out as the first movie I ever cried in as an adult. And I'm not ashamed to admit it (although "Big Fish" also got to me recently). Everyone should see this movie--yes it's full of despair, yes it portrays a cynical view of the world (not just war)--and yes, it is very depressing. But it's also very powerful in its beauty, and it does offer a ray of hope, however slight it may be. I know it's based on actual events, so I would like to know more about the actual incident that did occur, nonetheless, it's well worth seeing, more than once!
Brilliant fifties anti-war movie
Banned in France till 1975, Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957) is an unusually powerful and incisive cinematic discourse relating to the futility of war. In fact it would be almost unbearably grim without the performance of Douglas as Colonel Dax - the liberal defender of three innocent French soldiers accused of cowardice on contrived trumped-up charges by the over-ambitious and arrogant General Mireau (George Macready). Such social issues as class differences and military hypocrisy in the French High Command are emphasised. Douglas' Dax character gives the film its only light and warmth. In appearance he looks impressive - fair-haired and lantern-jawed, he sports his regiment number '701' on his collar and cuffs and wears a prototype wristwatch. Along with 20.000 Leagues under the Sea (1954), Ulisse (1954)and Light at the Edge of the World(1971) it is one of his most compelling performances although it lacks the Nietzschean undertones of the aforementioned adventure and sword and sandals films. Time Out describes Douglas' performance as being 'astonishingly successful' and refers to the very interesting 'diagrammatic tracking shots' relating to the battle scenes.
Madness, Cowardice, Glory - War in a Nutshell Kubrick Style...
There is no glory in Stanley Kubrick's PATHS OF GLORY, a devastating anti-war film that looks at the Generals who command soldiers as cowards themselves. How dare these pampered men who will leave the war without a scratch practically order their soldier's slaughter? This is the conflict posed by Kubrick with the help of Kirk Douglas, who quite frankly is mesmerizing as the Colonel of the 701st Division ordered to take an anthill they probably have no chance of taking. Adolphe Menjou is the sadistic General who Douglas must fight for the right of his soldiers' souls as well as his own. We are able to take an introverted look at the madness of war. Cowardice is frowned upon by governments, but how do you decide what it is in such inhuman conditions.

Kubrick shows his talents as a master of atmosphere and looming death in this classic of WWI. The French are the symbol and a possible execution is the tool with which Kubrick stirs our emotions. Unlike his later films, we have some pretty realistic characters here. Douglas is the only man with a head on his shoulders and is so passionate about the cruel injustice proposed by the spiteful General he seems willing to die himself. The court scene contains some of the movie's most memorable emotional moments, but check out the 1957 war sequence. Kubrick had a definite vision as to how he was going to pull this off. Shot in Germany, the French soldiers go through a frightening, revolutionary experience. Deep explosions pulsate the soundtrack, soldiers are blown to bits, and cowardice is nowhere to be found. The mere possibility of a soldier's "recollections" under such hellish conditions cannot be taken as gospel.

The attempt on the German anthill is truly something to see, another feather on the cap of Kubrick, who would create the most amazing boot-camp sequence in film history roughly 30 years later in FULL METAL JACKET. Compared to that film, PATHS OF GLORY is much more effective at portraying a precise vision of the abomination of war. Whether its the French, or the Russians, it is all the same. Worthless when unnecessary, tragic when waged. Ralph Meeker is great as one of the Corporals on trial for "cowardice" in the face of the enemy. At one point, he asks a priest to leave him alone and basically betrays the thought of God in the face of what he is going through. Pretty deep stuff, I must say. PATHS OF GLORY is one of the best war films ever made.

RATING: 10 of 10
A remarkable anti-war film that retains its impact decades after its release.
The film is beautifully performed, staged, photographed, cut and scored. In 1916 in the French trenches, three soldiers are court-martialled for cowardice by officers who want to use their case to instil discipline into the ranks.

Paths Of Glory is an incisive melodrama chiefly depicting the corruption and incompetence of the high command; the plight of the soldiers is less interesting. The trench scenes are unforgettably vivid, and the rest is shot in genuine castles, with resultant difficulties of lighting and recording; the overall result is an overpowering piece of cinema.
Despite 51 Years This Film Stills Holds Up
War films are a Hollywood staple starting somewhere back when All Quiet on the Western front gained prominence for being a great adaptation of the famed novel by Erich Maria Remarque. This 1957 film continued that great tradition with another look at the insanity aroused by war. In this instance it explores the insanity that can be aroused within an armies own ranks and the blind obsessions and principles of some individuals. Kubrick is never one for pulling punches in his films and with a classic star at his disposal in Kirk Douglas; he goes for the jugular of the issue. The humanity of the issue and corruptness, but the great aspect of the film is that it never loses site of the fact that everyone can make mistakes and that humanity of everyone in the army is necessary.

The backdrop of this film is based in fact. A certain General George Broulard, played with his usual air by Adolphe Menjou, comes to another commanding officer whom he manipulates into ordering a suicide run on the enemies' position. General Paul Mireau, played with a particularly hateful attitude by George Macready, then carries down the orders to his brilliant Colonel Dax, Kirk Douglas. Mireau in turns forces Dax to ready his men for the insane attack run. This is the setting, what follows of course is the utter failure of the attack and the anger of the superiors especially Mireau. Mireau wants to kill some hundred troops as an example of the men's cowardice, because during the attack he sees about roughly half of Dax's troops refusing to advance out of the trenches.

The film's strength is not in the message so much as the human face Kubrick gives the soldiers zeroing first on a moment of true cowardice committed by Lieutenant Roget. The Lieutenant is ordered to go on a reconnaissance mission the night before the attack by Dax, and, whether out of fear of going into No Man's Land or just a bad drinking problem, he gets drunk before going out with two of his men. As the trio goes out, he makes rash decisions, splitting up the party and fleeing at the first signs of trouble in the process letting fly a grenade that kills one of his men. The other man on the mission stays behind to see this and makes it back alive. This seemingly smaller story inside the big story is key though I think because it shows the humanity of the issue. What gives the commanding General up in his safe booth the authority to call his men cowards? He cannot possibly have a feel for the issues of the moment as Colonel Dax does in seeing his men bottled up in the trenches because they will be slaughtered upon going over the top.

The last third of the film is devoted to the court-martial of three of Dax's men over the issue of cowardice because Dax has managed through his form weight of being a premier lawyer to get the Generals to agree to settle for just three men's life at steak instead of the hundred originally discussed to show an example. The three men in question are either chosen by the commanding officers by random of because they are generally in disfavor as is Corporal Philippe Paris, the man who witnessed Roget's cowardice. Each falls apart as the date of their never in question execution approaches.

I will not reveal much more about the plot and the ending, but I will say that this film stands as a stellar war film dealing with great issues of warfare and the horrors it creates. The performances are gripping and the story gives a fair tone to the whole issue although as is usual of a Kubrick film the protagonist is generally in opposition to the authority throughout the film a effort that Kirk Douglas does with his usual ferocity, nobody can quite getting as seemingly hot tempered as Douglas. He is a yeller of extraordinary talent. Despite being roughly 51 years old this film still holds up quite well with great cinematography work and art direction.
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