#116) Paths of Glory (1957)

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#116) Paths of Glory (1957)

OR “The Dawn of Stan”

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Written by Kubrick & Calder Willingham and Jim Thompson. Based on the novel by Humphrey Cobb.

Class of 1992

The Plot: During World War I, a group of French soldiers are ordered by General Mireau (George Macready) to attack the German army at “The Anthill”. Knowing this is a suicide mission, and facing heavy fire near the trenches, the soldiers refuse to fight. After consulting with General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou), Mireau has three of the soldiers randomly arrested and tried in a court-martial for cowardice. The unit’s leader Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) is on hand to defend the soldiers and question why the army would make such a command in the first place. And somewhere behind the camera is a young director whose love of slick camera movements and distrust of authority is already on display.

Why It Matters: The NFR praises Douglas’ performance, as well as the screenplay, and calls “Paths of Glory” the film that “established Stanley Kubrick as an influential director.”

But Does It Really?: This film has “minor classic” written all over it, but it’s fun to see where Stanley Kubrick got his “start” (this was his fourth film, but his first to meet any sort of success). “Paths of Glory” has elements that would continue to permeate through Kubrick’s work, most notably the dark humor we’ll see in “Dr. Strangelove”. The film’s message isn’t so much “war is hell” as it is “hell is other people”. “Paths of Glory” isn’t the first Stanley Kubrick film that comes to mind, but it is definitely worth a watch. Plus it’s less than 90 minutes! How many war movies can say that?

Title Track: No one says “paths of glory” in this film, but it’s worth noting that the title comes from the Thomas Gray poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”; “The paths of glory lead but to the grave.” Good stuff.

Seriously, Oscars?: A critical success but commercial failure, “Paths of Glory” received zero Oscar nominations. The only major stateside nomination it got was the Writers Guild Award for Best Written Drama, which it lost to “12 Angry Men”. The film did better overseas, earning a BAFTA nomination for Best Picture, losing to “The Bridge on the River Kwai”.

Other notes

  • Before being a film, “Paths of Glory” was adapted into a play in 1935. It closed on Broadway after only 23 performances.
  • You can definitely see Kubrick’s flair for cinematography all over this film. He may have had the vision, but shout-out to credited cinematographer Georg Krause, a native of Germany when “Paths of Glory” came to film there. Krause would later be the cinematographer for, and I swear I am not making this up, “Horrors of Spider Island”.
  • I think we can all agree that Kirk Douglas has the definitive cleft chin of 20th century cinema. And at 100 years old he still does!
  • Kubrick loves blocking scenes so it’s just the actors walking in big circles around the room talking. Keep in mind he was 29 when he directed this film; maybe he just felt that long dialogue scenes needed to be punched-up visually.
  • Roget does the classic “dramatic turn towards the camera after someone leaves the room” maneuver.
  • That is actor George Macready’s actual scar on his right cheek. He received it from a car accident in his college days, and this film makes no effort to hide it.
  • Pretty amazing that in a film with a cast of predominantly French characters not a single one of them has an accent. The closest we get is Adolphe Menjou’s name.
  • Hey Mireau, if you’re going to threaten a subordinate, maybe don’t do it in a room that’s essentially an echo chamber.
  • The three convicted soldiers are lucky Patton isn’t around to slap them silly.
  • The court-martial president (and narrator) is played by Peter Capell. You know him best as the tinker in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” (“Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen…”)
  • Richard Anderson is great as Major Saint-Auban, the prosecuting attorney. He’s just so smarmy. Anderson would gain fame in the ‘70s for his work on both “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Bionic Woman”.
  • At one point Dax objects that there is no stenographic record of the court-martial. Dude, there’s cameras.
  • We will see that “camera glide through a ballroom” shot again in “The Shining”.
  • Hang in there until almost the very end for Kirk Douglas to have one of his classic clenched teeth outbursts. It’s worth it.
  • The German woman at the end of the film is Christiane Harlan (credited as Susanne Christian). She and Stanley Kubrick met on the set, married a year later, had two daughters, and stayed together for the rest of Stanley’s life.

Legacy

  • Remembering their collaboration on this film, Kirk Douglas hired Kubrick to direct “Spartacus” after the unceremonious firing of original director Anthony Mann. Kubrick hated not having complete creative control of the film, and disliked when Douglas would put on his producer hat to outrank him in arguments. Kubrick and Douglas never worked together again.
  • Kirk Douglas got a chance to play a similarly conflicted WWI officer in the “Tales from the Crypt” episode “Yellow”. I can’t believe the Crypt Keeper didn’t introduce this episode as “Paths of Gory”. It’s right there!
  • David Simon cited this film as an influence on “The Wire”. And if I haven’t gotten around to watching that show at this point, I never will.
  • Kubrick would revisit some of the same warfare politics 30 years later with “Full Metal Jacket”.
  • Are we ever getting that Napoleon movie? I’m looking at you, Spielberg.

3 thoughts on “#116) Paths of Glory (1957)”

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