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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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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.
Stanley Kubirck and Kirk Douglas at their very best!
Stanley Kubrick's 1957 masterpiece is a movie that looks fresh and sharper than most of today's movies. The story follows the french army during the days of the first world war. General George Boulard (Adolphe Menjou) has an impossible mission for his subordinate Gen. Paul Mireau (a vicious George Macready) who knows the high risk of such mission but takes it because he was promised to get another star after accomplishing the mission. The mission is to take on the "Ant Hill", a territory that for some reason is valuable to the high ranks. Kirk Douglas plays the part of The field commander Col. Dax, a man who unlike his fellow officers, has a decency towards his soldiers but can't save them from the cruelty lack of justice of the military system which is built only to protect the commanding officers. There are some cynical and sharp dialogs (something that's often missing from todays movies) delivered perfectly by all actors. Kirk Douglas is in top form here and brings a memorable performance. There isn't any dull or wasted moments here, every scene is significant and will keep you glued to your seat. Overall it's a fascinating classic that is well worth watching. Highly Recommended 10/10
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.
The Mutinies of 1917 - a fictional variant
Although he did the wonderful crime film THE KILLING before he did this, it was PATHS OF GLORY that brought Stanley Kubrick's talents forward. After PATHS OF GLORY he would make all types of films, but he would basically make them as he wanted to (although when working with his star here, Kirk Douglas, on SPARTACUS he would have such friction with Douglas that they never made any other films together afterward). So if it had not been for PATHS OF GLORY there would not have been LOLITA, DR. STRANGELOVE, 2001, BARRY LYNDON, and the other films. The Kubrick stamp of film artistry was born here.

The plot of the story is simple. Due to the system of trenches on the Western Front (that have France and Britain on one side and Germany on the other) the war has bogged down to a mutual bloodletting. It shouldn't been this way, but nobody that was sent to the Western Front through 1917 was a good commander. Von Falkenheyn, the German Commander at Verdun, was unable to hold onto early gains in that long, long battle. The best French General was Joseph Gallieni, who won the First Battle of the Marne by commissioning the famous "taxicab" army that drove the French troops to the front. But he retired. The actual Commander, "Papa" Joffre was popular with the men, but had a tendency of falling asleep at military strategy sessions. As for the British, Douglas Haig was saddled with planning global strategy for British forces in Africa, the Middle East, and India. His acceptance of the stalemate on the Western Front bordered on the criminal - he reduced the monstrous casualty rate to a simple war of attrition. With Commanders like Von Falkenheyn, Haig, and Joffre the war was hopeless. The suggestion of one more push "over the top" was repeated endlessly - and bloodily.

In 1917 units of the French Army had enough. The French Mutinies were long known, because of the trials and executions of hundreds of mutineers. One good result was the arrival at headquarters of General Henri Petain. His reputation is besmirched by his treason in leading the Vichy Government in World War II, but Petain was a senile old man when made a figure-head (a fact his old friend General Charles DeGaulle knew, so that he reduced the death sentence against the old man to life imprisonment). One generation earlier, Petain saved the army and France - a debt that really should not be forgotten. Yes he tried the ringleaders, but he also improved the lot of the poilu (common soldiers) so that they were not living like moles or rats all the time. The regeneration of the French armies that Ferdinand Foch would lead (with Haig and Pershing and their men) to eventual victory began when Petain took charge.


PATHS OF GLORY looks at the situation that led to those mutinies, and to one of the drumhead courts. Adolph Menjou is a leading general, who realizes that a victory is required for appearance sake (i.e., the politicians are breathing down the back of the French High Command). He invites his old friend George Macready to lunch and drops a hint that if they could find a nice victory Macready may get promoted (Menjou says this very carefully - no fool he if he has to deny it). Macready can just taste the promotion. He promises the men will do the job.

They don't. The job is to capture a well protected salient called "the ant hill", because whenever men are fighting over it they look like ants fighting each other from a distance. The leader of the men who are to charge is Kirk Douglas. In peacetime he is an attorney, so he has enough brains to question the intelligence of the so-called army brains.

Macready is watching the attack from a bomb shelter, and notices the men will not leave the trench. He orders an artillery barrage on his own men, forcing them to face the Germans. This will turn out to be a disastrous mistake on his part.

After the disaster Macready picks three soldiers to be representative of the troops. One of them is selected by a Sergeant who is a real coward, and who is aware the enlisted man knows he is a coward. Douglas defends them, but the court is controlled by Macready and his flacks. The three are convicted. We watch their last night , with one (Timothy Carey) certain that a pardon will come for him at least. Another gets badly injured in a mishap. When the time for the three to be shot occurs (they are set up like Christ and the two robbers at Calvary), the wounded man is slapped out of unconsciousness to see the firing squad getting ready to fire.

Douglas has been discovering what Macready did - and reveals this to Menjou. He hopes to do this to force Menjou to overturn the death sentences. But Menjou holds back, and lets the executions go on. We see him dancing at a dinner party while this is going on. The next day, when Macready is having breakfast with Menjou (and Douglas shows up), Menjou brings up the illegal act of firing on his own men. Instead of a promotion, Macready is being thrown out of his command, and probably prevented from getting further ones. Pulling his shredded dignity together as best he could, he pointedly states that at least he was a soldier (unlike the courtier - general Menjou). After he leaves, Menjou offers Macready's command to Douglas. And Douglas tells him off very memorably.

PATHS OF GLORY is a fantastically good look at military incompetence, corruption, and those shafts of decency that the common soldiers and Douglas represent. Although set in time and place in 1917 France, it's message is universal. It is a great movie.
One of Kubrick's best and most underrated.
It took a while to see the film that put Stanley Kubrick on the map as a force to be reckoned with. Paths of Glory was a war film with an interesting premise and has the reputation for being an "anti-war" piece on the dehumanization of soldiers. With Kirk Douglas as the star, the plot centers around prideful and power-hungry French military officers who order an impossible mission from a battalion who fleas upon defeat and is accused of cowardice.

Many other films by Kubrick shows his powerful and masterful filming style and Paths of Glory is no different. The focus is strong and it's difficult to take your eyes off the screen throughout the picture. Good use is made of these phenomenal actors who give heartfelt performances and deliver strong and emotionally piercing lines.

The film is a short and crisp 88 minutes so it's easy to watch anytime. This also makes the pacing clean and the viewer will know every scene, shot, and frame is completely intentional and justified. Not a single moment of this fascinating and well done film is wasted and the talented actors are utilized to their fullest.

Perhaps any downside to this film is the first 20-30 minutes in which the viewer may be wondering what kind of film they're watching and for what purpose. It's easy to see how upon release, however received with high regard, was met with some confusion as to the substance of the story and what it was trying to say. It's not a film that glorifies war or conflict; in fact, the concept of battle (physical or psychological) can cause some irritation for the viewer. This was most likely intended and it was probably a good move in the long run.

Personally, I enjoyed Paths of Glory throughout the picture and found it as important as it is beautifully directed. However, the most impactful piece of the story is the final scene in which a woman is singing to a group of soldiers in a bar. Not many other scenes have had so much emotional impact and beauty that it truly made Paths of Glory a personal favorite.

Really no complaints about the quality of this film or the personal pressure points it wasn't afraid to touch. It's also amazing how those emotions can be pierced so powerfully more than 50 years after this was released. It's a grand milestone in filmmaking that deserves much more attention and is highly recommended to anyone who has the chance to see it. It's simply amazing!
"See that cockroach? Tomorrow morning, we'll be dead and it'll be alive."
Stanley Kubrick's 'Paths of Glory' is the ultimate anti-war film. Rather than simply showing us the horrors of warfare and declaring that 'war is hell,' this films genuinely fills us with unbridled hate and anger, revealing the sheer folly and uselessness of combat. There are heroes in war, of course – namely Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) and his brave fighting soldiers – but certainly not the generals, who sit back in their comfortable armchairs and send thousands of their men to certain death without a trace of guilt or remorse.

In the treacherous front-line trenches of World War One, a regiment of soldiers is ordered on a suicidal mission to seize the German-occupied "Anthill." French General Mireau (George Macready) is at first hesitant about the attack, citing the unacceptably high fatality rate and his duty to his loyal soldiers, but he is very quickly swayed in his convictions when his superior, General George Broulard, (Adolphe Menjou), hints at the possibility of a promotion. And so, led by a doubtful but loyal Colonel Dax (Douglas), the soldiers – in perhaps the most realistic war combat scene this side of 'Saving Private Ryan' – proceed with the attack, suffering immense losses and ultimately being forced to retreat. Furious about the perceived "cowardice" of his troops, an enraged General Mireau orders his artillery to open fire on his own men, but the artillery commander refuses to obey without a confirmation of written orders.

Rather than taking the blame himself for the failed attack, Mireau decides to execute three men to set an example to the soldiers. Corporal Paris (Ralph Meeker) is chosen for execution because his commanding officer has a personal vendetta against him; Private Arnaud (Joe Turkel), one of the most courageous soldiers in his regiment, was chosen randomly; Private Ferol (Timothy Carey) was chosen because he was something of a social outcast. Colonel Lax passionately defends the actions of his men during the court-martial, but, despite the utterly ridiculous cases made against them, all three men are inevitably found guilty of "cowardice in the face of the enemy" and sentenced to death by firing squad.

Later, in one of the most suspenseful sequences ever committed to film, accompanied by the slow steady beat of an army drum, the three condemned men are lead to their place of execution, tied to posts and shot down by the weapons of their own army. Any other film from this era would have baulked at the final moment, offering its prisoners a last-minute reprieve, and the swift persecution of every general in charge of the original attack. Kubrick reportedly toyed with this option at one point, but it is to his credit that he stood firm on his daring and controversial ending. Indeed, French authorities considered the film such an offence to their army's honour that it was banned until 1975.
Powerful and to the point.

All I ever heard about this film was how it was a "great anti-war film" and whatnot. Truly, war is not glamorized in any way here, but I find this film to be more of an indictment against excessive ambition and general injustice. War merely serves as a back drop to the true conflict at the core of this picture.

The story centers around the attempted assault by French troops on a heavily fortified position held by the Germans during WWI. The French general in charge is looking to advance himself by taking the "ant hill" as it's called, even though it looks like at best he'll lose over 50% of his men in the assault. Once the assault fails, the French commanders try three soldiers for cowardice to make examples of them, and show the others that failure is unacceptable. The three soldiers are tried with no evidence what so ever and convicted in a ridiculous trial, despite the efforts of their colonel (played to perfection by Kirk Douglas).

Kubrick actually gets to the point rather quickly in this early effort of his. Those of you who dislike the plodding pace of his other works like BARRY LYNDON and EYES WIDE SHUT will find this film a welcome relief. Kubrick's technical mastery can be seen even in this old b&w vehicle. He knows how to shoot a battle scene, it's safe to say.


The ending took me a little by surprise. I was hoping and expecting the three soldiers to somehow get off the hook and not be executed. I guess a happy ending would have killed the point, though. The execution scene, and those leading up to it are VERY powerful!

Overall, this is one hell of a film. SEE IT!!!! You don't have to love Stanley K. to appreciate this one.

By the way, just what in the hell was WWI all about, anyway? What a damned waste!

9 of 10 stars

So sayeth the Hound.
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
"The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r, And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave, Awaits alike th'inevitable hour. The paths of glory lead but to the grave."
I have seen "Paths of Glory" after having learnt that it has similar similar themes and storyline to "All Quiet on the Western Front". After this one there are only two featured Kubrickian movies for me to be seen: Lolita and Barry Lyndon.Since these two movies were adapted from two known world classics one should first know the book before seeing the movies in my opinion.Paths of Glory is loosely based upon the true story of five soldiers who were prosecuted for the cowardice in the face of the enemy. The movies uses three soldiers for the storyline.On a time when the French and German army developed into a continuous line of heavily fortified trenches a selfish overambitious French general during World War I orders a regiment on a suicidal mission to take the Ant hill to get promotion he has been promised. When the soldiers are under constant artillery fire the regiment refuses to leave the trenches with the third of men are dead. The general's order to open fire on his own squad and his accusations of mutiny of the simple soldiers display how Paths of Glory,with a masterly finesse, is making a mockery of the idiocy of high-ranking officials in the army.It depicts the wanton characteristics of the homo sapiens who could just rule out his entire nation for his personal ambitions.Kirk Douglas as the Colonel Dax, who leads the soldiers in the attack and is the counsel of three soldiers before the court-martial is totally great. His lines and cross-examination in the farce court make a laughingstock of war,the judiciary system of the army and the ambitions of the ignorant higher-ups. After having seen this one and Full Metal Jacket I said to myself I wish Kubrick could have done more war movies instead of involving in film-noir or a space flick.
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