directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Ah, a picture after my own heart. In other words, a WWI film. However, it seems strange that Kubrick, in 1957, would make a movie, not about a war that ended < 15 years prior, but rather one that ended almost 40 years prior. It’s definitely a case of distancing yourself from public sentiment regarding the conflict, and coming at it from a filmmaker’s perspective who is trying to tell us his opinion of the subject. Or to try and tell a story, perhaps an unpopular or controversial one, without having everyone hate you.
Which is why he chose WWI.
Anyways, if you couldn’t gather already, Paths of Glory, (hell yeah! America!), is an anti-war film. Puzzling, though, is that all characters, I think, are supposed to be in the French army, yet all speak perfect English. So it’s one of those films (insert groan here). Now I’m all for authenticity, but again, rather than try to dramatize the exploits of the US Army’s involvement in WWI (which is the vast minority of time/casualties) he focuses instead on a generic French army in a generic period of time of trench warfare.
Plot-wise it’s fairly straightforward. Crazy General guy orders impossible attack on German hill. Chain of command quandaries and hesitations lead to the company being accused of cowardice. Three dudes get picked at “random” to be executed as a result. Most of the movie (plot-wise) takes place in the time period of post-attack/pre-execution. Good turns by Kirk Douglas as the level-headed, grunt-loving Lieutenant / Lawyer , and each of the condemned men.
So what’s the movie overall about? I’d say he tries to go after the absurd notion of giving absolute power to men to not only order men to their deaths on the battlefront, but also to the gallows as a result of their mistakes. Also, it’s to beat down any semblance of trying to say that order and righteousness are going to win the day. Which maybe is a bit on the grim side of opinion, but the movie doesn’t really have any high notes. And the ending was great too. They capture a German girl (Who later married Kubrick??), and make her sing (through tears) to the crowd of troops gathered at a bar. Then, Kirk receives the order that they’re going back to the front, but let’s the guys continue their drinking and soaking in the presence of the girl for a bit longer. Heavy stuff.
Underrated Actors: Timothy Carey as one of the 3 condemned men. TOTALLY a Kubrick Actor.