Paths of Glory (1957)

Ah, Kubrick, we meet again.
I'm not a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick (gasp!). I don't think that I've hidden behind some fancy words or danced my way around this point...I really don't care for Kubrick. But I like to keep an open mind about people, because I am the first to admit that I have been wrong about some. David Fincher is one such example...after viewing "Se7en" which completely freaked me out, I swore that I hated Fincher and would never see another of his movies.
That didn't last that long.
A few months later and I found that I had seen almost everything the director ever made and was obsessed with the with Kubrick (someone that Fincher seems to take after), I'm still open for surprises.
His more controversial material, I'm not a fan of, but in "Paths of Glory" which launched Kubrick into stardom, I found myself surprised.
The film is set during WWI, in France. Now, like many others of the time, these Frenchmen are most definitely not French. A smattering of accents is the music of the screen and they range from English to American and back again. I'm curious to think of how the film would have been, if the language of the film matched the setting.
The movie opens with a meeting between General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) and General Mireau (George Macready). Broulard wants the French army to lead an attack on a hill that everyone has deemed "the anthill", which seems impenetrable. Mireau is, at first, unreceptive to the idea; but Broulard gives the orders and that's that.
Mireau goes out to inspect his men and to boost their moral and here we get the first sense of Kubrick's savagery. He keeps asking the question:"Ready to kill more Germans?"in such a sing-song way that it plants the anti-war theme very deeply in the film's essence.
Then he goes and speaks to Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) about the attack. Once more, the attack is shunned for its sheer impossibility—by Mireau's own estimations, over half of the men will be killed in the attack.
Other instances have lead up to this, including a bizarre night patrol and drunken officers; but eventually the attack comes...mind you, this is still quite near the beginning of the movie.
The attack fails, and what at first seems to be anti-war, simply becomes anti-something-else.
It's hard to put a finger on exactly the right word to use for could be bureaucracy or hierarchy maybe even military or a combination of all three. Whatever it is, Kubrick attacks it vigor.
The film itself only has one fight scene which doesn't last long—it is decidedly not a typical war film. "Paths of Glory" turns into a courtroom drama for a short time while three men's lives are unjustly held on the line.
"Paths of Glory" is a great film, it doesn't fall into cliches and it never wavers in intensity. Kirk Douglas gives a beautiful, idealistic performance as Dax and all the audience will have no trouble in regarding him as a hero.
The film is frustrating, in that you feel Dax's frustration. The legalities that have to be stepped through and around just to ensure a few men's lives are spared are staggering and precisely what gives the film its power.
The camera work is a precursor to "The Shining" in that we rarely look away. Kubrick loves tracking shots, though I would argue that they are most effective in this film.
"Paths of Glory" is one of the finest Kubrick films. It's deserving of making the director famous, because even after 50's still remarkably effective.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

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