By Dirk Sonniksen | February 11, 2009
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Kirk Douglas, George Macready, Adolphe Menjou, Ralph Meeker, Joe Turkel, & Timothy Carey
Writer(s): Stanley Kubrick, Calder Willingham, Jim Thompson, (Novel: Humphrey Cobb)
Set in the France during the bloodiest period of World War I, Paths of Glory focuses on the absurdities of war, and the alternate reality of a hero’s welcome. Stanley Kubrick, still a fledgling director at the time, seems to have found his footing in 1957, casting Kirk Douglas as the somewhat naïve Col. Dax, the commander of the demoralized 701st, who is given the impossible task of taking the Ant Hill by his unmistakably mad superior, General Mireau, played by heavy, George Macready. Reluctantly, Dax agrees, only to be pinned down with his men by German forces in no-man’s land. With no prospect of victory, Dax and his men retreat. What follows is an exercise in the morbid self-gratification of his superiors to hold anyone accountable but themselves for a mission that was doomed from its outset.
Paths of Glory is certainly an anti-war film, a theme Kubrick would continue to press throughout his career, and like Dr. Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket, Paths of Glory questions the leadership of the men who set the standard for war while polarizing those that refuse to follow in line. What sets this film apart from his future endeavors is a more unmediated reality of war, made even more so by being shot in black and white during a period when color film making was becoming a dominant force.
For those who shy away from “old movies,” Paths of Glory plays a lot like a current film. Unlike many pictures of the early days, this one pulls no punches. From the trenches, to the firing squad, to Mireau’s hair-raising line, “The men died wonderfully,” Paths of Glory is a testimony to Kubrick’s ability to force crude realities on the unsuspecting, a kind of malaise film-goers can’t escape.