Paths of Glory
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Stanley Kubrick, Calder Willingham, and Jim Thompson from a novel by Humphrey Cobb
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#330 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
[Ferol smashes the roach] Private Ferol: Now you got the edge on him.
My rating of this film has moved from excellent to awesome.
The story is set in 1916 when the Germans and French have settled into agonizing months of trench warfare. Victories are small and brief. The French General Staff has decided that the public needs another victory. General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) orders his subordinate General Mireau (George McCready) to take a minor German position called the Ant Hill. Mireau initally protests that this is impossible but Broulard hints at a promotion and he becomes enthusiastic. Mireau passes the order on to the 701st Regiment commanded by Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas). Dax protests even more vigorously but Mireau expects that the objective can be taken and held with the loss of only 55% of the men and Dax obeys orders in the end.
The action proves even more impossible than anticipated. The French drop like flies. One part of the trenches is under such intense fire that about a third of the men never get a chance to move out. Mireau, a martinet, starts raging about cowardice and orders French guns to fire on their own men.
After the fight is lost, Mireau wants to set an example by trying and executing random men for cowardice. Dax and Broulard manage to argue Mireau down to only three men. Their selection will be corrupt and arbitrary. Dax asks to defend his men but it is basically a show trial. We watch the men face their fate.
This is one of the most powerful anti-war films ever made. The generals basically see soldiers as numbers in a kind of perverted calculus. They are cannon fodder and must be punished if they do not “do their duty” and behave as such. The movie has one of the all-time great endings. I always forget about the final scene with the German girl singing in the cafe and it never fails to move me enormously.
The acting by all is marvelous. What a career Menjou had! He has been with me for the entirety of this journey through the years and still seems in his prime. It is the images that steal the show though. The stills are all so stunning that I had a hard time picking only two. Kubrick certainly started out at the top. Highly recommended.