on February 19, 2004
I saw this film in a college course on film and I realize why. It is one of the best directed films ever made. The black and white works to perfection.
This is my favorite Kirk Douglas film about the French military during WWI. A group of French soldiers are sent on an impossible mission. When they obviously fail, the General afraid of losing face for a stupid decision, decides to court martial some of the soldiers as a punishment. Three soldiers are singled out. One obviously fought very bravely and another was hit on the head and knocked unconcious during the battle. Their stories are futile against the kangaroo French military court. Douglas tries valiently to act as their legal council and present their defense in vain.
From what I understand this film is still banned in France! I guess the humiliating loss during WWII did nothing to sway the French military from its self-conceived notion of being a great military power!
on January 23, 2004
Paths of Glory is one of those rare movies that leaves a mark on one's soul. It is a tale like Billy Budd which places the viewer in the achingly helpless state which decent people find themselves in when wanting to rescue the oppressed from those who mark them for destruction. In both stories evil triumphs, not because good men have done nothing, but because their efforts fall short. One identifies as much with the valiant Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglass) and Captain Vere (Peter Ustinov in Billy Budd) as they do with the poor unfortunates they desperately want to save. These are bittersweet tales that leave one yearning for the day when injustice and oppression will no longer triumph. They not only entertain the mind, but they impress the spirit.
It is the First World War. The French have dug into trenches, 500 miles long, from the English Channel to the border of Switzerland. As the film's intro eloquently states, victories are counted in hundreds of yards gained, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of men. This is the setting of Paths of Glory, certainly and easily one of the greatest war movies of all time.
Paths of Glory, Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, contains some of the most realistic First World War battle scenes ever put to film. The landscape is a cratered no man's land of mud, wire and bodies. The desperation is captured beautifully. The references to "shell shock" are historically accurate (it was considered to be a mythical condition by the generals of the day.) The only film that comes close for realism is the Australian classic, Galipoli.
Kirk Douglas is Col. Dax, once a lawyer in his old life, now being ordered to take the "Anthill": A fortfied position that the Germans have held for a year. Now the French intend to take it and keep it, but with tired worn out men. Dax doesn't think it can be done, but agrees to it anyway. The alternative for him would have been to be relieved of duty, and Dax won't abandon his men when they need him.
General Mireaux, his ambition for promotion clouding his judgement, has set up an impossible task. The men of course fail, not being able to clear their own wire before being turned back in the face of machine gun fire and shells. A humiliated and embarassed Mireaux orders his artillery to fire on his own men, and when that order is refused he decides to try them for cowardice in the face of enemy. After all, someone must take the blame for failure, and why should it be an officer? Col. Dax returns to his role of a lawyer and defends the three token men chosen to face the charges of cowardice. The ending is as inspirational and tear jerking as they can get.
Paths of Glory paints a picture of the way it was, based loosely on the French practice of executing men for cowardice before they "infect" the rest of the men with that defect. The trenches in the film are perhaps drier than the real trenches but the landscapes look very real indeed. Kubricks style at this point was still that of an observer, which came from his years as a newspaper photographer. He places his lenses where an observer would sit, and you can watch the events unfold like a fly on the wall.
Kirk Douglas is joined by Kubrick regulars Timothy Carey (two Kubrick films to his name), Joe Turkel (three Kubrick films) as well as Adolphe Menjou and a very young Christiane Kubrick.
The film itself is a heartwrenching look at the realities of First World War Europe, and also the human spirit. It attacks our prejudices and practices while reminding us that we are all the same regardless of our station in life. Kubrick seems to have been both fascinated by war while being repulsed by its necessity.
This being such an historically important film, I am glad that it has finally received the Criterion treatment, but why is this only the second Kubrick film to be treated as such? (Spartacus is the other.) The restoration is very well done compared to the original DVD edition. The audio is in mono just as the original film was. I appreciate that nobody tried to tinker with the audio to make it multi-channel. This is the way Kubrick made it. Supplimental features are here including audio commentary, an essay, and a fun interview with Kirk Douglad from the 70's, among numerous others.
This is absolutely nessecary for any fans of real war films and Stanley Kubrick. Hopefully this ushers in a set of brand new Kubrick Criterion editions. I bought two copies, one for me and one for my dad.
on November 11, 2003
According to Roger Ebert, French New-Waver Francois Truffaut said it was hard to make an antiwar film because war was exciting even if you were against it. That's why "Paths of Glory" isn't an antiwar movie.
Yet, it IS a masterful work. Why? Kubrick has been criticized for not being an "actor's director", that he was more concerned with composition and lighting than performance. Here, we benefit from early Kubrick, (before he became STANLEY KUBRICK) when perhaps inexperience and youth permitted the actors to bring their own artistry to his film. Because this film is ultimately about the people, not the warfare.
Here Kubrick shows us what happens when people collide in such violent, chaotic and absurd circumstances, when one man's reach for glory becomes other men's destruction, when honor and duty fail to bring an iota of good to the world. Despite all of that, the characters remain very human, sins and all.
Warfare is not a "thing", it's a collection of individual actions, the sum of which almost always is bleak, painful and unjust, made all the more horrible when we remember that all glory is fleeting.
on February 1, 2004
One of the great beauties of Paths of Glory is how no shot or word is wasted, how everything plays a part in the greater whole. The best art cuts away the inessential to leave you with a core that grips and provokes you, and that's cerainly true of this movie. Not only are the story and acting superb, but the perfectly taught pacing far outshines nearly every film I've seen, where bloat seems to be all too inevitable. Writers, directors, and editors everywhere could learn a lot from this film.
This review is for Paths of Glory (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] Paths of Glory (The Criterion Collection Spine #538) [Blu-ray] obtained April 2013.
A really good film showing Kirk Douglas at a younger age than I have seen him before. He was an excellent actor even back then. The film is gripping and suspenseful.
I highly recommend this film for anyone over the age of 16, because it is not a straight forward war film. I worry WWI battlefield office politics (to put it plainly) would confuse many boys under that age (and bore most girls).
The restoration is excellent.
To me, the reason to buy a blu-ray is to get the full length film (even theatres run cut versions, so they can get more showings in) and to get the commentary, interviews and extras -- and this is something that Criterion Collection normally excels at.
This version of this film is like that. Lots of extras. You'll be able to watch the film over and over again over the year with new insights and new appreciation.
(If you watch the extras, there is a secret about the guy who sobs and how much he affected production. I had to chuckle at the hoops Kubrick and team had to jump through after him -- and you would never guess watching the film what happened and what needed to be done. It makes the film double the accomplishment.)
From the Criterion Collection product information:
New high definition digital transfer made from 35 mm film elements restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive in cooperation with MGM Studios, with funding provided by the Film Foundation and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition)
New audio commentary featuring critic Gary Giddins
Excerpt from a 1966 audio interview with director Stanley Kubrick
Television interview from 1979 with star Kirk Douglas
New video interviews with Kubrick’s longtime executive producer Jan Harlan, Paths of Glory producer James B. Harris, and actress Christiane Kubrick
French television piece about a real-life World War I execution that partly inspired the film
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film scholar James Naremore
I highly recommend buying this film.
Paths Of Glory is one of the essentials films that any serious movie buff should see. It is quite simply one of the best movies ever made.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglas as Colonel Dax, a French WW1 infantry officer whose regiment is given the task of assaulting a heavily fortified German position over open ground. The attack fails and the remnants of Dax regiment retreat, a fact which so infuriates the French high command that three soldiers are pulled from the ranks, supposedly at random, to be shot for cowardice.
This isn't fiction; it's based on an actual WW1 incident that historians have verified.
The defence of the three condemned troops falls on Colonel Dax, who, in civilian life, is one of France's leading criminal lawyers.
The end result is brilliant. This film has timeless things to say about war, physical and moral courage, the internal machinations of bureaucracies and the atrocities that can result from venal and totally amoral people being put in positions of authority.
This movie is a timeless classic. Any serious movie buff should have Paths Of Glory in their collection.
on October 4, 2003
Behind French lines in World War I, army generals are dissatisfied with their soldiers' lack of progress. The vain, scar-faced General Mireau (George Macready) is tempted with a promotion and taunted into ordering his men into a suicidal attack on a small German outpost, said to be of great significance to the war effort. Mireau in turn bullies his honorable lawyer-turned-corporal, Dax (Kirk Douglas) into carrying out the objective, even though the estimated casualties will be 65% of the regiment. Due to heavy German artillery, but more importantly, to poor communications behind their own lines, the objective is not taken. A furious Mireau wants 100 soldiers court-martialed, executed for cowardice. Dax bargains him down to three, and is confident that his criminal-defense prowess will save even those men. But what can he do, when the court-martial is a sham, without even a stenographer present?
Although dated from a technical standpoint, "Paths of Glory" is still a film of exceptional power. The final hour of the movie is staged like a play: characters conceived well before the ironic-small-talk revolution of the late 20th century speak to each other in weighty, dramatic soliloquies. But before that, there's a tightly-photographed, cacophonous fight sequence, masterfully set up by Kubrick and rivalling the authenticity of the opening reel of "Saving Private Ryan". Kubrick's film cameras prowl the trenches until you feel the claustrophobia.
The script doesn't have a single ounce of fat. Even though it's a war film set in the trenches, we don't see a single German combatant. Dax's regiment has more than just the German army to contend with, you see. The names are all significant: the first soldier killed in combat is named Lejeune, and the innocent corporal court-martialed to satisfy Mireau's bloodlust is named Paris. The objective for which the regiment must sustain 65% casualties is nothing less monumental than "the Ant Hill". And when the film's lone German finally appears, the French soldiers are, to a man, moved to tears.
87 minutes in length, "Paths of Glory" is half the size of "Pearl Harbor". There is something to be learned from that. Unfortunately, the DVD is just 25% the size of the "Pearl Harbor" box set. The only extra feature here is the original trailer. There is a "4-page booklet" accompanying the disc, but only two of those pages contain trivia. At least one of the facts in the booklet is clearly wrong, informing us that Wayne Morris's character is "killed early in the film". This is not so.
on August 28, 2003
Kirk Douglas argued long and hard to get this film made. The studio felt it would not be profitable and it was not, but in retrospect, it turned out to be one of Douglas's finest performances and one of Stanley Kubrick's greatest achievements. This film was made almost fifty years ago, but time has not diminished its power and relevance. It is a classic!
Kirk Douglas plays the role of Colonel Dax, a French regimental commander in World War I who is given a suicide mission to attack a German position, "the Ant Hill." The attack is a failure and a fiasco, with many soldiers losing their lives senselessly. The attack had no chance of success. Even so, the high command orders that three men from the regiment be selected by their officers and tried for cowardice in the face of the enemy. Dax is to be the officer who defends them.
The trial is a sham and Dax, a brilliant lawyer, realizes that he has little chance of saving the lives of his men. Even so, he perseveres and demonstrates the absurdity of the trial and the criminal intent of the French high command. The men are condemned to death by firing squad. None of this will come as any surprise to the viewer, who early on realizes the stupidity, ineptness, and evil intentions of the high command.
For the high command war (and the lives of the ordinary soldiers who must participate in its ultimate absurdity) is a game and the business of the generals is to get good press and enhance their reputations. Colonel Dax stands for all good people of courage and conviction who speak out at risk to themselves against lies and criminal behavior. Unflinchingly, he confronts Adolph Menjou, the commanding general, listens to his nonsense, and condemns him for the misguided fool that he is. All to no avail. The order stands and the condemned men die on public display for the troops and general staff to witness.
If the movie ended with the executions, it would stand as one of the darkest portraits of fallen human nature yet filmed. But one final scene remains. Dax goes back to his headquarters after the executions and on the way he observes his men in a tavern shouting derisively at a young German woman who stands on stage as an object of ridicule and scorn. Then she starts to sing and her song transfixes and then transforms the men who begin to accompany her as she sings. Her song moves them to tears. Kubrick shows us that common soldiers are not animals whose lives are expendable, but human beings who are debased by war and uplifted by simple acts of human dignity and kindness. This final scene is one of the unforgettable moments in the history of cinema. Few viewers will ever forget it.
It has been almost 50 years since this anti-war film appeared, one which was banned in France until 1970. It is based on Humphrey Cobb's novel. Directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglas who also produced it, the film examines a fictional (but nonetheless wholly believable) situation during World War One when French troops are ordered to achieve an impossible military objective: Climb and secure the "Ant Hill," a heavily-fortified German position. Of course the troops are decimated. Whom to blame? General Broulard (Adolph Menjou) who gave the order? The troops' general, General Mireau (George MacReady), whose career ambitions overcame his doubts about the order? The officer (Colonel Dax) who led the attack? General Broulard gives a second order: Select three of the survivors, charge them with cowardice, give them a perfunctory military trial, and then execute them. Their commanding officer is Colonel Dax (Douglas) who had been an attorney in civilian life. He is ordered to be the defense counsel. After the inevitable verdict, the three representatives are executed by a firing squad.
Kubrick presents all this on film as if it were a documentary of actual events. Appropriately, he filmed it in black-and-white, in part to dramatize the obvious juxtapositions of right and wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice, etc. The battlefield carnage is extensive but not gratuitous. For me, the insensitivity, indeed inhumanity of the two generals -- far removed from combat in luxurious comfort -- is far more upsetting than the assault on the "Ant Hill." The men who followed orders and lost their lives or their limbs may have died in vain but at least died with honor, if not glory. Kubrick leaves absolutely no doubt about the generals who sent them into battle. Colonel Dax understands the need for military discipline. Orders must be followed. He eventually realizes that no matter how logical and eloquent his defense, the three men are doomed as were so many of their comrades were while climbing the "Ant Hill." Dax also realizes Broulard and Mireau will never be held accountable for the order nor for denying any responsibility for its tragic consequences. Dante reserved the worst ring in hell for those who, in a moral crisis, preserved their neutrality. Kubrick ensures that Menju and MacReady portray Broulard and Mireau not as neutral accomplices but as agents of evil: a more dangerous adversary than the one their troops face in battle.
Is conscience among war's victims? That is certainly not true of Dax. He did everything he could to save the three men. He leaves absolutely no doubt in the minds of Generals Broulard and Mireau what he thinks of them, both as officers and as human beings. However, they are his military superiors and the war continues after the executions. I mention all this by way of suggesting a context for my opinion that the final scene in the cafe has a very important purpose: to communicate Kubrick's reassurance to those who see his film that even amidst war's death and mutilation, the very best of human instincts somehow prevail. They cannot be defeated by the "Ant Hill," nor by Broulard and Mireau and their obscene abuse of military justice. In my opinion, that is what Dax realizes in the cafe as he and other soldiers listen to a terrified girl sing. And that is the final "message" which Kubrick seems determined to leave with his audience.