on November 3, 2002
The time, world war 1. The place, the French Army on the Western Front. A French infantry regiment is ordered into an impossible attack against a powerfully fortified position. They fail, of course, in some of the most realistic combat scenes of any movie. (The combat scenes are essentially "Saving Private Ryan" without the gore.) Of course, this impossible mission was motivated by corrupt French politics and the venal ambition of the French division commander, and now three soldiers are to be scapegoated for "cowardice" and tried by court-martial.
Kirk Douglas plays the role of the commander of the attack who also acts as defense counsel for the scapegoated soldiers, whom he knows to be innocent. This was a great role for Douglas. The acting in this flick is very good, the story line is excellent, and the movie moves along at a brisk pace to its predictable but nonetheless hard-hitting conclusion.
This movie will make you think, and helps one understand how an army full of tough soldiers can nevertheless be corrupted by politics and ambition, as the French army and nation indeed were.
on September 24, 2002
Pretty good film with excellent scenes and photography, great acting, and great drama.
I hope this film is used as an entertaining instructional film for officer candidates. It's great at showing the hypocrisy, egotism, and unchecked evil that can seep into a unit's leadership when the wrong personalities are present.
This was based on a work of fiction, but truth is stranger than fiction, so I'm certain situations like the one this film is about have occured at some point, or some side or another, in the Great War.
I don't get why everyone says it's an anti-war movie. There were no pacifist speeches or overt debates about the morals of fighting. Instead, it just focused on a massive abortion of justice and the terrible leaders the men of the 701st regiment had.
In any army, or unit, be it a corporation or a rifle company, there are always going to be 'stupid' orders the grunts have to follow. But men will instinctively know when something is total BS or not, but morale and leadership have to be pretty damn low for guys to outright refuse orders, which, by the way, none of the guys in the trial did.
When troops refuse orders en masse, it's usually not because they're cowards, but they lack the proper leadership. That was apparent in this movie, when the general orders a single battle-weary, understrength regiment to take an entire hill in broad daylight without sufficient artillery prep, reinforcements, or even a smoke screen to hide their approach along a clear field of fire for dozens of Boche machine guns. Hell, these guys wanted to fight the war, but no one wants to die for no reason at all. If you're sitting in a trench and you know that an advance is completely futile, why would you use yourself as target practice for the enemy machine gunners?
In any case, the French generals were a little bit over the top. Other than that, it was a good idea to just speak English without attempting a silly French accent. Also, the lack of blood and guts ala some modern war movies allowed one to concentrate on the drama of the story. All around a decent 4-star movie.
-- JJ Timmins
on November 1, 2001
Yes, this is beautifully shot and well-directed. Unfortunately, the script is also extremely talky and very strident in its anti-war message. Not that strident anti-war messages are necessarily a bad thing, it's just not exactly something you have to pound in with a sledge, which is what Kubrick does here, and I have to admit, his trademark coldness doesn't help much for me.
Don't be fooled; this isn't a war film, it's a courtroom drama about how war is very, very bad, children. The problem is there's no real suspense, humor, anything; it feels like one long lecture. I can't help but feel "The Grand Illusion" overshadows this film very strongly. That film got its message across rather subtly while demonstrating considerably more warmth, not to mention being more thrilling.
Still, as overshadowings go, "The Grand Illusion" is a great shadow to be in. "Paths of Glory" is a very well-acted, well-directed film, and you can't beat the price, especially if you're a film nut. However, this is most certainly a lesser work of Kubrick's.
on August 22, 2001
'Paths of Glory' has much that is undeniably brilliant, and that points to the three great Kubrick masterpieces, '2001', 'Barry Lyndon' and 'The Shining' - the ambiguity that arises from a camera whose movement is synonymous with those in power (watch the anthill attack, where the men's literal immobility (i.e. death) is contrasted with the camera's inexorable momentum); the playing with audience's emotions, promising Hollywood respite, and always undercutting it; the astonishing use of interior space; the use of Enlightenment values to record the debasement of the Enlightenment; the recreation of history to satirise Kubrick's own society.
But, unlike those three timeless, eternal works, 'Paths' is bound by its time. Its philosophy is rooted in an outmoded, but than fashionable, existentialism and Absurdism; it feels the (uncharacteristic for Kubrick) need to assert humanist values in the form of the song and Kirk Douglas' integrity (although this is interrogated, especially during the climactic ritual). Most disappointing is the one-sidedness of the debate. Later, Kubrick would ask us to sympathise with moral monsters against a violent and repressive society, which isn't always easy; in 'Paths', how could we not side with men chose to die by lots?
on November 14, 2000
A masterpiece by the visionary genius Stanley Kubrick dealing with the absurdity that takes place durning and after a war. General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou "A Woman of Paris") comes to General Mireau (George Macready) with a special mission, but one they both know will cost many lives. That is all spared, as if the mission goes thru General Mireau will be given yet another star. The strive for greed and power then sets the stage for one of the most powerful film ever made, whether by Kubrick or in general on the subject of war. Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas "Spartacus")right from the begining is all but too aware of the amount of lives this will cost. But is called a coward in the process, and is told to take time off if he can't pull thru. With that being said, he accepts command. The odd, or should I say the amazing thing about this story is the screenplay written by Jim Thompson, Calder Willingham, and Kubrick himself is all based on a book by Humphrey Cobb which is a true story! To think that these unprecedented acts actually occured to unbelieveable. There are Oscar caliber performances here by Douglas and Macready, who both went overlooked as well did the directing, screenplay,and photography! This is a one of a kind film that remains as one of the greatest of all time. A must for anyone's video collection whether your a Kubrick fan, war movie fan, or a fan of any of the actors in the movie (Douglas, Menjou). A powerful, raw, real movie everyone has to see!
on June 23, 1999
Having just finished reading John Keegan's The First World War and being in progress on Nial Ferguson's The Pity of War, two recent WWI books, I must say I'm a little surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response to this movie. Sure, it's a good movie, but it's got nothing on Kubrick's later Full Metal Jacket. The plot and characters in Paths of Glory are painted with such a broad stroke, they become somewhat implausible and it leaves you wondering just how much the novel really has in common with how the French Army was commanded in WWI.
My point being, that the true stories of WWI provide much more compelling, anti-war drama than this fictional screenplay - even if based on fact. My personal feeling is that a disservice is done when history is embellished to no point. If you want to convince people war is a bad idea, the truth is by far the most potent weapon (as a comparison between the first and last battle scenes of Saving Private Ryan should demonstrate).
on August 17, 2003
I am not a great fan of Stanley Kubrick's most popular movies. But I very much enjoyed Paths of Glory. The impactful moments of treachery and defence of justice in the face of tyranny were more genuinely human than the more typical emotional distancing of Kubricks more celebrated works. Kirk Douglas turns in one of his strongest performances as the tough and gutsy commander Dax who knows as much at how to make an impact in a military board meeting as on the battlefield. He is the voice of compassion and reason in what is a very dark and cynical film about the politics of war. Some of the posturing of the evil French officials might seem over the top and cartoonish, but it works somehow because of the odd interplay of politeness mixed with the cavalier willingness to trade outrageously on human lives to score morale points with the men.
on October 17, 2013
I realise its based on actual events but somehow it leaves you disappointed. The three selected soldiers get shot and the French General who ordered the futile attack and the artillary to fire on its own troops doesn't really get to face the consequences. So the ending is a bit of a let down to those brain washed by Hollywood into believing that Good always triumphs over Evil. If Hollywood had written the script and produced the film, the historical facts would have been rewritten in American Newspeek so an American hero rushes in to save the three soldiers just as the firing squad is about to fire. But, of course, Hollywood didn't write the script, this is real life and what happened, happened.
Good movie though, well acted and directed as one would expect from Kirk Douglas and Stanley Kubrick. Well worth finding.
on March 4, 2000
Paths of Glory ranks up there with the top war films of all time. I place it higher than All Quiet on the Western Front and Apocalypse Now (which seems less like a war film and more like a psychadelic trip). Viewers must be cautioned, however, as the label "war film" is misleading. There is almost no action. There is a brief war charge that is not incredibly interesting or intense. However, dialogue and acting is what this movie is about, and through this Kubrick shows the absurdity of war behind the trenches. Those who run the war often cannot relate to the soldiers who fight it. This should have been a better DVD, however, as there is no extra content apart from a small booklet. The movie is great, though, and that is the most important part.
on May 17, 2007
"Paths of Glory", was the work that put young 29 year old Stanley Kubrick "on the map" in terms of his name as a director, and rightfully so. Though slightly dated in its acting style when viewed from a modern perspective, Kubrick creates a very undeniable picture of the realities of war. By opting for a more tragic ending, Kubrick succeeds in undermining the institutions and nobility of war.
In spite of some continuity errors that make the film occasionally difficult to follow (for instance the fact that the soldiers are apparently French and the very old soldiers in the final scene), "Paths of Glory" definitely helps reinforce the messages portrayed in other, later Kubrick films.