Wednesday, August 15, 2012

327. Paths of Glory (1957)

Running Time: 87 minutes
Directed By: Stanley Kubrick
Written By: Stanley Kubrick, Calder Willingham, Jim Thompson, from novel by Humphrey Cobb
Main Cast: Kirk Douglas, George Macready, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou, Wayne Morris
Click here to view the trailer


Well it's not quite autumn, but thanks to a forty-five minute taking in of "Rear Window", on cable, the other night, the "Kubrick Week" festivities have been kicked off early and my hiatus has come to an end.  I'll not waste time in getting to the point, as "Paths of Glory" becomes the best first film of a 100 since "Jaws" and kicks off the second half with a BANG!

For starters, I'll ask you to pardon my "blog-rust", as I attempt to pull myself back on the saddle and provide you with as good a review as I can, after being off for the past month. I always find it difficult to get reacquainted with my own style of writing reviews, but usually one or two movies in and I'm good to go.

The film is set in 1916, during World War I, as the French are engaged in trench warfare with the Germans. Once we get a voiceover narration filling us in on the crucial details of the times, we jump to a private meeting between two generals of the French Army: General George Broulard (Menjou) of the French General Staff and his subordinate, General Mireau (Macready). Broulard requests that Mireau send his men through "no man's land" to take and hold a German post, known only as "the Anthill". Mireau's first response is that the request is a suicide mission and promptly refuses, but, after being tempted with a promotion, later decides that his men are more than capable of taking the Anthill. Later, Mireau visits his division in the trenches and meets with Col. Dax (Douglas), to provide him with the details of the taking of the Anthill. Dax is also well aware that this is a suicide mission, but not wanting to to show insubordination, takes the orders with a salute and a brave face. When the time comes for Dax to lead his company into a mission that promises to take the life of over half his men, he comes out swinging, wielding a pistol and a whistle, waving his men toward the Anthill. Mireau watches from a safe post and notices that half the company remains stationary in the trenches, most of them too wounded to advance on the enemy line. Mireau, however, doesn't see wounded soldiers, but rather, cowardly soldiers and orders the artillery commander to fire upon the men, driving them out of the trenches and into battle. The artillery commander refuses the order, without a written request and Mireau is made to look like a fool when the Anthill isn't taken and the mission becomes an epic failure. From there, Mireau meets with Col. Dax and General Broulard back at his quarters and demands that men from Dax's company face a court marshal of charges of showing cowardice in the face of the enemy. Dax puts up a fight, but it is ultimately decided that three men, picked by their commanding officers, will face a court marshal, with Dax defending them at the trial.

Honestly, I didn't have much hope for this one going in. As many of my long time readers will remember, I'm not one for war films and will usually brush them off before the opening credits come to a close. However, if they're done right, if they tell a story in the midst of their explosions and artillery fire and aren't bogged down by military mumbo jumbo that I cannot even begin to comprehend, then I can easily warm up to them and find myself lost in the trenches, alongside the troops. "Paths of Glory" does have a little bit of that "Greek to me", military jargon, but it isn't mired in it and amidst it, there's a hard to swallow story of three brave men being put on trial, forced to fight for their lives, because they're accused of being cowards. It's the kind of war movie that makes pacifists grit their teeth and foam at the mouth and the kind of movie that makes you angry as you're watching the innocent characters be subject to such inhumane treatment. If you stand on the anti-war side of the fence, but want to be reminded of why you stand on that side, then this is the film for you, as it won't take long to remind you of what war does to a man, that bravery doesn't always mean medals and that, sometimes, the cruelest and most heartless of men can be found in positions of power.

I can't sign off without mentioning the stunning camerawork by Georg Krause, as he literally takes us down in the trenches and gives us just a spoonful of what it's like to be in the heart of battle. The dreary black & white look of the picture only adds to the dreary narrative that is being told and everything fits together perfectly to provide a really downtrodden film, with no happy ending in sight. Key scenes include a tracking shot of Dax walking through the trenches, surveying his men before the attempted taking of the Anthill and of course, the final scene, which you just need to experience for yourself, instead of reading about it here. Trust me, THE BOOK nailed it on the head when it labeled "Paths of Glory" a "must see" and the final scene is a big reason why. As I progress through "Kubrick Week", I'll be taking in most of the offerings for no more than the second time and after watching "Paths of Glory", I'm really excited for what the next week (or two) holds for me.

RATING: 8.5/10  I can't go the full monty, because there were moments where I felt a little confused or overwhelmed by the historical aspects of the film, but this is one where quibbling over numbers is nonsensical. Next up in "Kubrick Week": "Spartacus".


August 15, 2012  2:17am

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