Today I watched Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957)
Set during the First World War, this film follows Corporal Dax of the French army as he deals with the inhumanity of social climbers in authority. Dax and his men are ordered to take a fortified German position nicknamed The Anthill yet pretty much everyone agrees that they lack the manpower needed for the operation. Despite this his commander launches the attack and as everyone expected, it fails disastrously with many of the men not even able to climb out of their trenches. From the general’s armchair this looks like an act of cowardice, so now despite the soldiers doing everything in their power to achieve victory, they are brought up on charges of cowardice. Three soldiers are selected to make an example of but Corporal Dax will not take this lying down and he rises to his men’s defense.
Obviously one can see this film has some very strong anti-war sentiments as it deals directly with the vast inequality between officers and common soldiers. It works very well in exposing the hubris and tactical idiocy which led to the First World War being the huge quagmire that it was and puts much of the blame at the feet of social climbers who have forgotten their ability to empathize with the common folk. Along with this the film offers a harrowing condemnation of capital punishment as well, seeing as how it plays so strongly into the story. It lumps it together with the horrors of war as being part of the same endemic barbarism that seems to all stem from nationalist sentiments.
While this is an early Kubrick work and thus doesn’t express the full breadth of his stylistic acumen, there are some really impressive shots here. Of course they all serve the purpose of forwarding the themes and ideas as this is a very tightly constructed work. It may not showcase Kubrick’s famous experimental edge, but it does show just how much he had mastered the basics for sure. His staging here is quite traditional and within that context extremely well executed as the emotional thrust of the film is impossile to misconstrue. Furthermore he gets fantastic performances out of his cast, especially Kirk Douglas whom he would work with again on Spartacus later. All in all it’s a real tour de force that doesn;t get talked about nearly enough when discussing the canon of Kubrick, maybe because war movies were about to change drastically in the coming years. That is neither here nor there though, this is just a very solid movie that is certainly worth your time. 5/5