Paths of Glory
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Time Out says
Tue Nov 15 2005The French were so dismayed by Stanley Kubrick’s sober portrait of sinister, high-level manoeuvres behind the lines of the World War I trenches that they banned his third feature from their screens for many years. Certainly the direct accusation here – lifted from Humphrey Cobb’s source novel – is that the pompous, twisted and fictional French commander General Paul Mireau (George Macready) possesses not an ounce of sympathy for his embattled troops (‘There is no such thing as shell-shock!’). He wilfully orders a suicidal mission that he knows will fail and, when it does, perversely decides that three soldiers – picked arbitrarily – must face a military court and, if found guilty, execution.
What’s so startling – and impressive – about Kubrick’s storytelling is the cold, matter-of-fact manner with which the film unfolds. Mireau is suitably grotesque but never a c aricature; the three accused men react naturally (one is a simpering coward) and elicit only natural – not heroic – sympathy; and Kubrick employs his camera with rational, military precision, especially during a superbly shot court sequence in which he applies equal coverage to each man on trial. The result is that our dismay and anger become directed at war itself, not individuals. Ultimately, despite the limp rendition of the Marseillaise at the film’s opening, it’s not the French but all military that come off badly here.
The film’s – and Kubrick’s – conscience is Kirk Douglas as Colonel Dax, an idealist and troublemaker caught between his men and his superiors. Douglas’ performance is enthralling, but perhaps the film’s only bum note is Dax’s later emergence as a hero in the face of everyone else, both guilty and innocent. Still, the final scene, in which Kubrick presents close-ups of soldiers watching a captured German girl being forced to sing for their pleasure is nothing short of masterful.
Fri Nov 18, 2005