Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Paths of Glory Not So Glorious

Paths of Glory

There are directors who can only master one specific genre and then there are directors who are seemingly masters of every genre. Stanley Kubrick is one of those directors who most would agree falls into the latter category. However, I find that I enjoy Kubrick’s work the least when he is delving into the war genre. While I enjoyed parts of Full Metal Jacket, the film on a whole did not quite work for me. As shocking as it may sound, I disliked Paths of Glory even more.

Set during World War I, and based on the novel by Humphrey Cobb, Paths of Glory recounts the events that lead up to three French soldiers being executed as an example for others to carry on the fight. When tragedy strikes after an ill-advised scouting mission, General Mireau (George Macready) decides to deflect attention from his poor leadership by placing the blame on some of the soldiers in his platoon. Despite the protest from Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas), three innocent soldiers are picked to take the fall. The first is Corporal Paris (Ralph Meeker) who confronted his lieutenant, Roget (Wayne Morris), about lying in his report about the scouting mission. Private Arnaud (Joe Turkel), is picked at random despite his outstanding record, and Private Ferol (Timothy Carey) is picked because he is deemed unacceptable socially. Colonel Dax must use his legal knowledge to defend the men in a court martial where the odds are stack against him from the very beginning.

Paths of Glory is a heavy handed anti-war commentary that is more of a courtroom drama than a traditional war film. It is clear that Kubrick is making a clear a point on the senselessness of war. The men in positions to make the most important decisions are essentially cowards. The real heroes are the individuals on the front lines whose lives are basically toyed with by the generals with little regard.

Despite having nothing against the film’s overall message, Kubrick’s delivery is rather uninteresting. The story is straightforward and there are very few characters that are actually interesting. The only character that was truly intriguing was Private Ferol. Even though he is billed as the star, Kirk Douglas feels more like a secondary character than a true lead. Colonel Dax just does not have the depth that one would hope for in a film like this.

Considering how well Paths of Glory was received by critics upon its release, it is obvious that the film struck a cord with many. However, I ended up walking away from the film feeling rather disinterested about the whole thing. Paths of Glory just did not have the same impact for me as other Kubrick films.

Paths of Glory is part of our "The Must See List" series.


  1. Just curious--would you call Dr. Strangelove a war movie?

  2. @Movie Guy Steve - As much as I love Dr. Strangelove, I have always viewed it as a political satire more than a traditional war film. However, that film is the one exception for me in regards to Kubrick's war theme films.

  3. Johnny B!11:51 am

    i certainly agree with your analysis of the genre and this film in particular. it seems his views and "stance" was more on the forefront than the movie or storytelling itself. it has been awile since ive seen this film, maybe i should give it another go, as i sure do LOVE Kubrick!

  4. Oooh, I very much disagree with you on this film.

    Paths of Glory is, as you said, a fairly obvious message movie. But I think it's extremely well made, and it's point is much more complex than its obviousness lets on.

    Paths of Glory is on the surface a film about the senselessness of war, but the brilliance of it is in its structure. First we see the war, and we see first hand how awful and senseless it is. But then we shift over to that courtroom drama, and Kubrick gets it so right.

    That courtroom scene is one of the best ever put on screen. The reason is that there are no rules. The rules are made up as it goes along. At every moment we expect the usual courtroom drama beats, but at every moment that expectation is undermined.

    What Kubrick reveals in the film is not just the senselessness of war, but the senselessness of humanity. War is, in fact, an act committed by humanity, as is that courtroom scene and the executions.

    Yet Kubrick does end on a bittersweet moment of hope. In that final scene he shows us how even when all sense seems lost, the emotions at the heart of human beings can still find a way to show themselves.

    I'll leave it at Ryan McNeil's favourite phrase: watch it again.

  5. Wow. Usually I am relatively close to you in my opinions on your movie reviews, but I am 180 degrees the opposite on this one.

    I would probably put Paths of Glory as Kubrick's second best film after Spartacus, which is also a war film.

    And I am not one of those blanket Kubrick fans (like some Scorcese fans we recently discussed); I generally feel Kubrick's mid-career films are better than his last four films.

  6. @Johnny B! – I love Kubrick as well, but this film just did not click for me at all.

    @Corey – I may give the film another go one day but it will not be anytime soon. I can see your point in regards to how Kubrick structures the film, but I did not find the courtroom scenes as interesting as you did. I thought the film had portrayed the corruption in the military far better in earlier scenes.

    @Chip Lary – Kubrick’s second best film? That is high praise indeed. We will have to disagree on this one. As much as I enjoy Spartacus it would not be my number one film of his. Top five sure, but not his absolute best. Really though, it all comes down to personal preference.


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