Paths Of Glory Review
Nearly all war films serve the usual morality issue that war itself is futile, and serves nothing but the cause of the politicians tucked safely away from harm. However, few films fuel this argument more concisely and aggressively than Stanley Kubrick's Paths Of Glory, a film that many claim to be the late auteur's greatest film of all time.
The film has a simplistic plot on the surface that hides an abundance of layers underneath. The setting is a French World War I tactical disaster in which the soldier's own superiors are considered the enemy, as opposed to the enemy themselves. Kubrick and producer Harris were able to impress actor Kirk Douglas with the script for Paths Of Glory, based on the thirties' Humphrey Cobb novel. United Artist were pleased with the signing of Douglas, and paid an average sum of a million dollars for the production, which was to be shot entirely in Germany.
Plotwise, the film tells of a group of soldiers during the French-Germany conflict, in which Kirk Douglas plays Colonel Dax, a respectful troop leader who is ordered by his pompous superiors to make an impossible/suicidal assault on a heavily-guarded enemy hill position. This order has been given because Dax's superior officer General Paul Mireau (George Macready) acknowledges that capturing the hill will earn himself a promotion. The siege becomes a bloody disaster, primarily because a cowardly colonel refuses to order his men to attack under heavy bombardment, leaving the first line of soldiers without any backup. Rather than admit his own blunder in decision-making, the general decides to lay the blame amongst his own soldiers, and his policies spark controversy.
In comparison to many of his epic later efforts, Paths Of Glory is Kubrick forced into his most minimalist state. The lack of a budget confines the narrative to be told entirely via a strong shot composition, and this helps Kubrick to tackle the nature of his story from a ferocious angle, as if the film has been stripped of all tact and therefore is aimed straight at the throat. The film still manages to operate on many layers. It could be regarded as a deliberate attack on the system of the military, in which brave soldiers are expendable merely to serve the personal gain of their superiors. Also, the film could be seen as a metaphorical America, in which the higher class of society are allowed to profit from the sweat, blood and tears of the lower classes, who are literally forced into actions knowing it will prove to be their undoing; knowing that their destiny is ultimately futile.
The central performance of Kirk Douglas as Dax is masterclass, and demonstrates how Kubrick, when blessed with true acting talent, can push cinema budgeting to its limits. It's the type of performance in which the Oscars and critics will ignore, and yet will stand the test of time superbly. Douglas was always at his best when playing strong, magnetic leads, even if his Dax in Paths Of Glory is ultimately impotent in his cause for justice.
The battle scenes, told through Kubrick's direction are chillingly graphic, considering the film was made nearly fifty years ago. Each battle sequence carries with it an instant sense of harsh reality, in which terror and certain death seems to taint proceedings. The photography by George Krause clearly contrasts the excessive light and darkness with fine deep focus, allowing each object of the frame to possess the same vivid detail. Through the use of the cinematography, the film is deliberately not shying away from its content.
It's always going to be a heated debate as to which film is the greatest war film of all time. Some films of the genre promote the notion that the only enemy is the one within our soul, whilst others promote the argument that any form of war is futile. Paths Of Glory embraces both of these themes and combines them with a further view, that ultimately, the power of bureaucracy will prevail whilst gallantry and justice will cease to exist. This is the war presented in Kubrick's film, and it's clear what viewpoint is presented as the winner. Kubrick would go on to bigger and better things after Paths Of Glory, and yet this film is still his most humane.
Presented in the film's original fullscreen ratio in black-and-white, MGM have given each of the three early Kubrick films similar transfers, with sharp and detailed imagery counter-acted by print shimmering with excessive dirt and edge enhancement. The transfers of each film exhibit the film in a pleasing fashion, even if the overall effect is far from perfection.
Each of the early MGM Kubrick films are presented in their original mono soundtrack, and are clearly audible if slightly low in terms of volume level. Paths Of Glory is by far the best of the three in terms of sound quality, with some superb and atmospheric background effects that genuinely convince you that you are experiencing a surround mix as opposed to a mono one.
Menu: A static menu comprising of some promo shots from the film.
Packaging: Presented in the standard MGM amaray template with identical cover artwork to that of the Region 1 version and a chapter listing printed on the reverse of the inlay and visible via the transparent amaray.
: Sadly, each of the three early Kubrick MGM releases are only graced with the original trailer in the form of extra features.
If not the greatest anti-war movie ever made, certainly one film that deserves to be included in any collection, regardless of the almost non-existent extra features. Paths Of Glory is the strongest of the three early Kubrick MGM releases and suggests that by 1957 Stanley Kubrick had become in tune with his own cinematic identity, something he would prove by notching up three more classic movies by the next decade.