Saturday, 13 April 2013
Paths of Glory (1957) - ★★★★★
Writer: Stanley Kubrick, Calder Willingham, Jim Thompson (Screenplay). Humphrey Cobb (Novel)
Stars: Kirk Douglas, George Macready, Adolphe Menjou, Ralph Meeker, Timothy Carey
Up until this point, I have seen three perfect films. The first is Casablanca by Michael Curtiz. The second, High Noon by Fred Zinnemann. The third, Ikiru by Akira Kurosawa. I will now add Paths of Glory to this list. It's a pure masterpiece by arguably the greatest movie director of all time, Stanley Kubrick. The perfect acting, outstanding cinematography and great story made this a faultless and genius film.
It displays that there were mad, sociopathic men in charge of the French army back in WW1. This is a film that reveals the groundless trials and sentences that innocent soldiers were charged with. In this case, it was cowardice and refusal to obey orders. Three men are chosen to represent their squadron for these charges and are all sentenced to death. It is up to Colonel Dax (Douglas), their commanding officer, to prevent them from being executed.
Paths of Glory is simply great storytelling. We don't get to know the characters through their life stories, but we get to know them through their actions under the circumstances. Kirk Douglas gave his greatest performance in this film, showing frustration and disappointment in the humanity of his superiors. George Macready played the mad general who wanted to execute over 100 men for 'cowardice.' It was a powerhouse performance in the way it lacked all empathy and showed all the signs of a mad sociopath.
Kubrick followed in the footsteps of Lewis Milestone's 'All Quiet on the Western Front' (1930) with similar themes regarding the humanity of the soldiers and their officers. It also payed homage to the masterful cinematography used in that film, replicating similar scenes from the trenches. The difference was that Kubrick simply told the story better. It was to the point, intriguing and riveting from start to finish. I would mention the weak points of the film by now if there were any, but there weren't.
This isn't a grand story. It is not an epic war film. We learn lessons, but that isn't the point of the film. Paths of Glory simply shows you a particular story about soldiers who had to fight in the trenches. It teaches you things you may not have known and shows you the ugly side to the inner workings of the superior officers. It is done in such a way that it can only be seen as a perfect movie.