Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou
Stanley’s first moment of glory
Paths of Glory is a World War 1 film with a difference. It’s less concerned with the actual trench warfare and more concerned with the sadism found in higher ranking officers. It’s clear that Stanley isn’t a fan of war, so it may be a little biased, but it is based on a true story and Stanley handles it absolutely beautifully!
After the limp Killer’s Kiss and entertaining, The Killing, Paths of Glory is Stanley’s first truly great film. You can see his directing style really shine here with the fantastic tracking shots and wide angles. If you look at most films from the 50’s you’ll find that the camera barely moves. Here, the camera is always on the move which is partly why the film still holds up so well today.
It’s the type of film which makes your blood boil. There is no conventional happy ending, the entire film is on the road to tragedy. There are several brilliant scenes which stand the test of time including the storming of the Ant Hill, which adds a kind of surreal grace to a scene full of ugliness and intensity. Another great scene is the infuriating kangaroo court where Kirk Douglas hopelessly tries to defend the ‘cowardly’ soldiers.
The most memorable moments are probably the final two scenes though. The first one features a long and melodramatic walk to the firing line. There’s obvious religious imagery here and it’s handled magnificently. The last scene is the famous moment in the bar where Stanley’s beautiful wife takes the stage and gets a bunch of rowdy soldiers to hum in unison. It’s a weirdly moving moment to end on.
I’m not a particular fan of war films, but Paths of Glory has to be one of the best out there. It has a terrific story to tell and it’s one which will anger and sadden you. It’s superbly acted and directed too. Some say that it’s Stanley Kubrick’s best film. I’d disagree with that statement, but I can see where these people are coming from. It definitely has to be his most emotional and moving film.