The futility and irony of the war in the trenches in WWI is shown as a unit commander in the French army must deal with the mutiny of his men and a glory-seeking general after part of his force falls back under fire in an impossible attack.Written by
Keith Loh <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The closing cast credits differ in order from the opening credits, in which Kirk Douglas' name appears before the title. See more »
At the end of the film, when the German girl sings, there are modern (1950s) metal music stands on the stage. See more »
Narrator of opening sequence:
War began between Germany and France on August 3rd 1914. Five weeks later the German army had smashed its way to within eighteen miles of Paris. There the battered French miraculously rallied their forces at the Marne River and in a series of unexpected counterattacks drove the Germans back. The front was stabilized then shortly afterwards developed into a continuous line of heavily fortified trenches zigzagging their way five hundred miles from the English Channel to the Swiss ...
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In an attempt to enhance his own reputation, General Mireau (George MacReady) orders his troops to advance and seize the heavily fortified `Ant Hill' from the German army. Despite realising the hazardous nature of the order, Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) reluctantly agrees to lead the charge. As expected the attack goes badly and many French troops lose their lives which results in a large number of men refusing to leave their trenches. General Mireau sees this from his safe position and, refusing to admit that the attack was suicide from the outset, blames the cowardice of those who refused to fight for the devastating outcome of the battle. As a result Mireau demands that three soldiers from the regiment be held accountable and face an immediate court martial followed by death by firing squad. Dax seeks for the French military hierarchy to admit the truth.
This dramatic condemnation of the politics-over-people attitude of military forces during World War I is an all too accurate portrayal of how the conflict resulted in one of the largest and most pointless losses of life in all known history. Taking place in the trenches amidst the height of the futile conflict between France and Germany, director Stanley Kubrick (in only his second feature film) seeks to press home a fiercely anti-war statement backed up by actual historical facts rather than the typical embellishment that can be found in more modern war films. While the story itself is somewhat fanciful, the portrayal of the morally corrupt military leaders that sent hundreds of thousands of men to their deaths for no more reason than to satisfy their own expanded egos and enhance their perfidious reputations is, unfortunately, all too accurate and a powerful indictment of not just the French army, but all those who participated in one of the most bloody conflicts in human history. What makes the film so stinging in its approach is the flat out lies told by protagonist Mireau, who claims that one man's life is worth more to him than a reputation, yet when presented with the opportunity for political acclaim and honours is all too willing to send troops to battle when freely admitting that four thousand will probably perish in no man's land. A quick glance through history proves such on-screen bald faced lies to be inherently and tragically true off-screen, even in relation to Britain's very own Field Marshall Hague. The French government found the representation of their military too close to fact and banned Paths of Glory', eventually lifting the ban in 1970.
The film does not stand out in mere message alone. For those familiar with Kubrick's later work such as 2001: A Space Odyssey' (1968), A Clockwork Orange' (1971) and Full Metal Jacket' (1987) the director's soon-to-be trademarks can easily be spotted. As with many Kubrick films there is a remarkable ability to portray to the viewer what is not seen on the screen. The full carnage of the war is displayed in a darkly amusing, yet chilling scene where one soldier questions another on whether he is scared of death or merely getting hurt. As this precedes the actual battle scenes by a matter of minutes the viewer becomes rapidly acquainted with the carnage, fear and suffering these men faced despite a distinct lack of on-screen bloodshed. One could argue that the short, virtually bloodless battle scene in Paths of Glory' is even more powerful than the bloody, disturbing and prolonged beach scenes from Saving Private Ryan' (1998). Kubrick wonderfully crafts this movie around the composition of the filming rather than relying on any sort of special effects or visual trickery. Throughout the movie, particularly during the battle scenes, the viewer is given a third person perspective of the struggles of men to come to terms with life and death under such harsh conditions. Incredible acting performances from Kirk Douglas, George MacReady and Adolphe Menjou attract the viewer's attention and become the central focus in a war film with scarce amounts of action. Kubrick condemns the politics of war through the use of the politics that control war.
It is very difficult to write about this film and fully do it justice. The pre-Vietnam anti-war sentiment is easily the main focus of the movie and it is through competent acting that the movie is made great. It becomes somewhat irrelevant that the movie is set in WWI as the same message applies to every major war, particularly the following decades Vietnam War. It wasn't until Oliver Stone's Platoon' (1986) that viewers were again treated to an historically based condemnation of war that focused less on heroes and more on the way things really were in battle. Wisely, the movie opens with a narrated epilogue which informs the viewer of the absurdity of WWI and then ends with a melodramatic and almost tear-inspiring scene which, although not in place when compared to the sombre and melancholy feel of the previous eighty minutes, ends the film in such a way that the film itself must be contemplated. Paths of Glory' is easily one of the most powerful films of all time and a pejorative anti-war statement where the only real failing is the short length of the movie and occasional poor performances from the supporting cast. My rating for Paths of Glory' - 7½/10.
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