Paths of Glory
War | In English | 88 minutes | 1957
Directed by Stanley Kubrick, this is a harrowing film depicting trench warfare during World War I. French General Georges Broulard orders his subordinate, General Mireau, to attack a German stronghold. Mireau is reluctant to do so citing it as a “suicide mission.” Broulard convinces him the attack will be successful and he’ll also get a promotion. Mireau assigns the job to Colonel Dax of the 701st Regiment. Dax vehemently protests knowing the futile attack will result in no gain and heavy losses. However, he obeys the order. The attack is a total failure. An enraged Mireau orders his artillery to shell the battlefield knowing that this will kill many of his own men. The artillery officer refuses without written authorization. To deflect blame for the fiasco, Mireau decides to court-martial three soldiers, one from each company, citing their cowardice. Dax, who was a criminal defense lawyer in civilian life, defends the men at their trial. The trial is a sham. No written records are kept and the court refuses to accept exculpatory evidence. The three men are executed by firing squad. The night before the executions, Dax informs Broulard of Mireau’s order to fire artillery, risking the lives of his own men. Fearing that Dax may make this information public, Broulard informs Mireau that this will be investigated. Broulard also offers Dax Mireau’s command. Dax refuses calling Broulard a “degenerate, sadistic old man.” After the execution, Dax returns to his men who are living it up in a cafe. They are unaware that they will soon be returning to the front line.
Why Stream This Film?
- Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus) 95% 95%
BAFTA Award: Nominated, Best Film
Writers Guild of America: Nominated, Best Screenwriting
Belgian Film Critics’ Association: Winner of the Grand Prix
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This forthright picture has the impact of hard reality, mainly because its frank avowal of agonizing, uncompensated injustice is pursued to the bitter, tragic end. The close, hard eye of Mr. Kubrick’s sullen camera bores directly into the minds of scheming men and into the hearts of patient, frightened soldiers who have to accept orders to die. The execution scene is one of the most craftily directed and emotionally lacerating that we have ever seen.
PATHS of GLORY was the film by which Stanley Kubrick entered the ranks of great directors. It has an economy of expression that is almost brutal; it is one of the few narrative films in which you sense the anger in the telling. There is no nostalgia in PATHS of GLORY.
The horror of war is laid bare when soldiers face executions to placate tyrannical officers after their plans go awry. It is arguably the best film about the first world war, and still has a reasonable claim to being Stanley Kubrick’s best film.
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