Paths of Glory (1957)

As titles go, few are as bitterly ironic as that of Kubrick’s fourth film, wherein he really entered the big league of cinema. Here’s another one I probably haven’t seen since around 1995 or so, taped off Channel 7 after they showed it overnight at some heinous hour even I couldn’t have stayed up for… It’s powerful, enraging stuff about a gross miscarriage of military justice in WW1 (inspired by true events), as a French general randomly executes three soldiers for alleged cowardice after they fail to take a strategic position; bitter, ferocious, and—as I now realise upon this re-viewing—as manipulative as all get out. The key word is there in James Naremore’s DVD booklet essay: melodrama. That’s what Paths of Glory really is. It’s not a word you often associate with Kubrick, but Naremore’s right to use it. Kirk Douglas starred and produced; and though Kubrick wasn’t the hired hand he would be for Douglas on Spartacus, it’s still tailored as a “Kirk Douglas” film as Naremore says. His heroism is enhanced by everything being stacked against him, from the borderline psychotic nature of General Mireau to the frankly rigged court-martial; that he cannot and does not win underlines his virtue. It’s a film where everyone takes vengeance on someone lower; Mireau executes three men to cover up his own idiocy, Roget dobs in Corporal Paris to cover his own genuine cowardice, Dax makes Roget lead the execution, even the sergeant threatens the firing squad not to fuck up. And this is before we consider General Broulard, who arguably emerges as the most heinous figure in the film. Really,  while watching the film my stomach was churning at the injustice it depicts, and yet I could never entirely escape the feeling that I was being manipulated in fairly blunt fashion; and as unquestionably brilliant as the film is, I can’t help but feel that I perhaps admire it a little less than I used to.

One thought on “Paths of Glory (1957)

  1. David Spodak January 7, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Have a google alert on POG so your post came to me. Your right of course. The is plenty of melodrama and star stroking. Though I don’t know why melodrama is such a dirty word to the culture highbrows. It’s to be found in classic tragedy and POG handles it just as well. I suppose it pokes out because SK rejected and made light of it in his later work. It’s my feeling that the film is all the more impressive because it puts these elements to such profound use. I’ve spent four years making a doc about the picture. That’s what my website is about. Naremore lent a hand for which I’m grateful.

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