July 3: #20, Paths of Glory
“I'm not afraid of dying tomorrow, only of getting killed.”
Filmed in the very early part of Stanley Kubrick's career, Paths of Glory is a surprisingly tight, concise film that like all of Kubrick's war films, doesn't focus on the macro-level of war but instead zooms in on the fallout of a particular conflict.
This one is similar to Dr. Strangelove in that it serves as an indictment of military leaders for viewing their soldiers as little more than pawns. This is a point that Kubrick really hits you over the head with, as General Georges Broulard plans what is essentially a reckless suicide mission where by even his own estimation, 60% of the French soldiers involved will die.
Broulard leaves it to General Mireau to go from there, and Mireau's initial resistance to the plan is washed away when a possible promotion is hinted at. As Mireau, George Macready is an outstanding villain, mostly because he balances the coward's mentality of wanting others to take the blame for his actions with the egotist's belief that he deserves to be held above such criticism. Mireau hides behind palatable defenses based on patriotism, duty, and courage instead of allowing the truth of his own cowardice and ambition to show.
Mireau's foil is Kirk Douglas as the brave, much-beloved Regiment Colonel Dax, who fearlessly leads the doomed charge when the time comes. He also takes it upon himself to defend the men from three companies who are arbitrarily picked to answer to charges of cowardice when they and their peers stop advancing when the feebleness of their efforts in the battle become clear.
Douglas plays it pretty straight as the strong-jawed, prototypical 1950s film hero, and his performance mostly works. He gets a moment later in the movie to raise his voice in righteous defiance and relishes it just as much as you'd expect. It's a performance that seems pretty dated and pandering now, but it's well-suited to the film. The movie's battle sequence, which was not filmed with a big budget and hasn't really aged well, doesn't really hold the film back, either.
|"Well, I've got my gym teacher whistle and my tiny pistol. I'm ready to storm the hill!"|
Overall, Paths of Glory makes a lot of points similar to Dr. Strangelove, and even if the latter was the better film, it's an excellent movie in its own right. The three doomed soldiers hold pivotal roles and play them well, even though Timothy Carey's Private Ferol is way over-the-top at times. You still feel for the condemned trio and Kubrick uses sympathetic directing to really make their plights hit home when the time comes. This was the film where you can really see the type of career Kubrick was going to have.