Stanley Kubrick directs this classic 1950s drama based on the true story of French soldiers who refused to go over the top to certain death in the First World War. The film, which is in turn based on the novelisation of the incident by Humphrey Cobb, stars Kirk Douglas as Colonel Dax, the leader of a group of soldiers who have already endured a great deal of horror in the trenches of France. When the vain and ambitious General Mireau (George Macready) orders Dax and his men to attack a well-fortified German position known as the Anthill, Dax informs him that the task is virtually impossible and will result in many deaths. Desperate for promotion, Mireau insists that the attack proceeds and is outraged when the second wave of soldiers refuse to enter the battle after witnessing the slaughter of their comrades. When Mireau and his acolytes select three soldiers for court-martial as scapegoats for the rebellion, Dax - a lawyer during his civilian life - elects to defend the men from the charges himself.
The pity of war has been a much-favoured film topic; the treachery of war much less so, though never more persuasively than in Paths of Glory
, Stanley Kubrick's breakthrough feature from 1957. Kirk Douglas gives one of his finest screen performances as Colonel Dax, the idealistic First World War soldier appalled by the arbitrary court-marshal meted out to three of his men after an impossible attempt to storm German lines goes disastrously wrong. George Macready is an utterly believable Gerneral Mireau, obsessed with his own honour and standing, whom Adolphe Majou complements tellingly as the urbane and cynical General Bruler. Those who know Kubrick from his later sprawling epics will be surprised at the tautness and concision shown here, even though the screenplay--which he co-wrote--has a certain theatrical stiffness.
On the DVD: Paths of Glory on disc reproduces well in full-screen format, and Gerald Fried's bitingly ironic score comes through powerfully. There are five dubbed and six subtitled languages. The original trailer is a masterpiece of gritty reportage, well worth reviving. Along with Dr Strangelove and 2001, this is Kubrick's most focussed and durable film. --Richard Whitehouse
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