PATHS OF GLORY (Stanley Kubrick, 1957)

Western front, 1916. A vainglorious French general orders a suicidal mission: the capture of a German stronghold. From no-man’s-land Colonel Dax’s surviving soldiers retreat; others have remained behind in their trenches. The general orders that the latter be fired upon, but the order is rejected, enraging the general, who ekes out revenge by having three soldiers court-martialed and executed as an “example” for French soldiers.
     Stanley Kubrick’s first important film derives from Humphrey Cobb’s novel. It is most interesting in terms of the slippery, convoluted nature of military politics. However, Kubrick meant for Paths of Glory to be an antiwar film, and his fans applaud it as such. In reality, there is no thematic content in it that comports with this intent. Rather, the film is curiously vague on the subject of war, seeming instead to be more virulently anti-French. It certainly seemed so to France, which banned it for fifteen years.
     Paths of Glory is very much the work of a former fashion photographer. Its portrayal of combat is highly aestheticized and anesthetized; proceeding and withdrawing tracking shots in the trenches give way on the battlefield to a sideways tracking shot. The one outstanding element here, as elsewhere, is Georg Krause’s black-and-white cinematography, which is especially effective in underlit bunker interiors.
     Hollow, witless, unfeeling, visually clumsy, stagy and sadistic, this is a terrible movie and an intellectually dishonest one.
     Much of the acting is so bad it is laughable.

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