Monday, May 24, 2010

Paths of Glory (1957)

Adapting Humphrey Cobb's novel to the screen, director Stanley Kubrick and his collaborators Calder Willingham and Jim Thompson set out to make a devastating anti-war statement, and they succeeded above and beyond the call of duty. In the third year of World War I, the erudite but morally bankrupt French general Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) orders his troops to seize the heavily fortified "Ant Hill" from the Germans. General Mireau (George MacReady) knows that this action will be suicidal, but he will sacrfice his men to enhance his own reputation. Against his better judgment, Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) leads the charge, and the results are appalling. When, after witnessing the slaughter of their comrades, a handful of the French troops refuse to leave the trenches, Mireau very nearly orders the artillery to fire on his own men. Still smarting from the defeat, Mireau cannot admit to himself that the attack was a bad idea from the outset: he convinces himself that loss of Ant Hill was due to the cowardice of his men. Mireau demands that three soldiers be selected by lot to be executed as an example to rest of the troops. Acting as defense attorney, Colonel Dax pleads eloquently for the lives of the unfortunate three, but their fate is a done deal. Even an eleventh-hour piece of evidence proving Mireau's incompetence is ignored by the smirking Broulard, who is only interested in putting on a show of bravado. A failure when first released (it was banned outright in France for several years), Paths of Glory has since taken its place in the pantheon of classic war movies, its message growing only more pertinent and potent with each passing year (it was especially popular during the Vietnam era). ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 87 mins
Paths of Glory (1957)

Although this film was highly recommend by a friend, and deserves accolades for the film's outstanding portrayal of war {WWI}, it was not the anti-war film from my self appraisal. There is no denying the similarities with the film and book "All Quiet on the Western Front". As such, Paths of Glory was more along the lines of an anti-WWI movie. One that showed the horror of war with a set of strategic paradigms when the weapons of war had changed but the general's approach had not.

Throwing good men after a hill worth nothing proved the war was not worth the costs in young men's lives. When the Americans arrived, they set out to not be boxed by the paradigms currently employed. According to my history class. some strategists had assumed that when their side lost so many that they could calculate the amount lost on the opposing side without a complete assessment.

Ultimately in the end, the authoritarian hierarchical organization only wanted to preserve order and individual lives of the soldiers meant nothing. As the three executed were all innocent compared to what was expected of them and the truly guilty got free. One squad commander had killed one of his men and as such he selected the man that knew it to the court marshal hearings. And lastly, Colonel Dax was sent to the front again. Life expectancy was not long in the front lines and was a punishment for not accepting the field promotion.

PS: I know that I am a little thick but my review is more along that it was an anti-WWI type war. Every war has its own unique circumstances so much of that was specific to WWI, especially the fact that everything was so "civilized" and civil just a few miles away from the battle lines. War was glorious as long as you were a civilian or someone not in the trenches. Much as "All Quiet on the Western Front" portrayed.

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