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Paths of Glory Movie Review

mireau broulard kubrick hill

1957 – Stanley Kubrick –

Some anti-wars films, like All Quiet on the Western Front, are defined by a mood of futility, some, like Dr. Strangelove, by one of absurdity. This one, directed and co-written by Stanley Kubrick, runs on anger. The rage is directed at the inhumanity of the people behind the war, especially two generals, who are portrayed by two great actors. Not since he played an abortionist for William Wyler in Detective Story (and clashed again with Kirk Douglas's character) has George Macready been given a role as villainous as Mireau, the World War I French general who orders artillery to fire on his own men because they do not charge the Ant Hill, an impregnable enemy fortification. Adolphe Menjou plays General Broulard as a satanic little pixie. He is more crafty than Mireau, and the film delights in peeling back his layers and exposing the horrors inside. (The final one comes when he sabotages Mireau in the name of patriotism.) Kirk Douglas plays Colonel Dax, the loyal soldier who faithfully tries to lead his men on what appears to be a suicide mission to take the Ant Hill. He returns across No Man's Land to his trench when he sees that part of his battalion did not charge. Mireau, who has seen it too, calls up the artillery fire to force the men to attack. After the ruinous, botched effort, three men are chosen by lot, tried for cowardice, convicted, and executed.

Kubrick marshals all his cinematic resources to contrast the generals and the soldiers. Mireau and Broulard have set their headquarters in a splendidly appointed chateau. When Mireau rejects Broulard's first suggestion that they attack the Ant Hill, Broulard saunters around the spacious room, Mireau and the camera following him. It is really a little dance of seduction that Broulard carries out as he coyly dangles a promotion for Mireau if he will change his mind. In contrast, Dax and the soldiers live in mud-encrusted dugouts in a trench. When Mireau makes a visit, the camera tracks backward in a long unbroken shot. The general stops to chat with the men (“Hello, soldier, ready to kill more Germans?”) as bombs explode outside the trench and debris rains down on them.

The generals, of course, come off as caricatures, as villains will in a film fueled by anger, but the film also richly succeeds at humanizing the soldiers. In the whispering scene before the attack on the Ant Hill, for example, two infantrymen ponder whether death itself or the pain associated with death instills the greater fear. Execution eve exposes the condemned men's most naked feelings: anger at the priest bringing comfort, envy for a cockroach able to live through tomorrow, amazement over the loss of all carnal desires before the specter of death.

The understated final scene makes for a benedictory close to Kubrick's first masterpiece.

Cast: Kirk Douglas (Colonel Dax), Ralph Meeker (Corporal Paris), Adolphe Menjou (General Broulard), George Macready (General Mireau), Wayne Morris (Lieutenant Roget), Richard Anderson (Major Saint-Auban), Joseph Turkel (Private Arnaud), Timothy Carey (Private Ferol), Susanne Christian (German girl), Jerry Hausner (cafe owner), Peter Capell (Colonel Judge), Emile Meyer (priest), Fred Bell (shell-shock victim) Screenwriter: Stanley Kubrick, Calder Willingham, Jim Thompson Cinematographer: George Krause Composer: Gerald Fried Producer: James B. Harris for Bryna Productions; released by United Artists Running Time: 87 minutes Format: VHS, LV Budget: $935,000.

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