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Paths of Glory
BLU-RAY disk
11.03.2010 By: Mathew Plale
Paths of Glory order download
Director:
Stanley Kubrick

Actors:
Kirk Douglas


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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
A French colonel (Douglas) defends three of his men accused of cowardice and facing the firing squad in Stanley Kubrick's 1957 antiwar film.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
“The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”

Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957), based on Humphrey Cobb’s 1935 novel, is set during the middle of World War I. It deals with a suicide mission to take a German position called the Anthill that the promotion-hungry General Mireau (George Macready) assigns Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) to lead the charge of. Dax accepts because he’s loyal, knowing full well he’s liable to lose half of his men out there.

The mission, predictably, fails, and three of Dax’s men are to be tried and executed by firing squad for coward in the line of duty, by orders of Mireau, himself more of a coward than the entire platoon. It’s terribly unnerving to see Dax’s men (and they’re now his--not the country’s--as far as the brass is concerned) forced into an impossible situation, be stamped disloyal and walk their final walk.

For all that occurs, the film is compact and short (87 minutes), but is just as big and epic as the more obvious choices (Spartacus and 2001: A Space Odyssey, just three and eleven years later, respectively). Georg Krause, who develops Kubrick’s ideas here as well as any cinematographer who’s worked with him, plays a key role in putting many of Kubrick’s trademarks onscreen: extremely wide shots that give an empty environment; long tracking shots that are often mimicked (the most famous here being Douglas’ determined walk through the trenches); and few shots (the subsequent battle sequence which, if filmed today, would have about 100 cuts to exaggerate the carnage).

Themes that Kubrick often explored, such as corruption, hypocrisy and indecency, are also prominent. And today, when we question the military’s practices in each without hesitance, the film is as essential as it was over 50 years ago.

And then there’s the ending. Think of the nuclear disaster(s) in Dr. Strangelove or the Star Child in 2001 or Alex’s haunting final words in A Clockwork Orange, how they’re implanted in your mind. It’s the same here: In the final moments of the film, with the French soldiers catching breath and suds in a tavern, a frightened German singer (Christiane Harlan, future Mrs. Kubrick) comes to the stage. The men heckle the girl. And they empty their steins. And then…they weep and hum quietly to themselves in a moment of brief, peaceful comfort. Outside of the tavern, they’re called back into action and who knows which of the men will walk their final walk. Then Dax says what he’s been saying the entire film, only now someone listens: “Give the men a few minutes more.”
THE EXTRAS
Commentary with critic Gary Widdins: In this track, recorded in 2010, Widdins (author of Warning Shadows: Home Alone with Classic Cinema) delivers a well-rounded commentary on a number of aspects, including the film’s overall production, director Stanley Kubrick, the cast (including Kirk Douglas’ contract having a no-shirt clause), and so much more. Though Widdins’ obvious note reading can be a bit distracting, this is a must-listen commentary.

Stanley Kubrick (2:18): In this very brief 1966 interview (audio accompanied by photos), Kubrick discusses Paths of Glory.

Kirk Douglas (29:29): In this interview from a 1979 episode of British show Parkinson, Douglas discusses his life and career, with some focus on Paths of Glory.

James B. Harris (21:09): In this new interview, Harris, who produced Paths of Glory, recalls the film’s production and working with Kubrick.

Christiane Kubrick (6:59): In this new interview, Kubrick’s widow discusses meeting Stanley and her role as the German singer at the end of the film.

Jan Harlan (9:08): In this new interview, executive producer Jan Harlan (who worked with Kubrick on four films, including Barry Lyndon, The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut) shares his thoughts on the director.

Théophile Maupas (3:12): Taken from French program JT Basse Normandie, this segment (dated January 20, 1997) “details the World War I tragedy involving French corporal Théophile Maupas, which partly inspired Paths of Glory.”

Theatrical Trailer.

Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 16-page booklet featuring an essay titled “We Have Met the Enemy…” by author James Naremore (On Kubrick, More Than Night: Film Noir in its Contexts).
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
The Criterion Collection does an excellent job with Paths of Glory, the second Stanley Kubrick film in their catalog. With over 70 minutes of interviews (both vintage and new), a scholarly commentary and faithful video/audio transfers, this is a must-have for fans.
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