Paths of Glory
Kirk Douglas plays Colonel Dax in Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Humphrey Cobb’s novel about French soldiers during the First World War
Stanley Kubrick, the director behind such celebrated works as 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining and Dr. Strangelove, established his reputation with this fiercely anti-war film, originally released in 1957.
Colonel Dax (Douglas) is tasked by his superiors with leading his men on what amounts to a suicide mission to capture a German fortification. When the attack inevitably fails, the upper ranks plot to scapegoat the front-line soldiers and unjustly decide to try three of them for cowardice under pain of death. At the courtmartial, Dax, a former lawyer, launches a detailed and impassioned defence of the three men that ultimately falls on deaf ears.
Kubrick, who would further explore the absurd bureaucracy of war with Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove seven years later, finds a jet-black comedy among the self-interested maneuvering of the senior army officials. They mask their blatant career aspirations, and sheer class privilege, behind words of patriotic duty and speeches about what it means to be a soldier. Douglas is superb as he rails against his superiors, showcasing his aptitude for the classic idealistic, speechifying hero and providing the film with a furious centre that should still get audiences going today.
Paths of Glory’s high contrast black-and-white cinematography looks pristine on Eureka’s new Blu-ray. The film's compositions are well ordered and full of depth, and the impeccably staged geometric tracking shots through the trenches and the elegant rooms of the officers' chateau reveal Kubrick's mastery of the cinematic form. Clocking in at a brisk 88 minutes, Paths of Glory is high on tension, low on fat and fully deserves its reputation as one of the finest war films ever made.
Actor-director Richard Ayoade (of The IT Crowd fame) pops up with his thoughts on Paths of Glory and Kubrick in general. Ayoade’s commitment to cinema is commendable, but Eureka also provide an interview with Kubrick scholar Peter Krämer, who provides a more thorough overview of the film.
Released by Eureka Entertainment on Blu-ray and DVD