Paths of Glory (1957) is a masterful, unsentimental, classic anti-war film about World War I. It was 28 year-old Stanley Kubrick's fourth feature-length film...
Juxtaposed in interesting fashion, this low-budget, independent production with a distinctly European flavor premiered one week after the release of David Lean's Best Picture-winning, CinemaScopic war epic blockbuster, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) from Columbia Pictures. This stark, slightly stagey, 87-minute black and white film, shot on location in Germany with crisp B/W photography (by George Krause) with a budget less than $1 million, is as compelling and harsh an indictment and criticism of war as Lewis Milestone's award-winning, anti-war classic All Quiet On The Western Front (1930), adapted from Erich Maria Remarque's novel.
The title of the film, actually ironic and inappropriate since war is not a 'path of glory', was suggested by line 36 in 18th century English romantic poet Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard:
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Although the film is considered one of Kubrick's best, it was denied even a single Academy Award nomination.
The suicidal attack on an impregnable fortress named 'Ant Hill' in the film (against an unseen German enemy) was inspired by and loosely based upon the six-month bloodbath in 1916 during the Battle of Verdun for Fort Douamont, a French stronghold eventually captured by the Germans. (The same battle was frequently referred to in Renoir's The Grand Illusion (1937)). The protracted conflict claimed the lives of 315,000 French soldiers (called poilus) on the Western front. Due to the film's raw, controversially-offensive and critical assessment of hypocritical French military and bureaucratic authorities who callously condemn and sacrifice three randomly-chosen innocent men with execution (for cowardice) for their own fatal blunder, it suffered poor box-office returns, and was banned in France and Switzerland for almost twenty years (until the mid-1970s) following its release.
One of the film's posters exclaimed: "IT EXPLODES IN THE NO-MAN'S LAND NO PICTURE EVER DARED CROSS BEFORE!" It also describes the film as a "bombshell story of a Colonel who led his regiment into hell and back - while their maddened General waited for them - with a firing squad." Major star Kirk Douglas ... played the lead role as lawyer-trained Colonel Dax compelled to defend three of his court-martialed men against hopeless odds. ...
Based upon the controversial, published, semi-fictional 1935 novel of the same name by Humphrey Cobb, this anti-war film emphasizes the wide, hierarchical gap between those who take orders and fight the wars in muddy trenches, and those that give the orders and are isolated from the real ravages of war. Three blameless, subordinate soldiers are victimized, given hopeless 'paths of glory,' and condemned to die to cover up the wrong-headed actions of their ruthless and opportunistic superiors. ...
[To read the full review and summary of the film, go to: http://www.filmsite.org/path.html ]