There are many great anti-war films that have been made. From the greatest and most horrific war movie ever, Come And See, to the preparing for a war already lost in Tigerland, these films are riveting. War is the most cruel, vicious and inhuman of man’s endeavors, but never have such endeavors been foisted upon a country’s own soldiers as was the travesty manifested in Paths of Glory.
No wars are picnics, but WW1 was a particularly grisly, not to mention deadly affair with the horrific blend of old-war tactics and newer technology. Shell-shocked and combat weary does not begin to describe the long-suffering French soldiers in the trenches. Trench warfare was insane. As millions died, only meters were won or lost across the blood-soaked battlefields. The conditions in the trenches were beyond abysmal, with trench-foot, decay, crowded conditions, the stench of the wounded and dead all around you, not to mention the constant bombardment of enemy shells. It was about to get a lot worse.
Fueled by the hubris of a promised promotion, General George MacReady orders his troops to take a German stronghold, Ant Hill. This mission was doomed to failure, and everyone involved knew it. With the inevitable failure and retreat, the General raged, and even ordered artillery to fire on his own troops, an order that cooler heads refused to implement.
Infuriated by the insubordination and the failure of the troops to accomplish an impossible mission, the General demanded that soldiers be picked at random to be court-martialed for cowardice. There are several villains in this classic masterpiece, but the French Generals have to be the most odious villains in the history of cinema.
The sham of the court-martial and Kangaroo Court is an outrage, and this outrage is manifested by Colonel Dax, played by the great Kurt Douglas. Dax is the commanding officer of the brave men who could not accomplish the impossible and were being punished for this failure. Douglas’s performance was a tour de force, as he raged on against injustice, carefully walking the tightrope of insubordination against his commanding officers.
There is also treachery and cowardice within the ranks, but the most complicit in this fiasco go virtually unpunished, except in a twist of irony that I will not spoil here. As well as being a Colonel, Dax is also a lawyer and represents the 3 unfortunate soldiers in their court martial. He is barely able to conceal his seething disdain for both the court and the horrible injustice that awaits these brave soldiers.
Paths of Glory is one of Kubrick’s early films, and it is 87 minutes of black & white film greatness. This is the movie that would precede 9 more masterpieces, putting Stanely Kubrick in the rare air of the gods of film directing, and rightfully so.
10.0/10.0 With the Goatesians rating of best anti-war film
- “I apologize… for not being entirely honest with you. I apologize for not revealing my true feelings. I apologize, sir, for not telling you sooner that you’re a degenerate, sadistic old man. And you can go to hell before I apologize to you now or ever again!” -Colonel Dax to General Broulard
- “There are few things more fundamentally encouraging and stimulating than seeing someone else die.” -General Broulard
- “I’m not afraid of dying tomorrow, only getting killed.” -Private Arnaud
- “I can’t understand these armchair officers, fellas trying to fight a war from behind a desk, waving papers at the enemy, worrying about whether a mouse is gonna run up their pants leg.” -General Mireau
- “I don’t know, General. If I had the choice between mice and Mausers, I think I’d take the mice every time.” -Colonel Dax