Paths Of Glory (U.)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick. 1957.
Starring Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, Joseph Turkel, Timothy Carey and Richard Anderson. Black and White. 83 mins. Released on blu-ray by Eureka! Part of the Masters of Cinema series.
I don't know when 88 became such a big deal outside of white supremacist circles but there has been a flurry of Stanley Kubrick activity on either side of what would've been his 88th birthday. There was a big screen re-issue of Barry Lyndon, the Criterion collection release of Dr Strangelove, Warners included 2001, The Shining and Full Metal Jacket in their Iconic Moments collection and there was the art exhibition Day Dreaming With Stanley Kubrick. (Day dreaming – with Stanley Kubrick, why would you day dream with Stanley Kubrick? That is dysfunctinal irony.)
Anyway, now Eureka are getting in on it with a Masters of Cinema release of Paths of Glory, the Kubrick film for people that don’t like Kubrick films. This first world war drama about a doomed offensive and the court martial that follows its failure, is a perfect merging of Kubrickian and conventional Hollywood: it is coldly fatalistic about the human condition (that would be the Kubrickian part) yet humane enough to genuinely care about the characters who were suffering in it.
It was his fourth film (and his second great one, after race track heist thriller The Killing) and already he had established many of the distinctive touches for which he would be famed: the long tracking shots; men moving in ape like postures; light pouring in through the large château windows. All that is Kubrickian in the film would be done better in later films; the unKubrickian parts would never be seen again. For the die hard Kubrick fan they wouldn't be greatly missed, but you can see why other people miss them.
No other Kubrick films (excepting Spartacus which was not his project) would find space for Kirk Douglas's crusading, righteous heroics. The resistance to such big star grandstanding is understandable (even here you could argue it detracts from the films credibility; that Douglas seems to be an incongruously contemporary figure, let loose in a period setting), but it is a very fine piece of big star grandstanding. The Douglas dimple of disdain is a potent dramatic weapon. The performances are immaculate throughout, particularly Meeker, Turkel and Carey as the condemned men.
Paths of Glory’s place in the pantheon of great films has long been assured, but you might be surprised by just how much of a punch it still packs today. It has one of those inexorable tragic plots where the mechanical predestination of the characters’ fate can often grate but the final scene is moving in a way that transcends all the manipulation used to get to it.
High-definition digital presentation
New feature-length commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin
New video interview with Kubrick scholar Peter Kramer
New video interview with filmmaker Richard Ayoade
New video interview with critic and author Richard Combs
Original theatrical trailer
English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired
Isolated music & effects track
A 36-PAGE booklet featuring a new essay by Glenn Kenny, an interview with Kubrick, and rare archival imagery.