Paths of Glory
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France,1916. General Mireau is persuaded by General Broulard that a successful attack on "the Anthill," a well-nigh impregnable position which is held by the enemy, will advance his career. Under Mireau's orders, Colonel Dax leads the regiment in the doomed attack, predictably suffering heavy losses. Unable to admit responsibility, Mireau, together with Broulard, selects three men from the regiment to be court-martialed for cowardice. A trained lawyer, Dax offers to defend his men; in the process, he becomes increasingly aware of the callousness of commanders and the absurdity of war.
After directing The Killing (1956) for MGM, a low-budget film which nonetheless barely broke even, Kubrick developed a script in collaboration with Calder Willingham under the supervision of Dore Schary, then head of production: The Burning Secret, based on a short story by Stefan Zweig. After Schary's departure, Kubrick and Willingham abandoned the project and turned to the novel Paths of Glory by Humphrey Cobb, a work which Kubrick had admired for years. Although sometimes characterized as a true story, it is instead a fictional account inspired loosely by true events. Cobb's sole novel, it's influence can be seen in later war-themed works such as William Faulkner's A Fable and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead.
Kirk Douglas, who had formed his own production company, Bryna productions, took an interest in the project after seeing The Killing. It was only his star power that helped push it through at United Artists. Douglas writes in his 1988 autobiography The Ragman's Son: "I trapped them into doing it, by saying I had a deal with MGM, and if they didn't want to make the movie, to let me know immediately." The budget was set at $900,000, with $350,000 set aside for Douglas' fee as the lead actor. Thanks to careful planning and the relatively low production costs of shooting overseas, the film looks much more expensive than it actually was. Commenting on Kubrick's legendary ego, Douglas writes, "...wherever we went, Stanley made sure they stuck signs saying HARRIS-KUBRICK all around like FOR RENT signs. I was tempted to say, Get rid of all those signs and put up a sign that says BRYNA....It amused me that he was so anxious about the HARRIS-KUBRICK signs. I'm just surprised that he didn't want the signs to say just KUBRICK." However, Douglas respected Kubrick enough to have him hired a few years later as the director of Spartacus (1960), replacing Anthony Mann.
Paths of Glory was shot entirely in Germany in the run-down Geiselgasteig Studios outside of Munich, using a nearby field for the battle scene and a chateau for the headquarters of the commanding officers. A realistic battlefield was constructed, wired with explosives and strewn with craters, debris, muddy gullies, barbed wire, and of course trenches. The trenches themselves were made some six feet wide - in World War I trenches were actually about four feet wide - in order to accommodate the camera for the film's legendary tracking shots in "the Anthill" attack sequence. Kubrick says in Alexander Walker's book Stanley Kubrick Directs: "For this sequence, we had six cameras, one behind the other on a long dolly track which ran parallel to the attack. The battlefield was divided into five 'dying zones' and each extra was given a number ranging from one to five and told to 'die' in that zone, if possible near an explosion."
The premiere of the film took place in Munich on September 18, 1957. For many years it was banned in France and Switzerland due to its supposed anti-French sentiment. When the film was selected for the 1958 Berlin Film Festival, the French threatened to withdraw altogether if the film was shown there. It was also banned on American military bases because of its anti-military theme. It was, however, admired by Winston Churchill for the realism of its battle scenes. Although lauded by critics as one of the great war films, its box-office receipts were disappointing, due in part to the harsh subject matter and the above-mentioned restrictions in the international marketplace. But, on a personal level, Paths of Glory was particularly rewarding for Kubrick because it was on the set that he met his future wife, Susanne Christian, who closes the film with her moving rendition of a German song.
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Producer: James B. Harris
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Calder Willingham and Jim Thompson; based on the novel by Humphrey Cobb
Cinematography: George Krause
Editing: Eva Kroll
Music: Gerald Fried
Principal Cast: Kirk Douglas (Colonel Dax), Ralph Meeker (Corporal Paris), Adolphe Menjou (General Broulard), George Macready (General Mireau), Wayne Morris (Lieutenant Roget), Timothy Carey (Private Ferol), Joseph Turkel (Private Arnaud), Susanne Christian (The German Girl).
BW-88m. Closed captioning.
by James Steffen