BP’s Top 100 Movie Challenge #70: Paths of Glory, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
I knew nothing about Paths of Glory before this viewing. I like war movies and was delighted that this was a film about World War I. The trench warfare was horrific and Paths of Glory doesn’t shy away from showing that. The scene when the French army is attempting to take Ant Hill does a great job of showing what an impossible mission it was from the start. The distance they must cover over the pock-marked terrain, and in clear view of the enemy leaves no doubt in the viewers mind that it was a suicide mission. When you add to it that General Mireau is willing to shell his own men to get them to leave the trench, you know they could never win.
The film also makes it clear how utterly unjust the execution of the three soldiers is. Colonel Dax played marvelously by Kirk Douglas does his best to save his men and show the court that it is unfair to blame them for the failure to capture the hill. In the end, the men are executed and it is very difficult to watch them each come to terms with that fact. One man has a head injury and is literally propped up on a stretcher to be executed, another completely breaks down crying and praying and begging, and the final man keeps it together and dies with the most dignity. It was heart breaking to watch them be executed as a mere show of politics.
Paths of Glory shows some of the real horrors of war, specifically trench warfare. We see a man with shell-shock/PTSD and how he is treated like a coward. Also a scene when two soldiers discuss how they would prefer to die, because they are all more afraid to be injured then to die. In the final scene when the soldiers are cat calling a terrified German girl but then transition to singing along with her and crying you see that they are all just human’s in a terrible situation trying to make the best of it. General Broulard refers to Colonel Dax as an idealist and I think that he is. He refuses to take General Mireau’s command and returns to his men, seeing them singing and crying. He understands the true horrors of what it means to be a soldier and the General does not.
It was interesting to watch this film only a few weeks after watching The Bridge on the River Kwai, as the two films share some similar themes. In The Bridge on the River Kwai Colonel Nicholson couldn’t see past his own uniform to what was really right in order to follow the rules of war. In Paths of Glory General Mireau is willing to sacrifice all of his men and three more innocent lives to prove a point and not be seen as a failure. War has a way of making monsters of good men and Paths of Glory certainly highlights that.
I usually don’t respond to Stanley Kubrick’s films positively but I was moved by Paths of Glory and am very happy to have had the chance to see it.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Paths of Glory ranking: Carrier