Stanley Kubrick is a director who has made multiple appearances on this list. There is a reason for that, he’s very talented and has a skill for telling stories in a way that transcends the images on the screen. “Paths of Glory” is a 1957 Kubrick film I had never heard of until I started this list. It stars Kirk Douglas as a colonel in the French army and is set against the backdrop of World War I trench warfare. So does this much lauded film deserve the classic label? Read on…
Should this film be considered a classic? Yes, it should. This is a strongly anti-war film (which is typical of Kubrick) but it is also a very compelling drama that shows the horrors of trench warfare and how a disconnected military chain of command can lead to poor decisions and horrific casualties. At times, the portrayals of the disconnected generals border on caricature, but the point the film makes about poor leadership and blind devotion to self-promotion is still very potent. To top it all off, the acting by all involved is top notch. From the tense court room scenes anchored by Douglas to the incredibly sad final night in prison of the three wrongly convicted soldiers and how each faces death differently. Also worth noting is the camera work during the trench warfare scenes. Kubrick really puts you in the action and he does it all while never showing you one enemy soldier. I believe this was definitely purposeful because he keeps the viewer focused on true villains in his mind: war and the inept the chain of command. The only “enemy” who sees screen time is an innocent German girl in the final scene of the film whose emotional song reminds even the hardened soldiers of their humanity and the humanity of their enemy.
Would I own this film? I already do. This is a good film for military officers to watch. The film is a great reminder of what can happen when leadership becomes completely disconnected from the life and sacrifices of the men on the front. Plus, the film is just wonderfully acted and technically a joy to watch. There is no denying Kubrick’s talent as a director. Also, the ending of this film is one of the most powerful I have ever seen. It’s worth watching just to see how Kubrick ends the film.
Here’s a clip of some great tracking shots from the film: