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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 7/27/99

Paths of Glory
1957 (1999) - MGM/United Artists (MGM)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

The Films of Stanley Kubrick on DVD

Paths of Glory Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/C-

Specs and Features

87 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, 4-page production booklet, film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (32 chapters), languages: English & French (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: English & French, Close Captioned

"I may be many things... but I am not your boy."

Ahhh yes.... I may be revealing a bit of the Neanderthal male in myself, but in my book, there's nothing quite like a good war movie. And while Paths of Glory may have lost a measure of its resonance with age (World War I was, after all, a long time ago), it still ranks well among the best films of the genre. And it is, in my opinion, one of Kubrick's better (and certainly more conventional) films. For Paths of Glory is much more than just a standard war movie. It's a story of the full range of human emotional reaction - greed, fear, cowardice, bravery and honor - in the midst of the most difficult circumstances.

The events of the film take place in France, among the men of the French Army, during the first World War. An order is handed down by the French High Command, that a particularly difficult German position (called "the anthill") is to be taken immediately, and at all costs. The commanding officer of the solders tasked to do it, General Mireau (George Macready), at first resists the idea, knowing that the losses among his troops in such an attack, without reinforcements, would be overwhelming. But when the right incentive is applied, a little flattery and a significant promotion, the General's reluctance begins to disappear. The order is thus handed down to the regiment commander who will actually lead the attack into no man's land, Colonel Dax (played by Kirk Douglas).

Dax immediately recognizes the sheer folly of the assault, but threatened with being sent on leave if he chooses not to "enthusiastically support the attack", he relents. When zero-hour arrives, Dax bravely leads his men into the line of fire, where most are cut to pieces. And due to the cowardice of one of his Lieutenants, some of his troops never leave the trenches. The General, furious with the result, decides that the attack failed because Dax's men have "milk running through their veins." It is decided that three of his men will be chosen at random, regardless of their actions during the assault, and will be placed on trial for cowardice and mutiny - a charge which could mean death if they're found guilty. Dax, a lawyer before the war, must now defend his men in the volatile battlefield of a military court, and fight behind-the-scenes politics to prevent what is otherwise destined to become a mockery of justice.

This is just a damn good film. Kubrick's script (co-written by Jim Thompson and Calder Willingham, based on a book by Humphrey Cobb), raises a number of issues of morality and human nature, without being too heavy-handed. This film could easily have dissolved into a courtroom drama, but instead chooses to focus on the actions (and reactions) of the men affected by the court's decisions - we actually spend very little time in the courtroom itself. And while this isn't Saving Private Ryan, the realism that Kubrick and cinematographer Georg Krause manage to evoke during the sequence involving the assault itself, is completely believable - quite a feat considering that this film was made in 1957, without today's digital effects. Kirk Douglas excels in this role, delivering one his best-ever lines of dialogue on film, with full-on, vein-popping venom. You tell that rat-bastard, Kirk! And the film's ending, despite its uncomfortable feel at first, manages to restore just the right measure of hope, to both Dax and the viewer.

Compared to the rest of Kubrick's films on DVD, MGM's Paths of Glory is simply outstanding. The print used, while exhibiting some dust and grain, is of exceptional quality. And while the transfer seems to exhibit some slight analog noise (meaning that the DVD may have been mastered using an analog source), the resulting B&W, full frame picture is tremendous nonetheless. There is very little in the way of compression or digital artifacting visible. The detail is crisp, with excellent clarity at all times. And the contrast is also very good, maintaining solid blacks, while still leaving plenty of detail discernible in the darkest areas of the picture. Surprisingly, the audio is also excellent, in its original mono. The dialogue is clear, and well mixed with other sound effects. And despite the fact that no surround sound is used, you will feel yourself reeling from the auditory assault of exploding shells during the attack on the anthill (see chapter 10). As for extras, we get the usual booklet that MGM includes in their keep cases, along with a theatrical trailer of good quality.

As I said at the start, there have certainly been better war films than Paths of Glory. But it has managed to remain a powerful and poignant film, despite its age. And this DVD definitely delivers one of the very best presentations of a Kubrick film on the format. If you choose to pick this disc up (and I recommend that you do), I dare say you won't be disappointed.

Bill Hunt
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The Films of Stanley Kubrick on DVD

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