Paths of Glory (1957)

Paths of Glory (1957), directed by Stanley Kubrick.

In WW1, when French army units refuse to leave their trenches for a suicidal charge, the general has three innocent soldiers selected for trial and execution. Colonel Drax (Kirk Douglas), their commander, defends them at the trial and makes a valiant attempt at blackmail to save them, to no avail.

It is indeed an anti-war film, not only in regard to the madness of trench warfare, but in the unjust and inhuman bureaucratic machinery that chews up everyone involved. As the top general says: we get a lot of pressure from the press and politicians for results and they don't care how it is done. The corruption extends from the top all the way down to the poor soldiers living and dying in the mud.

It is a vivid portrayal of the trenches with stark black and white photography. A long sequence shows a disastrous assault on an impossible target.

A good companion piece would be King & Country (1964), about the trial and execution of a British deserter in the same war, very grim.

A lot of the dialogue seems stagey, although Douglas copes with this better than some of the others. George Macready, playing the most villainous general, gives an over the top performance as a gold-plated self-serving hypocrite.

Watch Richard Anderson as the smarmy officer who serves as prosecutor at the trial, mugging for the court. He's not so funny at the execution itself.

The three condemned prisoners are Ralph Meeker, Joe Turkel, and Timothy Carey, actors I always watch for.

Kubrick married the woman who sings in the cafe at the end.

This is the first time Blu-ray has made a classic film look like an entirely different movie to me, and I have seen it several times before, including in a theater. The Criterion Blu-ray makes my MGM DVD look pathetic by comparison. I never saw the Criterion DVD, but the MGM is cropped to 1.33 (or open-matte? I no longer have it).

Even the mono audio is much improved, and I hardly ever notice that.

The Blu-ray has a subtitle track but no menu control for it.