Monday, March 27, 2017

‘Paths of Glory’: Stanley Kubrick’s First Step Towards Cinema Immortality

Via Instapundit:  There’s a picture that will always be good, years from now, the great Kirk Douglas told Roger Ebert back in 1969. “I don’t have to wait fifty years to know that; I know it now.” The film he was referring to was Stanley Kubrick’s touching First World War drama Paths of Glory, in which the master tells the story of a group of French soldiers court-martialed for cowardice during the trench war with the Germans, and their moral commander who decides to defend them in court. Paths of Glory came out in 1957, was released exactly on Christmas, and managed to cover the cost of its production, but not achieve any significant financial gain. This comes to no surprise given the themes it chose to explore and the obstacles it faced in its initial run. The film’s obvious anti-military subtext was met with criticism and even censorship: the French government pressured United Artists not to release it in France, it was withdrawn from the Berlin Film Festival in Germany’s attempt not to irritate France, thanks to Francisco Franco’s government Paths of Glory was shown in Spain as late as in 1986, American bases in Europe refused to show it for a long time, and even the Swiss thought it was too provocative, keeping it censored until 1970. Today, Paths of Glory is considered one of Kubrick’s legitimate masterpieces, demonstrating the technique and style which Kubrick would show in his later works, a brave, poignant work of art set in the trenches, where mood and blood tend to obscure the humanity and reason. Led by Kirk Douglas, without whom the film probably wouldn’t have even seen the light of day, Paths of Glory is Kubrick’s first crucial step on his very own path to glory, a thoughtful, intelligent piece of filmmaking that illuminates the absurdity of war and the tragedy of the human condition. Having directed the critically praised The Killing in 1956, Kubrick was looking for a project to follow it up, deciding to work on The Burning Secret, a film based on Stefan Zweig’s short story. After Dore Schary, the head of production at MGM, left the studio, Kubrick gave up on the project and remembered Humphrey Cobb’s ‘Paths of Glory’ he had admired since his early days. He acquired the rights to this fictional account inspired by the events that had really happened in France in 1915 for mere ten thousand dollars from Cobb’s widow, most likely surprised at his interest in a book that had been out-of-print for a long time. Douglas, the owner of Bryna Productions, was intrigued and used his influence to get the film’s production started. Even though he thought no money could be possibly made from a film like this, he also felt such a film needed to be made. United Artists agreed and Kubrick was given the green light. Paths of Glory was shot in Bavaria, at the Geiselgasteig Studios and Schleissheim Palace near Munich.

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9 comments:

Trooper York said...

"Paths of Glory" is a great film.

The only one of Kubricks films that I actually like.

Sixty Grit said...

Schwanda der Dudelsackspieler - the things you learn along the way - that is a the German name for a Czech opera, one that I had never heard of until I was watching reruns of Frasier. Also, what an apt word for bagpipes.

edutcher said...

It's your standard Lefty anti-war movie which is doubtless why Kirk did it.

The Adolphe Menjou character is straight out of the newspapers of the time and is pretty phony (both the Hun and the Frawgs did everything they could to figure a way to cut down casualties).

Not my dish of lapsang soochong.

ndspinelli said...

We had film study in high school. The entire school would watch a flick in the auditorium and then English and History classes would analyze and discuss. Paths of Glory was one of those films. It is, as Trooper led off saying, a great flick. We also watched An American in Paris, Guns of Navarone, and a few others. I don't like most musicals but we all laughed heartily when Oscar Levant was on the screen in An American in Paris. At the time, Oscar would make appearances on the Merv Griffin show and we all loved his schtick.

Taking after my grandfather, who started his restaurant by selling sandwiches in the street, I would sell bags of popcorn, candy, chips, etc. The nuns tried to stop me but the head nun said it showed enterprise and let me continue.

Trooper York said...

Well ed some of the best movies are anti-war movies. Fort Apache. A Walk in the Sun. Go Tell it to the Spartans. Even the Green Berets.

Nobody with an ounce of sense likes war.

Then new Mel Gibson flick is a great example of one. "Hacksaw Ridge" is really enjoyable. Mel Gibson is not a pussy.

"Paths of Glory" was more an examination of the French sensibility. Their fatalism. Their corruption. You see echoes of it today in their attitude to terror. Marie Le Pen is fighting against that. I hope she succeeds. We need that. All of us. In France and here in the USA.

ricpic said...

Well, the Adolphe Menjou character may have been phony but he played it so well!

Were Adolphe Menjou and Claude Rains ever seen in the same place at the same time?

ampersand said...

I've never seen "Paths of Glory" but have seen most of his other ones. Kubrick needs a new category ,Slow-Motion or No-Motion Pictures. "Barry Lyndon" was the worst, I thought it reached "The End" but it still had an hour and a half left.

Were Adolphe Menjou and Claude Rains ever seen in the same place at the same time?

Possibly in "The Invisible Man".

edutcher said...

Trooper York said...

Well ed some of the best movies are anti-war movies. Fort Apache. A Walk in the Sun. Go Tell it to the Spartans. Even the Green Berets.

I wouldn't describe "A Walk in the Sun" or "The Green Berets" as anti-war, but that's me. "Fort Apache" is more a character study of somebody convinced he's the only one who can be right.

Nobody with an ounce of sense likes war.

OK, but look at Auschwitz or the killing fields of Cambodia and tell me we should never fight. One thing I liked about Trump's patronage of Sessions and Stephen Miller is the idea that, instead of the Smart Diplomacy of the Choom Gang and the Ozark Mafia, there's nothing wrong with picking our fights a lot more judiciously.

"Paths of Glory" was more an examination of the French sensibility. Their fatalism. Their corruption.

Maybe in WWII, but not I. When the taxis of Paris ferried replacements to the front lines of the Marne, that was their Dunkirk (I know, they won). The French brass agonized (a lot more than the Limeys) over their casualties and tried all kinds of ways to cut them, such as going with short bombardments before an attack instead of weeks-long barrages that chewed up the ground so badly the men were sitting ducks.

And ric is right, Adolphe Menjou was an excellent actor. I think he was Claude's valet in "Lawrence".

Trooper York said...

I think a film that depicts what a waste war is can be termed anti-war. Not preachy like "Coming Home" or "Johnny Get Your Gun" but still the implication is still there.