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PATHS OF GLORY

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Kirk Douglas, Adolphe Menjou, George Macready 
Director:  Stanley Kubrick 
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  MGM/UA
Features:  Theatrical Trailer
Length:  87 Minutes
Release Date:  June 29, 1999

Film ****

I can sum it up very easily:  Were you blown away by Saving Private Ryan?  Then you need to see Stanley Kubrick's wartime masterpiece, Paths of Glory.

As much as I loved Ryan, I still consider this to be the greatest and most emotionally powerful war story ever filmed.  The battle scenes are some of the most gut wrenchingly realistic you'll ever see.  They're loud, powerful, and filled with the sickening and frightening images of war.  And the story behind the battle peels back the covers on the ugliness of wartime politics as well.

It takes place in the middle of the first World War.  France and Germany have been fighting a grueling, unsuccessful battle in the trenches for a couple of years.  A general (Macready) seeking advancement, orders a suicide mission for the 701st regiment.  They are to attack and hold a strategic military position known as the anthill.  Colonel Dax (Douglas) knows that more than half of his men will die, and the chance of success is slim to none, but he carries out orders and leads the attack.  When it fails miserably, the general decides to make an example of his ‘cowardly' men by having three men stand trial in a court martial, and then be executed by firing squad.

Dax defends his men, knowing full well that it's a matter of the politics of war being prized over the lives of three soldiers, but it is a losing battle.  The deck is stacked against him.  The trial is a loosely played out formality, the decision has already been made.

I don't want to say more about the plot, except that Kubrick, in one of his greatest films, achieves a great emotional depth and resonance within the horrors and insanity of war and the pencil-pushing generals who run it.  The film's masterful climax is suspenseful and riveting, and rings with a true power most films never achieve.

The movie is solidly written and acted (particularly Douglas, in one of his greatest roles), but it is Kubrick's sense of direction and pacing that gives this film it's potency.  It's easy for the audience to identify with the feeling of being pawns in the games of the powers that be, though I doubt many of our situations have been as extreme as this.  This is not a movie to be missed.

 NOTE:  When Stanley Kubrick passed away earlier this year, Steven Speilberg invited some friends over to dinner, and as tribute to his mentor and friend, he played the final scene from this movie.

Video ***1/2

For the most part, this is a stellar black and white transfer.  It is sharp, clean, and crisp, with great clarity of image throughout.  Only in a few places are some scars and cuts noticeable on the source material, but it's hardly distracting. 

Audio ***

The soundtrack is in original mono, but is quite dynamic and powerful just the same, and immerses you in the middle of the action much more than you might expect from mono. All in all, a good example of how a classic film should be preserved on DVD.

Features *

Only a trailer, and a 4 page booklet for those who consider that a ‘feature'.

Summary:

Paths of Glory is, in my opinion, the greatest war film ever made.  Powerful, emotional, and boldly unflinching, it towers above all other entries in the genre with a strong storyline and amazing clarity of vision.  It is safe to assume there would have never been a Saving Private Ryan without this movie as a predecessor.  This is a must own DVD.