Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Twenty-Four, Part Two – ‘Paths of Glory’ (1957)

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The Premise
Film fanatics and friends
Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. It’s been a whole year since the first Film Club, and after a winter break it returns to look at the final four films. Will the boys’ favourites find appreciation or disdain from the one another?

In at number two on Fred’s list is a classic anti-war movie made in the early career of one of Hollywood’s most iconic directors. It’s a film with a message. Will Yasser enjoy it?

You can read the entries from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.

To have a look at what Fred has picked so far, click here.

Likewise, for Yasser’s choices, click here.
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Fred: My penultimate choice, and therefore my second-favourite movie, is the 1957 film ‘Paths of Glory‘. It was directed by Stanley Kubrick, but it’s not exactly a typical Kubrick film, is it?

Yasser: I don’t think Kubrick had a typical genre. He was very much an all-rounder

FS: No, that’s true. I suppose what I mean is that in terms of style and scope it doesn’t have much in common with most of his work

YA: He was an ambitious film-maker, and he didn’t make as many movies as the studios wanted, but what he did make – ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘, ‘Dr. Strangelove‘, ‘Full Metal Jacket‘, ‘Barry Lyndon‘ – are all very good films. ‘Spartacus‘ and ‘The Shining‘ are two of the best films I’d say I’ve seen

Paths of Glory (1957)‘Paths of Glory’
1957 – USA
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, Ralph Meeker, Timothy Carey

FS: Okay, you are a Kubrick fan. Where does this fit in?

YA: The decision to film it in black and white was a good one

FS: Why was that?

YA: I suppose the same reason why ‘Schindler’s List‘ would not have been as good if it was in colour. There’s a more serious tone to it

Kubrick on the trenches setFS: A more documentary feel?

YA: The gravity of the situation the people on screen are in won’t feel as desperate as it does at times. I might be talking absolute shite right now, but that is how it feels

FS: (laughs) No, I think you are right. The film has a serious message and if it looks like ‘The Great Escape‘ that might be taken away from. ‘The Guns of Navarone‘ has a strong anti-war message, but people just see it as a big action film. Gregory Peck was always disappointed by that

YA: I find in some serious films, black and white helps the directors as they know that the shadows help with the drama

YA: This is close to your top spot, Fredders. Why is it so high in your estimations?

FS: This is the only film I’ve seen in the last ten years that ever made me think ‘you know, this might be better than my number one‘. I want to say from the off that I am Kirk Douglas with Kubrick on setnot a big fan of Kubrick. For me, he was a wildly self-indulgent film-maker whose best work was done under the close control of the studio system. I’ve seen a number of his most famous works and, whilst they all have good moments, I found them to be all very disappointing. ‘Paths of Glory’, though, blew me away. It goes against every Hollywood convention for a war film that had been built up since Pearl Harbour and has a proper impact because of that

YA: It’s a sad story, not a heroic one

FS: Exactly. It’s not a ‘flag waver

YA: See, I gotta say that after I finished watching it I was left angry

FS: Good! That’s how you should feel. The film’s done its job if that’s how you felt

George Macready and Adolphe MenjouYA: It is a shocking film

FS: It is shocking. The ending in particular is not what you are expecting and left me stunned into wide-eyed silence the first time I watched it

YA: Yep. That’s why I was so pissed

FS: (laughs) But I think it’s that moment that turns it from a good film into a great one

YA: It really makes you think

FS: It’s an incredible story, isn’t it? Three soldiers put up on a court martial and facing the death penalty as an example to hundreds who were made attack an unbreachable position on the battlefield by their generals. To think it’s based on a true story, and I’m sure one of many examples where greed and megalomania took Wayne Morris, Douglas and Ralph Meekerover any sense of moral decency

YA: The motherfucker who sent these poor fucks to attack ‘The Anthill’ knew it was a bad decision but his ambition, his own personal gain, stuck in the forefront of his mind

FS: Ah yes! The excellent George Macready as General Mireau

YA: I didn’t like General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) either. He’s the one who offers Mireau the opportunity to get promoted, but then turns his back on him when Mireau Menjou and Douglasfinds disfavour

FS: Mireau is the more obvious villain, but Broulard is every bit as guilty. Again, he’s out to serve himself. I’m glad the film made an impact with you

YA: Mireau is the more one-dimensional character, but Macready’s performance is not. He plays him very well. You can see his eyes light up when Broulard mentions promotion

FS: Good, good

YA: Then this pompous air surrounds him whenever he talked to Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) or anyone else, like he’s been ordained to achieve this victory and what he says is always right

FS: He looked down on everyone. He spoke to Dax as Macready: The more obvious villainif he were a schoolboy, and there is that wonderful scene in the trenches where Mireau uses the same practiced patter with each soldier he talks to

YA: He was played very well, but I don’t imagine it’s hard to play someone like that. You just have to act like your shit doesn’t stink when it really does

FS: How about Menjou?

YA: Broulard had a more practiced apathy – a fake smile. He was quick to change sides when it suited him. He saw the whole thing as a Chess match

FS: I agree with you there. You see that Dax is very wary of him when they are on screen together, even though Broulard is a more jovial and welcoming presence Kubrick with Menjouthan Mireau. Menjou is very good – always has been when I’ve seen him – but he’s a bit forgotten

YA: I thought out of the two of them, trying to fuck each other over to get a higher position, Broulard was the more cunning and more likely to advance

FS: His attempts to make Dax his ‘yes-man’ despite everything that happens is a perfect example of what he is willing to do

YA: Speaking of Dax… Kirk Douglas

FS: How good is he?

YA: Well, we do love Kirk

FS: (laughs) Yes we do

Kirk Douglas as DaxYA: I don’t think I’ve seen him put a foot wrong in anything

FS: I was about to say the same, certainly not in his heyday anyway

YA: He never won an Oscar, did he? I think he got an honourary award, but that’s not the same

FS: Three nominations, no wins

YA: ‘Paths of Glory’ was released in 1957…

FS: Yes

YA: … I think Douglas’ performance in this pretty much cemented him as the lead in Kubrick’s next film in 1960, ‘Spartacus’

FS: Actually, it was the other way around. Interesting story. Douglas was the producer and star of ‘Spartacus’, having decided to make an epic in anger after being passed over for ‘Ben-Hur‘. He fell out with ‘Spartacus’s original director DouglasAnthony Mann and hired Kubrick

YA: Beautiful! Things have a way of working out. Kirk Douglas has a way of being broody on-screen

FS: Yes, and boy does he need it here!

YA: He grinds his teeth, sticks his chin out, and stares. He doesn’t need to say anything and you know what he means

Dax goes over the topFS: (laughs) Yes. Excellent! This is a great performance. He has some great scenes

YA: I think my favourite is when he’s sat with both Generals at the table in Broulard’s chateau

FS: The three of them only have two scenes all together, but they work really well together. The court martial scene contains one of the great movie speeches…

YA: He’s fighting a system he works for and there is nothing going in his favour

FS: Douglas plays the whole film with suppressed anger. Dax knows that losing his temper will get him nowhere so he keeps it under wraps, but it’s always there just Timothy Carey, Meeker and Joe Turkelbelow the surface

YA: Douglas, Macready and Menjou were all fine actors, but he one I really felt for was Ralph Meeker as Corporal Paris

FS: So, there are three soldiers court martialled, all with different personalities. Meeker plays the most ‘normal’ of the three and he’s very good

YA: It was important to touch on at least one of their backgrounds so you have a better understanding of who they were prior to being charged with cowardice

FS: Otherwise it would have been too impersonal

Carey in the court martial sceneYA: It was good to see them go through all of the emotions as they waited in prison – anger, sadness, hope, regret

FS: What did you think of Joe Turkel and Timothy Carey as the other two soldiers? Not much screen time, but right for the roles

YA: I don’t think there is one actor in the film who doesn’t perform well

YA: Kubrick…

FS: Yes?

YA: … he’s odd. He could have been bigger and better. I know he rarely had a ‘miss’, but he could have made more films

FS: I’m not against a film-maker picking and choosing their projects, but he took it Kubrick shares a joke with Douglas and Susanne Christianto an extreme

YA: I think it can be better for a director to have a ‘miss’ now and again to get them back on track

FS: You are asking the wrong person. I find a lot of his output pretty boring, if I’m honest

YA: There were bits of the direction and cinematography that I didn’t like – mainly because of the lighting

FS: Interesting…

YA: I felt it was too bright sometimes when it was night time

FS: I love the way it’s filmed

In the cellsYA: It’s a minor detail

FS: Was there anything else you didn’t like?

YA: The subject seemed far-fetched, but reading into it later, this shit really happened. research strengthened the film

FS: That’s good to hear

YA: You don’t understand how pissed I was. Powerful shit, Fredders. I’ve gotta give it to you. I think it’s the downfall of the film – everything in it is so bleak

Court MartialFS: Surely if the film has set out to make you angry, to make you think about the injustice and senselessness of what went on, and it succeeds in doing that then the film was pitched just right

YA: Yes, that’s true. I’m not arguing with that. It’s a good downfall, if that makes sense

FS: (laughs) No, but I like it

FS: Any questions before you rate it?

YA: Actually, yes. This is a war movie. Did that have a bearing on your decision to have this in second spot?

FS: I’m not sure I understand the question. I love war movies, though this is the only one on my list and it’s not a typical example of the genre. However the fact it’s a war movie has no bearing on how highly I’ve ranked it. I think as an example of story telling it’s nearly perfect. There is no long build up, just the salient facts and Richard Anderson, Douglas and Macreadythen we are on to the main body of the story. A lot of film-makers would have taken a sombre tale like this and spun it out over three hours

YA: A subtle jab at ‘Schindler’s List’?

FS: No because the story of ‘Schindler’s List’ needed that run time as it had more complex background to cover. I hesitate to use ‘High Noon‘ and ‘Bad Day at Black Rock‘ as examples, as I know you didn’t like them all that much, but those films and this show that a movie that clocks in at around 90 minutes can be just as effective as a longer film

YA: ‘Paths of Glory’ is a difficult film to watch as you have to allow yourself to get angry at something that doesn’t personally affect you. The film unfolds simply enough but it’s the character performances and the bleak story that make this film stand out. Kirk Douglas does what he does best. George Macready and Adolphe Menjou play two generals out for what they can gain at the expense of their subordinates. Out of the two, the latter is much better than the former. Out of the main cast, however, Ralph Meeker is the worthy winner out of an array of good performances. He, Turkel and Carey Paths of Glorymanage to give you a fair idea of what it would be like if you were faced with execution.

FS: Super!

YA: Kubrick did a wonderful job of getting the tone and pace right. He used the black and white effectively, even if the lighting was sometimes odd. All in all, the story is gripping and it leaves you questioning people’s morality. The film has stuck with me since viewing it. A very good film, but not completely perfect. 9/10

FS: I’ll take that all day long

Next time: We have made it to the top. What is the film at number one on Yasser’s list? Watch this space to find out

One thought on “Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Twenty-Four, Part Two – ‘Paths of Glory’ (1957)

    […] Paths of Glory […]

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