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.
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
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
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 not 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
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 over 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 finds 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
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 than 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
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…
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 Anthony 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
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
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
YA: It was good to see them go through all of the emotions as they waited in prison – anger, sadness, hope, regret
YA: I don’t think there is one actor in the film who doesn’t perform well
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
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
YA: I felt it was too bright sometimes when it was night time
FS: I love the way it’s filmed
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
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 then 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 manage to give you a fair idea of what it would be like if you were faced with execution.
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