Sunday, May 29, 2005

Memorial Day Film Festival, Part 3

Paths of Glory, Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 World War I classic, almost didn’t get made. No studio wanted to do it until Kirk Douglas signed on to star. Even then, it was pretty low budget, filmed in black and white and costing less than a million dollars. And it’s very short, just 84 minutes. But it packs a wallop.

To summarize the movie: French General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) orders General Mireau (George Macready) to do the impossible — take an impregnable German position within two days. The operation is doomed to horrible failure. The French advance is halted, and Mireau orders French artillery to fire on their own men to push them forward. The battery commander refuses to act. To cover his ass, Mireau orders that three soldiers, one from each company, be tried and executed for cowardice. Broulard argues that such executions will be “a perfect tonic” for the troops: “One way to maintain discipline is to shoot a man now and then.”

In war, men are cannon fodder. Never has that been better illustrated than in Paths of Glory.


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