Paths of Glory (1957)

paths of glory poster 1957 movie stanley kubrick
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Great cast, great looking

Dark and you can tell where the story is going

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Paths of Glory

Studio:  Bryna Productions

Genre(s):  War/Action/Adventure

Release Date(s):  December 25, 1957

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated


A hot time in the old trenches tonight!

It is 1916, and World War I is raging. Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) and his men have been given the assignment to take a German stronghold called “the Anthill” after Brigadier General Paul Mireau (George Macready) learns that taking the Anthill could mean another commission.  When the offensive becomes a disaster and a third of the troops don’t even make it to the battlefield, Mireau orders the soldiers called up on charges of cowardice.  Private Maurice Ferol (Timothy Carey), Private Pierre Arnaud (Joe Turkel), and Corporal Philippe Paris (Ralph Meeker) learn that they will be facing the firing squad, and a military trial with Dax as their defense could be their only hope.


I thought you said Trench Walking…not Warfare

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, Paths of Glory is an adaptation of the 1935 novel by Humphrey Cobb.  The follow-up to Kubrick’s The Killing in 1956, this movie was released to controversy due to its subject matter and was loosely based on the execution of four French soldiers during World War I.  Since its release, Paths of Glory has become an anti-war classic and also has been released by Criterion (Criterion #538) and was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry.

I love Kubrick, but Paths of Glory was always one of those films that I never could stomach watching until recently.  Despite its short running time, the movie is one of those type of movies that you can see where it is going to lead…and it is a dark, dark path.

The movie is out to show the frustration tied to war and idea of a “good” sacrifice.  The idea plays out over and over again in the movie with first the men being sacrificed as a sign that the French won’t quit fighting, Mireau willing to sacrifice trained soldiers to get them to fight, the sacrifice of the three soldiers to “inspire” the men, and the sacrifice continues on when the war continues…it is endless and ridiculous.


Hey guys…you’re just goofing about executing us…right?

It is this sentiment that led the movie to be controversial.  The French didn’t like how they were portrayed and much of the world was still riding high on the post-World War II victory.  To show soldiers slaughtered and killed for literally pride and status, didn’t fly well, but now can be seen with more perspective and even gained more weight after Vietnam.

Kirk Douglas is great as the leader of the military trying to stop the cycle of sacrifice and later played the heavy in a similar role in a Tales from the Crypt—Season 3 episode called “Yellow” (which is fun to watch and contrast).  George Macready is also good as the slimy Mireau and a good example of the blind leadership.  The three helpless soldiers played by Ralph Meeker, Joe Turkel, and Timothy Carey do a good job, but the shortness of the film doesn’t allow you to get to know them very well.  Christiane Harlan appears at the end of the film as a German singer and is the only female actress in the film (who later married Kubrick).


Is this one of those things where you just freak out out and then say “Got You!”?

The movie looks great like most Kubrick films.  I like the long shots of the trench walks and the clausterphobic feel of the film during the war and jail scenes when compared to the open and big look of the people funding the war in their big open palaces.  You can start to see Kubrick develop his style in this film and it is interesting to look at his early work compared to his later films (especially something like Full Metal Jacket which also tackled war).

Paths of Glory is a good film, but I do find it a bit difficult to watch because it is quite cynical and dark.  The movie is a must for those who love Kubrick and is worth seeking out.  The fact that it is less than an hour and a half is a blessing and a curse in that you know that the ending is coming soon, but it doesn’t allow much room for character development.  Kubrick followed Paths of Glory with Spartacus in 1960.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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