Paths of Glory

Paths of Glory Information

Paths of Glory is a 1957 American anti-war film by Stanley Kubrick based on the novel of the same name by Humphrey Cobb. Set during World War I, the film stars Kirk Douglas as Colonel Dax, the commanding officer of French soldiers who refuse to continue a suicidal attack. Dax attempts to defend them against a charge of cowardice in a court-martial.


Cobb's novel had no title when it was finished, so the publisher held a contest. The winning entry came from the ninth stanza of the Thomas Gray 1751 poem "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard".

<poem>The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r, And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave, Awaits alike th'inevitable hour. The paths of glory lead but to the grave.</poem>
The book was a minor success when published in 1935, retelling the true-life affair of four French soldiers who were executed to set an example to the rest of the troops. The novel was adapted to the stage the same year by World War I veteran Sidney Howard. The play was a flop on Broadway because of its harsh anti-war scenes that alienated the audience. Nonetheless, Howard continued to believe in the relevance of the subject matter and thought it should be made into a film, writing, "It seems to me that our motion picture industry must feel something of a sacred obligation to make the picture." Fulfilling Howard's "sacred obligation", Stanley Kubrick decided to adapt it to the screen after he remembered reading the book when he was younger. Kubrick and his partners purchased the film rights from Cobb's widow for $10,000.

Paths of Glory is based loosely on the true story of four French soldiers, executed in 1915 during World War I under General Graud Rveilhac for failure to follow orders. The soldiers were exonerated in 1934. The novel is about the French execution of innocent men to strengthen others' resolve to fight. The French Army did carry out military executions for cowardice, as did most of the other major participants, excluding the United States of America and Australia. The United States sentenced 24 soldiers to death for cowardice, but the sentences were never carried out. However, a significant point in the film is the practice of selecting individuals at random and executing them as a punishment for the sins of the whole group. This is similar to the Roman practice of decimation, which was rarely used by the French Army in World War I. A little known exception is the French decimation (the shooting of every tenth person in a unit) of the 10e Compagnie of 8 Battalion of the Rgiment Mixte de Tirailleurs Algriens. During the retreat, at the beginning of the war, these French-African soldiers refused an order to attack. They were shot on December 15, 1914, near Zillebeke in Flanders.


The film begins with a voiceover describing the trench warfare situation of World War I up to 1916. In a chteau, General Georges Broulard (Adolphe Menjou), a member of the French General Staff, asks his subordinate, the ambitious General Mireau (George Macready), to send his division on a suicide mission to take a well-defended German position called the "Anthill." Mireau initially refuses, citing the impossibility of success, but when Broulard mentions a potential promotion, Mireau quickly convinces himself the attack will succeed.

Mireau proceeds to walk through the trenches, asking several soldiers, "Ready to kill more Germans?" He throws a disturbed private (Fred Bell) out of the regiment for showing signs of shell shock, which Mireau denies the existence of. Mireau leaves the detailed planning of the attack to the 701st Regiment"?s Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas), despite Dax's protests that the only result of the attack will be to weaken the French Army with heavy losses for no benefit.

During a nighttime scouting mission prior to the attack, a drunken lieutenant named Roget (Wayne Morris) sends one of his two men ahead as a scout. Overcome by fear while waiting for the scout's return, he lobs a grenade and retreats. The other soldier"?Corporal Paris (Ralph Meeker)"?finds the body of the scout, killed by the grenade. Having safely returned, he confronts Roget, but Roget denies any wrongdoing, and falsifies his report to Colonel Dax.

The next morning, the attack on the Anthill proceeds. Dax leads the first wave of soldiers over the top into no man's land under heavy fire. None of the men reach the German trenches, and B Company refuse to leave their own trench after sustaining heavy casualties. Mireau, enraged, orders his artillery to open fire on them to force them onto the battlefield. The artillery commander refuses to fire on his own men without written confirmation of the order. Meanwhile, Dax returns to the trenches, and tries to rally B Company to join the battle, but as he climbs out of the trench, the body of a dead French soldier knocks him down. Predictably, the attack was a failure.

To deflect blame for the failure, Mireau decides to court martial 100 of the soldiers for cowardice. Broulard convinces him to reduce the number to three, one from each company. Corporal Paris is chosen because his commanding officer, Roget, wishes to keep him from testifying about his actions in the scouting mission. Private Ferol (Timothy Carey) is picked by his commanding officer because he is a "social undesirable." The last man, Private Arnaud (Joe Turkel), is chosen randomly by lot, despite having been cited for bravery twice previously.

Dax, who was a criminal defense lawyer in civilian life, volunteers to defend the men at their court-martial. The trial however, is a farce, and can accurately be described as a kangaroo court where the rights of the accused are violated. There is no formal written indictment, a court stenographer is not present, and the court refuses to admit evidence that would support acquittal. In his closing statement, Dax challenges the court's authenticity, and requests mercy, saying, "Gentlemen of the court, to find these men guilty would be a crime to haunt each of you till the day you die." Nonetheless, the three men are sentenced to death.

Captain Rousseau (John Stein), the artillery commander who had earlier refused Mireau's order to fire on his own men, arrives to tell Dax about the incident. Dax confronts Broulard as he is attending a ball with sworn statements by the witnesses attesting to Mireau's order to shell his own trenches, and tries to blackmail the General Staff into sparing his men. Broulard takes the statements but brusquely dismisses Dax.

The next morning, the three condemned men are led out into a courtyard, among soldiers from all three companies and senior officers. Arnaud, injured during a desperate outburst in prison, is carried out on a stretcher and tied to the execution post. A sobbing Ferol is blindfolded. Paris is offered a blindfold by Roget, but refuses. Roget, whom Dax has forced to lead the executions, meekly apologizes to Paris for what he has done, eliciting an ambiguous response. All three men are then shot and killed by the firing squad.

Following the execution, Broulard has breakfast with the gloating Mireau. Dax enters, invited by Broulard. Broulard then reveals that Mireau will be investigated for the order to fire on his own men. Mireau leaves angrily, protesting that he has been made a scapegoat. Broulard then blithely offers Mireau's command to Dax, assuming that Dax's attempts to stop the executions were a ploy to gain Mireau's job. Discovering that Dax is in fact sincere, Broulard angrily rebukes him for his idealism while a disgusted Dax calls Broulard a "degenerate, sadistic old man."

After the execution, some of Dax's soldiers are raucously partying at an inn. Their mood shifts as they listen to a captive German girl (Christiane Harlan, later Kubrick's wife) sing The Faithful Hussar, a sentimental folk song. They are unaware that orders have come for them to return to the front. Dax lets the men enjoy a few minutes while his face hardens as he returns to his quarters.

Cast (in order of movie's credits)

  • Kirk Douglas as Colonel Dax, commanding officer, 701st Infantry Regiment
  • Ralph Meeker as Corporal Philippe Paris, 701st Infantry Regiment
  • Adolphe Menjou as Major General Georges Broulard, corps commander
  • George Macready as Brigadier General Paul Mireau, divisional commander
  • Wayne Morris as Lieutenant Roget, company commander, 701st Infantry Regiment
  • Richard Anderson as Major Saint-Auban, Mireau's aide de camp
  • Joe Turkel as Private Pierre Arnaud, 701st Infantry Regiment (credited as Joseph Turkel)
  • Christiane Kubrick as German Singer (credited as Susanne Christian)
  • Jerry Hausner as Caf Proprietor
  • Peter Capell as President of the Court Martial (and narrator)
  • Emile Meyer as Father Dupre
  • Bert Freed as Staff Sergeant Boulanger, 701st Infantry Regiment
  • Kem Dibbs as Private Lejeune, 701st Infantry Regiment
  • Timothy Carey as Private Maurice Ferol, 701st Infantry Regiment
  • Fred Bell as Shell-Shocked Soldier
  • John Stein as Captain Rousseau, artillery battery commander
  • Harold Benedict as Captain Nichols, artillery liaison officer
  • James B. Harris as Soldier in Attack (uncredited)



Kubrick once said of his decision to make a war film: "One of the attractions of a war or crime story is that it provides an almost unique opportunity to contrast an individual or our contemporary society with a solid framework of accepted value, which the audience becomes fully aware of, and which can be used as a counterpoint to a human, individual, emotional situation. Further, war acts as a kind of hothouse for forced, quick breeding of attitudes and feelings. Attitudes crystallise and come out into the open. Conflict is natural, when it would in a less critical situation have to be introduced almost as a contrivance, and would thus appeared forced or, even worse, false."

Although Kubrick's previous film The Killing had failed at the box office, it had managed to land on several critical Top-Ten lists for the year. Dore Schary, then head of production at MGM, liked the film and hired Kubrick and Harris to develop film stories from MGM's slush pile of scripts and purchased novels. Finding nothing they liked, Kubrick remembered reading Cobb's book years before and suggested it as their next project. Schary strongly doubted the commercial success of the story, which had already been turned down by every other major studio.

After Schary was fired by MGM in a major shake-up, Kubrick and Harris managed to interest Kirk Douglas in a script version that Kubrick had done with Calder Willingham. United Artists agreed to back it with Douglas as the star.


Kubrick eventually hired Calder Willingham to work on the script of Paths of Glory (1957), which Jim Thompson had written earlier drafts of. The specific contributions by Kubrick, Thompson, and Willingham to the final script were disputed, and the matter went to arbitration with the Writers' Guild.


Production took place entirely in Bavaria, Germany, especially at the Schleissheim Palace near Munich. Timothy Carey was fired during production. He was replaced in the scenes remaining to be shot with a double. The film cost slightly less than $1 million and just about broke even.

An early critical test of Kubrick's obsession with control on the set came during the making of Paths of Glory. As recalled by Kirk Douglas:

The only female character in the film, the woman who sings "The Faithful Hussar", was portrayed by German actress Christiane Harlan (credited in the film as Susanne Christian). She and Kubrick later married; the couple remained together until he died in 1999.


The film premiered in Munich on Nov 1, 1957 (the AFI incorrectly lists it as September 18). It was released in the United States in December 1957. It was considered a modest box office success and earned Kubrick critical acclaim.


On its release, the film's anti-military tone was subject to criticism and censorship.

  • In France, both active and retired personnel from the French military vehemently criticized the film"?and its portrayal of the French Army"?after it was released in Belgium. The French government placed enormous pressure on United Artists, (the European distributor) to not release the film in France. The film was eventually shown in France in 1975 when social attitudes had changed.
  • In Germany, the film was withdrawn from the Berlin Film Festival to avoid straining relations with France; it was not shown for two years until after its release.
  • In Spain, Spain's right-wing government of Francisco Franco objected to the film. It was first shown in 1986, 11 years after Franco's death.
  • In Switzerland, the film was censored, at the request of the Swiss Army, until 1970.
  • At American bases in Europe, the American military banned it from being shown.

Reception and influence

The film was nominated for a BAFTA Award under the category Best Film but lost to The Bridge on the River Kwai. The film also won a Jussi Awards' Diploma of merit. In 1959 the film was nominated for a Writers' Guild of America Award but ultimately lost. It won the prestigious Grand Prix of the Belgian Film Critics Association.

On the Criterion Collection Blu-ray, producer James B. Harris states that the original script contained an alternative "happy ending". However, in order to preserve the integrity of the film, the ending was changed. Harris got this past distributors by sending the entire script, instead of merely sending the new ending, knowing that they would be too busy to read the entire script again. Once the distributors from United Artists viewed the film, they were very enthusiastic and left the film as it is.

The film holds a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 39 reviews. It has an average rating of 8.9/10. However, the site did not give it a consensus yet. Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert added this film to his "Great Movies" list on February 25, 2005. Gene Siskel, on a section of Siskel and Ebert's at the Movies show regarding Stanley Kubrick films, declared Paths of Glory to be one of the all-time great films and "almost" as good as Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove.

Director Robert Zemeckis paid homage to Paths of Glory with the 1991 Tales from the Crypt episode "Yellow". The episode was an adaptation of the 1952 Shock SuspenStories story, "Yellow!", about a WWII U.S. Army colonel whose son, a lieutenant, exhibits cowardice and is sentenced to face the firing squad. The father makes the son falsely believe that the firing squad will be firing blanks, so that the son will not exhibit cowardice before his execution. Zemeckis changed the setting to World War I, and cast Kirk Douglas and his son Eric Douglas in the father and son roles.

David Simon, creator of critically acclaimed series The Wire (2002-08), has said that Paths of Glory was a key influence on the HBO crime drama. The influence of the film comes in its depiction of the tribulations of "middle management", in the form of Dax's unsuccessful attempt to protect his troops against the inhumane ambitions of his superiors, which in turn influenced The Wires depiction of various institutions acting against individuals.

Preservation and restoration

In 1992, the film was deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In October and November 2004 the film was shown at the London Film Festival by the British Film Institute. It was carefully remastered over a period of several years; the original film elements were found to be damaged. However, with the aid of several modern digital studios in Los Angeles the film was completely restored and remastered for modern cinema. In addition, Stanley Kubrick's widow Christiane (who also appears in the closing scene as the German singer) made a guest appearance at the start of the performance.

Home media

On June 29, 1999, MGM Home Entertainment released the film on DVD; later that year, on September 22, the film was also released in the VHS format. The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection with a high-definition digital transfer on October 26, 2010.

See also

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Paths_of_Glory" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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