Kirk Douglas

Paths of Glory

PATHS OF GLORY

1957

Bryna Productions/United Artists

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Produced by James B. Harris

Screenplay written by Stanley Kubrick, Jim Thompson and Calder Willingham

Based on the novel “Paths of Glory” by Humphrey Cobb

We could discuss and debate all day long about why Stanley Kubrick is a genius filmmaker and why so many of his movies are masterpieces of cinema but here’s why his movies work for me: he didn’t sentimentalize or romanticize the way the people in his films behaved. He never worked at trying to make audiences like the people in his movies. He simply presented them as people and it’s up to you as a viewer to decide how you feel about them and what they’re doing. In a Stanley Kubrick movie, People Are People. And that’s just the way I like it.

In discussions I have with people about Stanley Kubrick the major complaint I hear from people as to why they don’t like his movies is that they’re too ‘cold’ and ‘cerebral’ which really perplexes me because those are words I would never use to describe “Spartacus” “Lolita” “Full Metal Jacket” “The Killing” “A Clockwork Orange” or the movie we’re going to be talking about now; PATHS OF GLORY.

We’re in the middle of World War I when General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) a senior member of the French Army General Staff visits General Mireau (George Macready) on a matter of grave urgency. The decision has been made (and quite pointedly it’s never made clear who exactly has made this decision) that an extraordinarily well-defended German position nicknamed “The Anthill” must be taken. Mireau is horrified at first. The Anthill is virtually impregnable. Taking it is a suicide mission and Mireau cites the brutally high cost of lives lost among his troops to take The Anthill and even if his men are successful, so many would be killed in the attempt that they couldn’t possibly hold it.

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Mireau sings a different song when Broulard dangles a fat promotion in front of his nose. All of a sudden Mireau thinks that such an attack will succeed. He leaves the actual planning of the attack to the regiment’s Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) who is frankly and openly aghast as he insists that the only thing this attack will do is waste the lives of good soldiers.  Mireau doesn’t back down and Dax insists that he be allowed to lead the men.

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The attack is a disaster right from jump. So many soldiers are killed in the first wave that the rest refuse to leave the safety of their trenches. An enraged General Mireau orders his own artillery commander to fire on Dax’s men to force them out of the trenches and onto the battlefield. No fool he, our artillery commander: if Mireau wants him to fire on their own troops, he wants it in writing. The attack fails miserably and with a hideously high body count to show for it.

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Mireau picks three soldiers to court-martial for cowardice. Corporal Paris (Ralph Meeker) is chosen only because there’s a secret he knows about a murder his drunken lieutenant committed. Private Ferol (Timothy Carey) is picked because he’s a “social undesirable.” Private Arnaud (Joe Turkel) is chosen randomly and he really has no business being on trial as he’s got citations for bravery. Dax volunteers to defend the men at their court-martial as in his civilian life he was a criminal defense lawyer but it soon becomes obvious to him that the entire trial is a kangaroo court and no matter what he does or says, three innocent men are going to be sentenced to death and stood up in front of a firing squad.

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The outrageous injustice of what happens to these three men, each good and loyal soldiers is the core of what makes PATHS OF GLORY such an incredibly compelling movie to watch. The movie is a war movie but then again it isn’t about war, although it’s got one of the most impressive battle scenes I’ve ever seen on film. It’s about the hypocritical and deceptive nature of cowardice masquerading as leadership. It’s about the abuse of power and arm-chair warriors deciding whose life is valuable and whose life should be thrown away. Even in an office setting there are Generald Broulards and General Mireaus.

It’s some powerful stuff and there’s an equally powerful cast to sell the story. For me, Adolphe Menjou walks away with the acting honors. The way General Broulard manipulates the events that happen in this movie has to be seen to be believed. If his character had ever managed to meet and marry Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Iselin from “The Manchurian Candidate” the two of them could have taken over the world. I see him more as the villain of this piece than General Mireau who is little more than an opportunistic fool who doesn’t know how to cover his own ass. Ralph Meeker owns every scene he’s in and this movie is has one of the best and strongest performances I’ve ever seen him turn in. And Kirk Douglas…well, he’s Kirk Douglas. ‘Nuff said.

The black-and-white cinematography is gorgeous and this is one of those movies that I watch and I weep for those of you who refuse to watch black-and-white movies. There are movies that I can’t imagine being in color and PATHS OF GLORY is one of them.

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So should you see PATHS OF GLORY? Absolutely. It makes a terrific companion piece with Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam War epic “Full Metal Jacket” It’s a perfect example of the kind of movie that people mean when they say; “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.” And along with “Spartacus” it’s the Stanley Kubrick movie that people who claim Mr. Kubrick didn’t make emotional movies should watch. After scenes such as the kangaroo court, the doomed soldiers spending their last night together embracing their doom, the final walk to the firing squad and the final scene with the German girl singing to the French soldiers it’s obvious to me than Stanley Kubrick may have been the most emotional filmmaker the 20th Century had.

PATHS OF GLORY is available for streaming on Netflix and can also be seen on YouTube. I’ve provided the link below. Enjoy.

88 minutes

NR

The War Wagon

1967

Universal

Directed by Burt Kennedy
Produced by Marvin Schwartz
Screenplay by Clair Huffaker
Based on the novel “Badmen” by Clair Huffaker

THE WAR WAGON combines two of my favorite genres into one rip-snorting package: The Western and The Caper Film. I absolutely love a good horse opera and many of my favorite movies are westerns that I can watch over and over again. And I love a good caper. I just enjoy the hell outta seeing a bunch of expert thieves steal something that everybody says can’t be stolen. Maybe it’s because most thieves are so inept in real life and never seem to be able to pull off their heists with the aplomb and style movie thieves do.

THE WAR WAGON can be classified as the western version of an armored car heist. The title vehicle is an armored fortress on wheels that is protected by a Gatling gun and 32 heavily armed riders on horseback and the entire convoy gallops along at full speed from start to finish. Nobody has ever successfully been able to rob The War Wagon and its owner is about to transport the largest shipment of gold The War Wagon has ever carried: a half million dollars.

Taw Jackson (John Wayne) has a carefully put together plan to rob The War Wagon and the way he sees it, he’s got a right to the gold. After all, it came off his land that was stolen from him by Frank Pierce (Bruce Cabot). Pierce had Taw framed for murder and sent to prison and in the years that Taw has been incarcerated, Pierce has been stripping Taw’s land of the gold. Taw assembles a motley crew to help him take The War Wagon: Lomax (Kirk Douglas), a gunslinger for hire who once almost killed Taw. Levi Walking Bear (Howard Keel), an Indian fully assimilated into the ways of the white man who talks a Kiowa tribe into the heist. Billy Hyatt (Robert Walker) is an uncontrollable drunk until it comes time for him to handle explosives and then he’s as calm and centered as Sunday morning. Wes Fletcher (Keenan Wynn) works for Pierce.  His inside knowledge of The War Wagon’s schedule and Pierce’s organization is vital to the success of the heist.

The plan gets complicated when Pierce contacts Lomax and offers him $12,000 dollars to kill Taw once and for all. Taw has also got to keep Billy Hyatt away from not only the firewater but Wes Fletcher’s extremely pretty young wife who shows just as much of a liking for Billy as he has for her.

One thing you notice about THE WAR WAGON that is different from other roles John Wayne has played: usually in a movie like this, whenever the hero comes back looking for revenge for wrongs done to him, he can usually find a few townspeople willing to help him out. Not here. In fact, when Wayne’s character returns to town, it’s almost as if the townspeople act like Taw Jackson deserved what happened to him. Taw doesn’t have a friend to back him up and indeed, he spends a lot of this movie looking over his shoulder to make sure that Lomax doesn’t try to collect the sure $12,000 bucks as opposed to a share of the half million.

There’s really no point in reviewing John Wayne’s performance in a Western is there? No other American actor looked so comfortable sitting in a saddle as Wayne or so at home in the film genre that made him a legend. John Wayne never looks right when he acts in a contemporary movie, such as his Dirty Harry-ish cop movies “McQ” and “Brannigan” and indeed, he looks seriously out of place. Not so here. Wayne’s right at home on the range where he belongs. Kirk Douglas is equally Wayne’s match as the flamboyant gunslinger Lomax and Kirk Douglas is probably the only man who can look tough while wearing a tight leather shirt. They have some nice sarcastic dialog between them such as the scene where they simultaneously shoot two men. Douglas says: “Mine hit the ground first.” Wayne replies without missing a beat, “Mine was taller.”

If the movie has any major faults is that there’s no really memorable villain here. Bruce Cabot’s Pierce is a little more than a glorified bookkeeper with a mean streak. He’s always sneering at Wayne while hiding behind a wall of flunkies and hired guns. The movie’s all about the heisting of the gold and that’s it. But it’s an enjoyable heist with loads of action and with interesting supporting roles from some familiar faces. Look for Bruce Dern early in the movie and Gene Evans (who starred in Sam Fuller’s classic war film: “The Steel Helmet”) is in this one as well. THE WAR WAGON isn’t on the level of other Wayne westerns such as “Rio Bravo” “El Dorado” “The Shootist” or “True Grit” bu it is good watching if you’re into westerns or caper films.   But I’ll tell you what…just check out the opening credits and the absolutely kickass theme song with Ed Ames lustily belting out “The Ballad of The War Wagon” and then tell me you don’t wanna see the rest of the movie.

101 minutes