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Paths of Glory

October 25, 2010

327. Paths of Glory
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
USA, 1957
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Ally
Second viewing




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.

~ from “Elegy Written in a Country Courtyard” by Thomas Gray


France, 1916. Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) is assigned an impossible mission by General Mireau (George MacReady), whose only concern is a potential promotion. When the mission inevitably fails, one third of Dax’s men refuse to leave the trenches. Mireau demands an example be made of them and three men are chosen to be court-martialled and executed for cowardice; Corporal Paris (Ralph Meeker), Private Arnaud (Joe Turkel) and Private Ferol (Timothy Carey). Former lawyer Colonel Dax defends them but the trial is a farce, the odds stacked against them.

Essential Scene:

Arnaud is questioned by Major Saint-Auban (Richard Anderson) at the court-martial. Arnaud answers calmly, dispassionately, while the prosecutor feigns incredulity at his supposed cowardice. It becomes clear that Arnaud did not advance far before being ordered back by his Captain.

Saint-Auban: You mean to tell me that you didn’t advance any further than our wire?

Arnaud: No sir, I didn’t.

Saint-Auban: How far would you say that was? How many metres?

Arnaud: Well I advanced as far as I could.

Saint-Auban: How many metres?

Arnaud: Not many.

Saint-Auban: Not many. Now, Private Arnaud, before you were ordered back, did you urge your fellow soldiers forward?

Arnaud: Most of them were dead or wounded before they got three steps beyond the trenches.

Saint-Auban: Reply to the question.

Arnaud: I didn’t urge them on, no sir.

Well you wouldn’t, would you?

Colonel Dax questions for the defence, but his efforts are in vain. Citations for Arnaud’s bravery are dismissed as immaterial to his recent cowardice, and Dax is denied his request to call witnesses to Arnaud’s character. The court is clearly interested in only one thing — prosecution.


It took me a second viewing to appreciate Paths of Glory, which I realise now is one of the finest anti-war films ever made. While The Burmese Harp finds redemption and beauty amongst the horrors of war, Paths of Glory finds only face-saving self-interest and corruption. The absurdity of the court-martial, the hopelessness of the case, the hypocrisy of the commanding officers, the injustice is truly infuriating — even more so than X Factor!

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