For director Stanley Kubrick, “Paths of Glory” (1957) is a more important signature film than, say, the silly “Dr. Strangelove.” Based on a novel by Humphrey Cobb, the piece deals with a self-serving French general (George Macready) who tries to beget treasonable violence in the midst of the First World War, as if the war wasn’t violent enough. Then he sees to it that three French soldiers are arrested for refusing to take the Germans’ so-called Ant Hill, an impossible task. Their commander, Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas), asks to defend the men in court.
Military officers, the movie seems to be saying, can be depraved (although, in fairness, Macready and Adolph Menjou play caricatures here). Military authority is protective of soldiers only to the extent it is virtuous and wise. Self-aggrandizement makes war worse. Kubrick’s concern about violence has its advent in “Paths of Glory,” a mildly faulty but appreciably sturdy effort. The directing grips; indoor depth of field is in, tight shots are usually out. Unavoidably for Old Hollywood, the French characters are played by Americans with American accents, but the acting is excellent.