Paths of Glory [based on the novel by Humphrey Cobb] is a starkly realistic recital of French army politics in 1916 during World War I. While the subject is well handled and enacted in a series of outstanding characterizations, it seems dated and makes for grim screen fare.
Story nub revolves around decision of the General Staff for a military unit commanded by George Macready, a general of the old school, to take an objective held for two years by the Germans. Knowing full well the impossibility of such an assault because of lack of manpower and impregnability of the position, the general nevertheless orders Kirk Douglas, colonel in command of the regiment, to make the suicidal attempt.
When his men either are driven back by enemy fire or are unable to leave the trenches, an unjust charge of cowardice against the men is lodged by the general and Douglas is ordered to arrange for three men to be selected to stand courtmartial, as an object lesson to whole army.
Popular on Variety
Stanley Kubrick in his taut direction catches the spirit of war with fine realism, and the futile advance of the French is exciting. He draws excellent performances, too, right down the line. Douglas scores heavily in his realization that his is a losing battle against the system, and Macready as the relentless general instilled with the belief that an order is an order, even if it means the death of thousands, socks over what may be regarded his most effective role to date.