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CONSPIRACY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES: Paths of Glory


Paths of Glory is a 1957 American anti-war film co-written and directed 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, after which Dax attempts to defend them against charges of cowardice in a court-martial.

Plot


The film begins with a voiceover describing the trench warfare situation of World War I up to 1916. In a château, General Georges Broulard, a member of the French General Staff, asks his subordinate, the ambitious General Mireau, 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 private out of the regiment for showing signs of shell shock. Mireau leaves the detailed planning of the attack to Colonel Dax of the 701st regiment, despite Dax's protests that the only result of the attack will be to weaken the French Army with heavy losses for no benefit.


Prior to the attack, a drunken lieutenant named Roget, leading a night-time scouting mission, sends one of his two men ahead. Overcome by fear while waiting for the man's return, Roget lobs a grenade and retreats. Corporal Paris, the other soldier on the mission, finds the body of the scout, who has been killed by the grenade, and confronts Roget. Roget denies any wrongdoing and falsifies his report to Colonel Dax. 

The next morning, the attack on the Anthill is a failure. 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 refuses to leave their own trench after seeing the first wave sustain heavy casualties. Mireau, enraged, orders his artillery to open fire on them to force them onto the battlefield. The artillery commander refuses to fire 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.


At a meeting with Broulard and Dax, to deflect blame for the attack's failure, Mireau decides to court martial 100 of the soldiers for cowardice. Broulard persuades him to reduce the number to three, one from each company. Following the meeting, Mireau and Broulard encounter the artillery commander who defied Mireau's illegal order to fire on his own men during the attack. Mireau recommends the artillery officer be transferred in order to cover up his crime. Corporal Paris is chosen because his commanding officer Roget wishes to keep him from testifying about Roget's actions in the scouting mission. Private Ferol is picked by his commanding officer because he is a "social undesirable." The last man, Private Arnaud, 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. 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 denounces the proceedings: "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 are sentenced to death.


The night before the execution, Dax confronts Broulard at a ball, with sworn statements by witnesses attesting to Mireau's order to shell his own trenches, in an attempt to blackmail the General Staff into sparing the three men. Broulard takes the statements but brusquely dismisses Dax.

The next morning, the three men are taken out to be shot by firing squad. Dax, suspecting Roget for his nomination of Paris, forces Roget to lead the executions. While a sobbing Ferol is blindfolded, Paris refuses Roget's offer of a blindfold and reacts ambiguously to Roget's meek apology. Arnaud, meanwhile, is so badly injured after having started a fight in prison that he must be carried out in a stretcher and tied to the post. All three men are executed.


Following the executions, Broulard breakfasts with the gloating Mireau. Broulard reveals he has invited Dax to attend and tells Mireau that he will be investigated for the order to fire on his own men. Mireau storms out, 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 was in fact sincere, Broulard rebukes him for his idealism, while the disgusted Dax calls Broulard a "degenerate, sadistic old man."

After the execution, some of Dax's soldiers are carousing at an inn. They become more subdued as they listen to a captive German girl sing a sentimental folk song. Dax decides to leave without informing the men that they have been ordered to return to the front. His face hardens as he returns to his quarters.


Posted by Conspiracy Cafe on June 13, 2021 at 11:10 AM 47 Views