Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957)

Kirk’s Colonel Dax is just as angry and just as stubborn in his goals as Chuck Tatum in Ace in the Hole, but his performance here is so much more restrained that it speaks worlds of his acting range and his ability to emote pure anger and resiliency like a human being.  His closing statement during that absolutely farcical court martial may be one of the best I’ve ever seen delivered.  He’s obviously furious at the way his men are being scapegoated and doing everything in his power to see justice done, but he restrains himself from going over-the-top, which would be perfect for a satirical film like Ace in the Hole but would be uncalled for here.  His look of contemplation and sadness during that brilliant final scene, which has nothing to do with the plot but speaks worlds of the hypocrisy of war, shows his character in a nutshell.  Kubrick’s portrayal of the futile battle, the court martial, and the interminably suspenseful and brilliantly drawn out execution scene is meant to be dead serious and inspire pure anger.  He even teases you with the possibility that the men will be freed when Dax comes forward with the information that the general (a greedy, evil man who might be one of cinema’s most memorable villains) wanted to fire on his own men (at the fancy ball, no less…an almost comical contrast to the horrors of the trenches), but again, realism is at play here, and this isn’t going to be a happy ending.  There’s nothing storybook about war, and nothing good will come of it.  After this is done, you’ll be convinced that the idea of “dying with honor” is anything but real.


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