The luxuriant blacks and whites of Film Forum’s spectacular new print throw Paths of Glory’s other blacks and whites into sharp relief — as an antiwar statement it’s a great-looking set of loaded dice. Kubrick, with characteristically impressive vicelike authority, lays out the unmitigated hell of WWI trench warfare, the aristocratic generals who, in ironic inflections befitting their lavishly appointed drawing-rooms, order peasants out on suicide missions, and the triumvirate of scapegoats put on trial for cowardice as “examples” after a botched offensive.
Officer and defense attorney Kirk Douglas is viciously heroic; admiration is constantly demanded. It’s a macho antiwar movie, adamant that its conscientious center isn’t a sissy or anything — unlike hypocritical general George Macready, posed lounging decadently across a couch at the kangaroo court martial. But then there’s the last scene, showing the inhuman taunts of a group of soldiers give way to tears of sympathy with the German peasant girl forced to sing for them. Its suggestion that the true horror of war is what it forces people to become in order to survive implicitly questions the preceding self-righteous posing — where was this movie hiding, and why did Kubrick only make five minutes of it?
Opens December 2 at Film Forum