Kirk Douglas plays a colonel in the French army of World War I who is ordered to make a futile attack by an arrogant and effete general for his own personal and ambition fuelled reasons. When the offensive inevitably fails, he orders the execution of three men picked at random for cowardice.
The irony of the title of Stanley Kubrick’s powerful anti-war film cannot be missed; this film contains none of the usual flag waving and macho heroics, Kubrick preferring to make a blistering attack on the hypocrisy of the politics of war and those who wage it from behind their lines, luxuriating in chateaus and attending costume balls while the men they so casually send to their deaths suffer under impossible conditions. It is much an attack on the class system as anything, as the aristocratic officers can perpetrate appalling acts of cowardice with impunity while innocent fighting men are made “examples” of or treated with disdain when suffering from shell shock – which “does not exist”.
Far from a typical war film, Paths Of Glory is a powerful and intelligent examination of how war is fought from one of the true masters.