SOME NOTES ON THE FILM The paths of glory lead but to the grave.i Background. The story is based upon a novel of the same name by Humphrey Cobb, which in turn is based upon the Souain Corporals Affair, a true story of innocent French soldiers chosen arbitrarily as scapegoats for what was called the cowardice of their company. Professor Vitarbo will have more to tell you about that.
Cobb’s book was made into a play by Sidney Howard in the 1930s; the play was a flop, but Howard kept insisting that the story was worthy of a film. Stanley Kubrick and James Harris purchased the rights to the story from Cobb’s widow for $10,000, but could not get a studio to back it. Kubrick worked up a script with Calder Willingham and showed to Kirk Douglas, who was taken with the story and agreed to play the leading character. United Artists then provided the backing and the film went into production. It was produced by Harris.
The Characters. The highest ranking officer in the film is Major General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou). He commands an army corps, which is made up of several divisions. One of the divisional commanders under him is Brigadier General Mireau (George Macready). The division is made up of several regiments, one of which – the 701st – is commanded by Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas). The 701st Regiment is made up of several companies, one of which is commanded by Lieutenant Roget (Wayne Morris). The three soldiers who are to be the scapegoats from the 701st regiment are Corporal Paris (Ralph Meeker); Private Ferol (Timothy Carey); and Private Arnaud (Joe Turkel). The young German captive who sings at the end is played by Susanne Christian (later Susanne Kubrick). The Setting. The story unfolds in 1916, during WWI. The action takes place on the French front lines (across from the German front lines), in a divisional headquarters of the French Army, and in a military courtroom.
The Director. Stanley Kubrick was born in the Bronx. He taught himself film-making after high school, and began by making short features. He directed his first major film, The Killing, in 1956, and made Paths of Glory the following year. He was 28. His later work is a litany of films of the first importance: Spartacus (1960), also with Douglas; Lolita (1962); Doctor Strangelove (1964); 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); A Clockwork Orange (1971); Barry Lyndon (1975); The Shining (1980); and on and on until Eyes Wide Shut in the year of his death, 1999. But Roger Ebert believed that Paths of Glory was the film by which Kubrick entered the ranks of the great directors.
The Star. Kirk Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch in 1916. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Belarus. He worked his way through St. Lawrence College and was awarded a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Douglas made his way in New York acting in radio and stage plays, until Lauren Bacall, whom he knew from the Academy, introduced him to Hal Wallis. He played in his first film, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), and several years later made the film that established his reputation, Champion (1949). The list of his better known films, after Champion, starts with Lust for Life (1956), Spartacus (1960)(also with Kubrick), Lonely Are the Brave (1962)(his personal favorite of all his films), and Seven Days in May (1964). In 1999, at the age of eighty-two and three years after suffering a stroke, he starred (with Lauren Bacall) in Diamonds, the story of a prize fighter who is recovering from a stroke. He celebrated his 100th birthday two years ago with friends, and is apparently still going strong today.
Awards. The film was not a great success at the box office, and in fact it received no significant American awards. It was not even nominated for an Academy Award; The Bridge on the River Kwai came out the same year and cleaned up the Oscars. i From Elegy Written in A Country Court-Yard, Thomas Gray