Reel History: Paths of Glory

DATELINE: Kubrick & Menjou  

remarkable Adolphe Menjou

The Remarkable Mr. Menjou

Between the Korean War and the Vietnam War came an anti-war film, starring and produced by Kirk Douglas. It was called Paths of Glory.

It was notable for its brazen genius direction by Stanley Kubrick and its stunning location sets, doubling for a French chateau. It actually introduced us to the hotel used in Last Year in Marienbad.

The opulence contrasted greatly with the sordid moral play as French soldiers during World War I are randomly selected for execution as an example of cowardice under fire.

You couldn’t ask for two of the most extraordinary actors to play the bad guys: George Macready (later Martin Peyton of Peyton Place) and the always debonair Adolphe Menjou. Kubrick loved Menjou’s face: it is filmed exquisitely like a punctuation mark wrapped in rococo counterpoint.

They are insufferable in different ways as French generals ready to sacrifice anyone for their political and military duty. It surely gives angry Kirk Douglas the marvelous climactic moment to tear into Menjou as a “moral degenerate.”

These were the days when Kirk Douglas wanted to make “important” movies with the death of the studio system. And, he did for a time for which he should be praised mightily.

Kubrick had won some recognition by 1957, but it was Douglas who brought him back to direct Spartacus that sent Kubrick into the stratosphere of legendary directors.

Douglas loved to chew the scenery with his intensity, but it is the vain and effete underplaying of Macready and Menjou that drives the movie. Menjou had a marvelous style of regarding everyone from the corners of his eyes, with a sparkle of disdain.

In stark black and white, this movie has “status” written all over it. Short, cruel, punctuated with righteous indignation, the movie defies you to oppose it. They don’t make’em like this anymore.

 

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