Review: Paths of Glory DVD

Paths of Glory Criterion Collection DVD boxSTUDIO: Criterion Collection | DIRECTOR: Stanley Kubruck | CAST: Kirk Douglas, Richard Anderson, Timothy Carey, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou, George Macready
RELEASE DATE: 10/26/10 | PRICE: DVD $29.95, Blu-ray $39.95
BONUSES: commentary, featurettes, new and archival interviews, booklet, more
SPECS: NR | 88 min. | War drama | 1.66:1 widescreen | LPCM 1.0 (monaural)

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

The definitive anti-war film and the work that signaled director Stanley Kubrick was a force to be reckoned with (how else to put it?), Paths of Glory received a sterling DVD and Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection.

It’s World War I, and the entrenched French and German armies are at a stalemate on either side of a German position known as the “Ant Hill.” Angling for personal advancement to the upper echelon of the French military, General Mirea (George Macready of Tora! Tora! Tora!), from the comfy confines of a chateau, orders his men on a clearly suicidal mission to take the hill. Though trench leader Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas of Spartacus) protests the insanely advised plan, it is undertaken, resulting in the massacre of many French soldiers and the retreat of others. Infuriated by the failure, Mirea orders that a group of soldiers under Dax’s command be court-martialed and executed for cowardice.

And that’s exactly what happens after Dax acts as their defense lawyer in a hastily convened military court-martial.

Clocking in at less than 90 minutes, Paths of Glory is one Kubrick’s leanest and most lucid films. There’s no sign of the open-ended narrative approach that would mark much of his later work; his intentions and feelings about war don’t need to be interpreted in this case. But all the filmmaker’s familiar themes are evident, beginning with the dehumanization of man and the frequent absurdity of his actions. Kubrick’s trademark technical and visual prowess also are evident, particularly in his use of precision tracking shots and diffused lighting.

The image on Criterion’s Paths of Glory is noticeably better than MGM’s 1999 DVD edition. Crisp details are now visible in the bunkers and French chateaus that we definitely didn’t catch in the earlier release. And the battle sequence at the film’s center finds the trenches looking even more intense (and insane). The audio quality is solid but unexceptional, which is probably the way Kubrick wanted it.

Of the healthy array of special features, we were most energized by critic Gary Giddins’ highly informative commentary track and the brief audio interview with Kubrick conducted by author Jeremy Bernstein in 1966, which is actually taken from a much longer interview that has popped up in various forms on Kubrick DVDs over the years. (It also can be tracked down in its entirety online.)


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.