A suicide mission fueled by greed is the impetus behind the roundup of three soldiers for execution in one of Stanley Kubrick's earliest films, Paths of Glory. The young Kubrick set the bar incredibly high in his brutal, stark, black and white portrayal of World War I using Humphrey Cobb's 1935 antiwar novel of the same name as his guide. Kubrick exposes the cowardice and deceit rampant within military ranks during a time when the anxiety of war had men throwing their own into the fire -- and a time where there were no second chances. These misguided men with their loathsome military politics are at the helm of a mission which spotlights the unbearable injustice and corruption that all comes to a head in one defining moment.
A French army unit led by the avaricious General Mireau (George Macready) is ordered to do the impossible and things turn fatal after an unwilling Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) leads the attack, but a cowardly Lieutenant Roget holds his men back -- leaving the first line of soldiers floundering. A displeased General Mireau sentences three men to execution by firing squad: Corporal Paris (Ralph Meeker) -- whose commanding officer Lt. Roget has it out for him, the "social undesirable" Private Ferol (Timothy Carey) and Private Arnaud (Joe Turkel) who is chosen by lot and is actually one of the best soldiers the General has.
Kubrick portrays the men's final moments with solemn pageantry as they are lead down a courtyard while other soldiers and press members look on. Timothy Carey turns the grim scene into one of the most memorable moments in the movie as he quivers and cries while walking to his death -- latching onto the arm of the priest who guides him. Kubrick's striking first person perspective shots emphasize why the solider is so terrified and the director's overall technical brilliance is evident even this early in his career. It's clear from this scene that Kubrick's interest in mechanics translates quite literally in the way the auteur drags out the unpleasant tension of the event -- staging every single step to the end of the line and capturing the process of death.
Carey improvised all of his dialogue for the scene which lends a realism to the proceedings that managed to overshadow the film's star, Kirk Douglas. As the story goes, Douglas was quite vocal about his feelings to Kubrick, but the director found Carey's passionate and impulsive nature his greatest asset. During the filming of the dire scene, Kubrick apparently whispered in Carey's ear to "make this a good one 'cause Kirk doesn't like it." When Carey elicits those first guttural cries it never fails to send shivers up my spine, as they initially fluctuate between insane laughter and then break into pleading moans. On a stretcher in front of Carey is Private Arnaud who has been strapped down and carried to the courtyard after having his skull fractured. The soldier is propped up against a firing post like some kind of gory trophy -- a once courageous man unjustly and absurdly strung up to die. Corporal Paris refuses a blindfold from Lt. Roget who has been forced by Colonel Dax to be the officer in charge of the execution -- and pathetically apologizes to Paris who has nothing to say to him. Private Ferol continues to sob up until the end and the whole macabre event is set off by an ominous drum beat.
Sure, this scene isn't a pleasant one to watch, but there is a lot to be admired in the amazing performances, Kubrick's directorial prowess and the message about the abuse of power -- making this Scenes We Love a powerful one for me. Watch it below and check out the entire film on Netflix Watch Instantly.