Paths of Glory: Remembering the Actors

PATHS OF GLORY (1957)The films of Stanley Kubrick have experienced a resurgence in the past couple of months. TCM teamed with Fathom Entertainment to show Dr. Strangelove on the big screen in September and The Shining in October, while FilmStruck is currently showcasing four films under the banner Early Kubrick. The films include Fear and Desire (1953), the director’s rare first film that he once withdrew from circulation, Killer’s Kiss (1955), The Killing (1956), and Paths of Glory (1958). I am in awe of all Kubrick films, especially Barry Lyndon (1975), but I prefer to watch his early work, because the scale is smaller, the stories simpler, and the protagonists still likable. My favorite Kubrick film has always been Paths of Glory.

Scholars such as Michel Ciment have readily documented Kubrick’s use of mise-en-scene in his work, including Paths of Glory. The conflict in this WWI drama is not between the Germans and the French but between the exhausted French soldiers and the callous officers who control them. The story revolves around a failed attack on a German stronghold called the Ant Hill. Over the objections of Colonel Dax, the attack is launched by General Mireau because he was promised a promotion by General Broulard. When the doomed attack fails, an enraged Mireau decides to shoot three French soldiers for cowardice to teach all of his men some kind of misguided lesson. The gulf between the soldiers and the officers is symbolized by the two key settings, the claustrophobic trenches below ground and the opulent chateau that looms far above ground. Much has been made of the trial scene for the three soldiers, which takes place in one of the chateau’s cavernous rooms. The black and white parquet floor resembles a chess board, while the blocking of the characters places them as pawns. A high angle looks down on the participants, suggesting that fate has predetermined the soldiers’ outcome.

Less often discussed are the actors and their performances, which is my favorite part of Paths of Glory. The cast includes a combination of bona fide movie stars and great American character actors. Kubrick belonged to the Film School Generation, which broke from Hollywood conventions and practices; however, I believe that in Paths of Glory he cast with the star system in mind. Kirk Douglas starred as Colonel Dax, who is arguably Kubrick’s last sympathetic and likable protagonist. After forming his own production company, the Bryna Co. in 1949, Douglas actively looked for heroic characters in socially conscious stories, a mandate that attracted him to Paths of Glory. Douglas knew how to use his appearance and charisma to create a character. The actor maintained a muscular physique, which, together with his strong bone structure, physically reflected Dax’s solid moral stature. Though the camera tracks in front of Dax as he moves through the trenches just before battle, Douglas’s erect posture and powerful stride dictates the camera movement. Only a star with his charisma and presence could bring a sense of inner strength and power to his character, who is essentially ineffectual and powerless in the story. He balances the lack of inner fortitude of the generals, who nonetheless have authority and power in the outcome of the story.

JUST BEFORE THE BATTLE, COLONEL DAX WALKS THE TRENCHES. THE FILM IS JUSTLY FAMOUS FOR THE TRACKING SHOTS THROUGH THE TRENCHES.

JUST BEFORE THE BATTLE, COLONEL DAX WALKS THE TRENCHES. THE FILM IS JUSTLY FAMOUS FOR THE TRACKING SHOTS THROUGH THE TRENCHES.

I want to believe that Douglas exhibited that same strength of character offscreen. I like my movie stars to act offscreen the way they do onscreen, something that was not unheard of during the Golden Age when those things mattered. Douglas was a three-time Oscar nominee in 1956 when he went to bat for Kubrick in order to get this film made. United Artists had twice turned down Kubrick and his producer when Douglas marched into the offices at U.A. and told them he would not be making The Vikings (1958) for them unless they agreed to do Paths of Glory, a film he knew would not make money. U.A. caved and backed the film.

Douglas was not the only major star in the film. Adolphe Menjou had been a fixture in Hollywood since 1923 when he appeared in Charlie Chaplin’s Woman of Paris. His star image as the cultured, urbane sophisticate allowed him to play both sides of the moral fence. He could portray a true gentleman with class and distinction, or, he could just as easily be a devious cad whose cultured surface hid darker motives. Like Douglas, Menjou’s star image was expanded or boosted by offscreen events. During the Golden Age, he gained a reputation for sartorial splendor and was named the Best Dressed Man in America on several occasions. Then, in 1947, he testified as a friendly witness before the House on UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC). Gleefully calling himself a witch-hunter with no hint of irony, Menjou offered a zealous testimony that included the obligatory denouncement of communism. He felt compelled to add a list of movies he thought should not have been made, including Mission to Moscow (1943), a war-time drama intended as support for Russia, America’s ally during WWII. Elsewhere, he criticized those who supported humanitarian causes, including Katharine Hepburn, noting that behind the “do-gooders” was the work of Pravda.

DOUGLAS WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN GETTING 'PATHS OF GLORY' MADE.

DOUGLAS WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN GETTING ‘PATHS OF GLORY’ MADE.

Kubrick understood that Menjou’s rigid conservativism had colored his star image, giving his smooth-talking character, General Broulard, an autocratic quality. At one point, the imperious general enters a room, takes off his hat, and hands it to his aide directly behind him, without looking. He expected the aide to be at his beck and call; it would not occur to him to turn around and look for him. In close-ups, Broulard is often shot with his head tilted or angled to one side, suggesting that he is shifty or sly. Kubrick was notorious for demanding multiple takes of even the simplest shot, but the 68-year-old Menjou endured it. Once, he questioned Kubrick about the endless takes of the same shot. The director calmly told him that the scene was not quite right yet, but Menjou was doing a terrific job. And, so he was. The old pro perfectly captured the lack of compassion, sincerity, or loyalty behind the refined manners and affable façade of General Broulard.

Veteran character George Macready is chilling as General Mireau, who is so consumed by ambition that he is easily talked into mounting an attack that is doomed to fail. Like Menjou, Macready used his cultured demeanor and theatrically trained voice to paint a portrait of corrupt aristocracy. Macready, who once co-owned an art gallery with Vincent Price, sported a long, ugly scar on his cheek in Paths of Glory, which gave his character a menacing appearance. The scar was real—the result of a car accident.

THOUGH OUT OF FOCUS, TIMOTHY CAREY (middle) AND RALPH MEEKER (right) SIT IN THE FAMOUS CHESS-BOARD ROOM AWAITING THEIR PREDETERMINED FATES.

THOUGH OUT OF FOCUS, TIMOTHY CAREY (middle) AND RALPH MEEKER (right) SIT IN THE FAMOUS CHESS-BOARD ROOM AWAITING THEIR PREDETERMINED FATES.

The three unfortunate soldiers forced to stand trial in a kangaroo military court were played by Joe Turkel, Ralph Meeker, and Timothy Carey. Turkel is better known as Lloyd the bartender from Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) while Meeker is recognizable to film noir fans as Mike Hammer from Kiss Me Deadly (1955). Timothy Carey, who assassinated the horse in Kubrick’s The Killers, specialized in playing the lost, lonely, and psychotic. As one of the convicted soldiers in Paths of Glory, he played a rare sympathetic role. Carey, a unique and unusual method actor, refused to do the same scene the same way if multiple takes were required. The scene in which the soldiers eat their last meal required 68 takes, and Carey continued to amaze the cast and crew with different gestures and expressions each time.

The mix of actors in Paths of Glory is quite remarkable: From Carey’s method madness to Menjou’s old-school Hollywood to Douglas’s charismatic star turn, it all comes together under Kubrick’s direction.

 

22 Responses Paths of Glory: Remembering the Actors
Posted By Alan : November 21, 2016 12:28 am

Timothy Carey was sent home from Germany by Kubrick and Harris during the filming of PATHS OG GLORY after disappearing on a bender and then making up a fantastic story about being kidnapped. The scene inside the stable when the men are waiting for the firing squad that has Carey facing the wall praying wasn’t Timothy Carey. Kubrick used a double for the scene because he had already fired Carey. When asked about working with Carey, the late Andre de Toth said, “What you see, is what you get.” Also notable were Bert Freed as the Sergeant commanding the execution squad and Richard Anderson as the cold-blooded prosecutor. Anderson told me PATHS OF GLORY revived his career. Wayne Morris is excellent as the coward who sends an innocent Meeker to his death to cover up his earlier malfeasance There was also Kubrick regular Joe Turkel and Emile Meyer as the priest. And don’t forget the future Mrs. Kubrick singing to the room of soldiers at the end of the picture!

Posted By Arthur : November 21, 2016 12:46 am

This is an excellent film. Concise, poignant and ironic. The song at the end by the frightened German girl and the grizzled soldiers reaction is stunning.

Posted By Flora : November 21, 2016 1:33 am

Paths of Glory is one of my favourite films of Douglas and the director Kubrick.

I have seen all of thr movies you mention except Fear and Desire.

Posted By Emgee : November 21, 2016 5:12 am

Carey drove Kirk Douglas crazy with his unpredictable behaviour , but Kubrick liked that because it broke Douglas’
composure, which worked well in the context of the story.
He eventually had to fire Carey because he faked his own kidnapping for publicity reasons. What a character.

Posted By robbushblog : November 21, 2016 10:30 am

THE KILLING is my favorite Kubrick, but this one is also pretty high on the list. It’s been quite some time since I saw it, but I remember its starkness and drama quite well. It’s on my Christmas list, but maybe I’ll go ahead and take it off and get it for myself.

Would you not consider Spartacus a sympathetic and likable protagonist?

Posted By Susan Doll : November 21, 2016 10:41 am

Rob: I do consider Spartacus likable but this was less Kubrick’s film and more Doublas’s. Kubrick came in after Anthony Mann was let go as director. So, I don’t see Spartacus as a Kubrick character.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 21, 2016 10:46 am

Alan: Good story about Timothy Carey. I love to see him onscreen but I am sure he drove his directors crazy.

Posted By swac44 : November 21, 2016 10:56 am

Carey is endlessly fascinating to me, both for his strange off-screen life as well as wild portrayals on screen in films like his turns for Kubrick as well as titles ranging from de Toth’s excellent Crime Wave to the Monkees’ fourth-wall-breaking tour de force HEAD. And a couple of Frankie & Annette beach movies besides.

Thanks to TCM for recently running Carey’s 1962 passion project The World’s Greatest Sinner, a rarely seen title about a bored insurance salesman who rebrands himself as a god and runs for president, manipulating the media and using rock and roll as a tool to entice the populace into supporting him. Also notable for its theme music by Frank Zappa.

Posted By Doug : November 21, 2016 6:56 pm

Tim Carey-a hillbilly (!) in “Bloodhounds of Broadway”.
Speaking of Douglas pushing for “Paths of Glory”-”Douglas actively looked for heroic characters in socially conscious stories”-can anyone recall an actor pushing for a film to be made in which he or she played the villain? The unheroic role? The bad guy with a heart of stone, not gold?

Posted By AL : November 21, 2016 7:01 pm

I met Ralph Meeker in 1960 NYC. When I asked him about working with one of my Idol’s, he told me this: While he was rehearsing for a “take” Kubrick was on the floor, looking up and moving around, setting up camera angles; he then said they would shoot, but that this time he wanted Meeker to do the scene standing on tip-toe because that would make the shot he wanted. Meeker replied “Yes, Mr. Kubrick I can do that, but if I do my legs, and then my body will get tense and that will affect my performance negatively” Kubrick thought about it, then responded “Oh. Yeah. I guess you’re right…”

Posted By AL : November 21, 2016 7:09 pm

I met Ralph when I was working at The Right Bank. He had a “cane” he usually had with him that had an ornate knob at the top that unscrewed and became a shot glass, revealing that the cane was hollow and could hold liquor! He was a wayCool guy…

Posted By Susan Doll : November 22, 2016 3:14 pm

Doug: The key words in the sentence are “socially conscious” stories. Movies about socio-political issues and problems were avoided by the studios during the Golden Age, because studio heads felt they didn’t make money. During the 1950s, when studios began losing control over the industry, a number of actors and directors formed their own production companies to find their own material. Many wanted to do stories they felt had an obvious social message or made a strong statement regardless of box office returns.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 22, 2016 3:17 pm

Doug: To answer your question directly, Robert Mitchum supported the making of NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, because he really wanted to play the demented preacher/serial killer.

Posted By Doug : November 22, 2016 5:58 pm

Thank you for responding, Susan-Mitchum is a good answer. Can you name any movies that aren’t on some level socially conscious?

Posted By Susan Doll : November 23, 2016 11:07 am

Doug: From the standpoint of contemporary film scholars, all movies reflect some aspect of the society that produced them, so you can re-work the meaning of that phrase to say all movies are socially conscious. But, from the standpoint of actors, directors, and industry execs in the 1950s, that was the kind of phrase was used to refer to movies with an obvious message in the storyline — like Gentleman’s Agreement, Pinky, Defiant Ones, Rebel without a Cause, etc. From their point of view, musical comedies, physical comedies, teen movies, romance movies, etc. would not have a message in the plots.

Posted By Doug : November 23, 2016 7:56 pm

Thank you, Susan-I know the terms, I understand the concept of ‘message movies’. I tried to think of any film with actual actors/script which was not socially conscious, and I couldn’t. All say something, because we are social creatures, and we make the movies. If Bill Gates ever comes up with a computer which screenwrites…

Posted By Susan Doll : November 24, 2016 1:46 pm

Happy TG to all of my terrifically knowledgeable readers. I didn’t realize how much I appreciate all of your thoughts and comments on my posts until the recent changes in the blogsite came about, and I missed some of my regulars. I am glad that many have found their way to the new blog.

Hope all of you have a terrific holiday.

Posted By Jenni Giesey : November 24, 2016 6:14 pm

Hi Susan, just now taking a break from my kitchen labors, and thought I’d visit the Morlocks-imagine my surprise at this new blog! Glad you are still on here. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

Posted By George : November 24, 2016 7:59 pm

Happy Thanksgiving to you, too, Susan.

I read that during the shooting of ONE EYED JACKS, Marlon Brando became so frustrated with Timothy Carey that he stabbed Carey with a pen (or pencil; stories vary). Imagine: an actor who could exasperate Brando!

I also read that Carey was the only actor that Elia Kazan physically attacked.

Posted By Emgee : November 25, 2016 4:02 am

“Imagine: an actor who could exasperate Brando!” It’s as if the later Brando took a leaf out of Carey’s book; from about he mid-seventies his behaviour on set become more and more…well, let’s say erratic.

Posted By George : November 25, 2016 4:26 pm

Brando’s behavior on the set of MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1962) set a standard for erratic. As a result, he had trouble getting work in major films and had to behave himself (for a few years). He had to audition for THE GODFATHER because Paramount execs didn’t want him. But after that movie and LAST TANGO, he seemed to lose interest in anything but money.

Posted By Arthur : November 25, 2016 6:21 pm

Brando and Gable gave two very different, but both in my opinion remarkable, performances in MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY.

It is perhaps interesting to note that Brando married a Tahitian women and had several children with her. Also, one of Errol Flynn’s ancestors hailed from Pitcairn island, the remote hideaway that the mutineers on the Bounty, and some of the Tahitians that came with them, fled to.

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