December 28, 1957 [Paths of Glory]

One of three hapless men marked for execution in Paths of Glory seemed ready to step out of character and speak to--no, harangue--the audience, or the other actors, or God himself, for trapping him in such a screwed-up situation. He plays a lunkhead, but with a simmering passion--no, that’s not right; I don’t know how to describe it. Stumbling exasperation? Conciliatory ignorance? Desperate exhaustion? It’s like some weird word-game: pick any adjective, any noun--just make sure you’re describing a state of being, not a person, not a thing--although the actor, Timothy Carey, certainly looks like a Thing, a real movie-monster. But that is incidental to the impression he leaves, which begins to elude me as soon as I stop trying to describe it--even as I try. I may be making more of this than it warrants, but I’ve never seen a performance quite like this.

Carey does a great service to Paths of Glory by concocting this poltergeist of a character. The picture itself can barely be endured, it breaks your heart so thoroughly. Not even Kirk Douglas can give it any strength: It will collapse into horror, no matter how deep the cleft in his chin, no matter how many times he adjusts his uniform or delivers reasonable speeches.

At the end--so beautiful, so sad--the director, Stanley Kubrick, will not let us leave. He takes us to the little cafĂ©, and the German girl singing, and the men in tears before they go back to the front. This is a war picture like the Last Supper is a Passover meal. Both change the thing they begin so utterly that one cannot help but be changed in the act of taking it in. Oh, I know it’s just Carey at work here--and Kubrick, and Douglas, and Ralph Meeker trying to play tough, and Joe Turkel blinking like an unwise owl--and even Adolphe Menjou, still the most charming fellow in the room, smiling as he gives the devil his due--all of them mercilessly driving me to this spiritual excess, this needless, sorrowful ecstasy. All I can confess is that I needed such excess, after the credits rolled and I had to make my way home.


  1. Just saw this. Yes, Kubrick will not leave you alone. Till the very end. He will extract the last drop. Till the German girl singing and the soldiers in sudden tears.


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