SK was born in New York in 1928. Became an apprentice photographer for Look magazine 1946-50. Made his first film in 1950. From 1974 SK has lived and worked in England in order to have complete independence from Hollywood. Since he insists on complete control over every aspect of his films he could not work for a major film studio. SK has had no direct experience of war (other than living through the Cold War of the late 1950s to the late 1980s yet he has made 4 films about war.
Films about war:
Some of his other well known films include:
Based on a novel by Humphrey Cobb, which in turn was based on accounts in newspapers about compensation paid by the French government after the war for unjust executions of soldiers.
Humphrey Cobb, Paths of Glory (1935) (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987).
Ironic reference to the not-so-glorious "paths" (political not on the battle-field) taken by some officers for the fulfillment of their careers and ambitions, which results in enlisted men going to their graves. Quote from Thomas Gray's (1716-1771) "Elegy written in a country churchyard":
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave Awaits alike th' inevitable hour:- The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Three films deal with questions of justice: Bruce Beresford's "Breaker Morant" raised the moral problems of fighting a guerrilla war (oral orders, the taking of prisoners, non-combatants); Joseph Losey's "King and Country" the reluctance of the British army to recognise "shell shock"; and "Paths of Glory" the callous use of power (the capital court martial) for the advancement of officers within the army hierarchy.
The main characters include General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) who plans the attack, General Mireau (George Macready) who orders the shelling of his own men and insists on the court martial for cowardice, Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) who acts as the 3 men's defense lawyer, Lieutenant Roget an incompetent officer whose drunkeness leads to the death of one of his own men, Major Saint-Aubon the army chief prosecutor, and the three soldiers who are court martialled - Corporal Paris (picked because he witnessed Roget's mistake), Private Arnaud who was picked by lot, and Private Ferol (picked because he was a social undesirable).
It is set in France in late 1916 somewhere on the western front. In keeping with the strategy advocated by Grand-Maison ("l'attaque à l'outrance" - attack to the bitter end) General Brulard plans an attack on a fortress hill, the Anthill, in the middle of "no man's land" for the dubious reasons of publicity-seeking and career promotion. When the attack inevitably fails General Mireau orders his artillery to fire on his own men in order to force them out of the trenches saying "if the little sweathearts won't face German bullets then they will face French bullets." Later he insists that 10 men from each regiment be tried (for "cowardice in the face of the enemy") and executed, but reluctantly settles for a symbolic one man from each group. According to traditional French practice each man is chosen by lot from his unit (some variation on this in film). General Staff under pressure to carry out executions because of pressure from newspapers and politicians for evidence of progress in war. Colonel Dax realises that the officers will not permit a fair trial. When he discovers General Mireau's orders to fire artillery on own men he uses this information to get back at him. Brulard interprets this to mean Dax is ambitious for Mireau's position and offers it to Dax who angrily refuses it.
The 3 soldiers are executed without murmur from their colleagues. This took place before widespread mutinies in the French army in 1917 which were a result of weariness with the war, anger at their incompetent leadership and the influence of the Russian Revolution.
Tabachnick argues that Cobb's warning of the dangers of the universal misuse of power in hierarchical organizations was "castrated" by the filmmaker Kubrick who cut out important scenes in order to blame a "wicked officer class" and inspire hope with the actions of a heroic officer (Dax):
Cobb is telling us something very simple but hard to face: the very fact of hierarchical organization makes it possible, even convenient, for us to act in an inhuman manner...
Cobb's warning about the potential misuses of hierarchy applies not just to World War I or the Third Reich, but to all situations in which one man is given control over the well-being of others. How many times have superiors failed to listen to wiser subordinates, or fired those whose only sin was to catch them out in an error or to oppose their will? How many subordinates have been willingly coerced into keeping quiet? How many times have chance or self-interest been allowed to decide issues needing objective judgment? How many times have we hidden behind our "roles" or our "orders" and acted inhumanely?
Perhaps because of the true unpalatability of Cobb's message, Kubrick and his writers... found it necessary to castrate it. Kubrick's film is a classic, but it is a different and lesser work of art than Cobb's novel... (pp. 301-3)
J.B. Duroselle, "The French Mutinies," History of the First World War, ed. Brig. Peter Young, vol. 5, no, 13, (London: Purnell, 1971), pp. 2133-41.
Stephen E. Tabachnick, "Afterword," to Humphrey Cobb, Paths of Glory (1935) (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987), pp. 267-304.
J. Burgess, "The Anti-Militarism of Stanley Kubrick," Film Quarterly, Fall 1964, vol. XVIII, no. 1, pp. 4-11.
Alexander Walker, Stanley Kubrick Directs (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971), "Paths of Glory," pp. 80-155.