Richard Anderson: Stanley Kubrick and Paths of Glory


     World War I: They called it the Great War--and it was: the dawn of an era of mechanized warfare in which men slaughtered each other with machine guns, tanks, and mustard gas that hung over the trenches in which the warring armies faced each other sometimes from only yards away.

     The war's progress was measured by the movement of the trenches as the armies pushed each other back and forth over the scarred landscape of Western Europe. They fought in the frozen winter and the muddy spring, and the casualties were in the tens of millions dead and wounded.

     The nations rained death on each other for four years-- 1914-1918--and then saw a flowering of pacifist literature that was unmatched by any war before or since.

     Siegfried Sassoon, the English poet who had been decorated for bravery, wrote Does It Matter?, a bitter poetic commentary on how those maimed in battle were ignored by polite society. Erich Remarque's novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, chronicled the senseless slaughter from the German perspective.

     This anti-war theme was echoed in another novel, Paths of Glory, by an English writer named Humphrey Cobb. The book was based on an actual event in which French soldiers mutinied, rather than face certain death when ordered to take a hill by their ambitious commanding officer (who remained safely behind). Several of the soldiers were tried and executed which led to a public outcry.

     The 1935 novel was read by a precocious youth named Stanley Kubrick, the son of a Bronx doctor. Young Kubrick was interested in books and movies, and he vowed to someday film the Cobb novel.

     After working as a photographer, and making several low budget films, Kubrick made The Killing in 1956, a film about a racetrack heist that was released by United Artists, a Hollywood studio that backed  independent productions. The film which starred Sterling Hayden established Kubrick as a promising director while still in his twenties.

     Kubrick purchased the screen rights to Cobb's novel from the author's widow and set about making his movie. The director turned out a screenplay with Jim Thompson, the pulp novelist who had also worked on The Killing. Calder Willingham was then called in for revisions.

     Released through United Artists in 1957, Paths of Glory was a solid commercial and artistic success. The movie starred Kirk Douglas as a brave French officer who unsuccessfully defends his men at their court-martial.

     Veteran actor Adolphe Menjou played General Broulard, a philosophical officer who seems to take the injustices of war in stride, and George Macready was the sinister general who ordered his troops to their death. Ralph Meeker played a doomed soldier, and Richard Anderson was Major Saint-Auban, the acerbic prosecutor. Anderson was present in Munich throughout the filming and doubled as dialogue coach.

     Kubrick who died in 1999 went on to a long and successful career (Lolita, Dr. Strangelove), though he was dogged by a number of distinguished critics (the late Dwight Macdonald, John Simon) who believed the director had never fulfilled his early promise. In fact, Simon was dissatisfied with the ending of Paths of Glory in which a German waif enchants hardened French soldiers with a song. Simon believed that this all men are brothers motif marred the film's realism.

     Here, in an exclusive interview with American Legends co-founder Martin Pitts, Richard Anderson recalls Stanley Kubrick and the making of Paths of Glory.

Maj. Saint-Auban

AL: In his biography of Stanley Kubrick, Vincent LoBrutto writes that Kubrick and his business partner, James Harris, worked on Paths of Glory while moonlighting at MGM. (Vincent LoBrutto, Stanley Kubrick, New York, Da Capo Press ed., 1999)


RA: That's true. Dore Schary had seen The Killing and put Stanley and his small production unit under contract at Metro. They took the idea of Paths of Glory to Schary, but he said, "I just finished doing a picture called The Red Badge of Courage, and I am not really interested in a war movie." Schary and Louis B. Mayer had fought over the Civil War movie. Mayer hated the idea of an American soldier running from battle as shown in The Red Badge of Courage.



How did Kubrick work on Paths of Glory under the studio's nose?



Stanley managed to work at home, not at his office at the studio. He had a little place on Sunset. While trying to get Paths of Glory together, Stanley sat there for weeks: smoking, reading, getting ideas. That was Stanley. He was reading all the time. Kant. The history of ideas, what makes people think. Books. Books.


AL: How did you get cast in the movie as the military prosecutor?

RA: Stanley was a great movie goer. He had seen all my films at Metro where I had been under contract. One night around 11:00 p.m., I got a call from Jim Harris, Stanley's business partner. He said Stanley wanted to meet me, and they came over to my apartment and discussed the film. When the call came to go to work, I was ready since I had checked up on Kubrick and liked what I found out.



Kirk Douglas was signed for the lead of Colonel Dax, the French trial lawyer who becomes a front line officer.



They sent the script to everybody who turned it down, including Gregory Peck who had a schedule conflict. They gave it to Douglas who was the only one who wanted to make the picture. Douglas took it to United Artists. Max Youngstein said, "I don't want to make the picture. I don't even like it. We don't have time for a little picture like that. I see twenty or thirty movies like that coming around here a year." Finally, Douglas talked Youngstein into it. They gave Kubrick and Harris a $935,000 budget. After Douglas got $350,000, there wasn't much left to make the movie, and that's the miracle of it all.



The movie was shot at a studio in Munich, Germany and nearby locations.



The French felt the movie reflected badly on their country and wouldn't let the film be shot there. I remember when we were in Germany. It was the dead of winter. Stanley always had this old coat on. We went and inspected a location. He wanted to build that trench you saw in the opening scene. I call Stanley a movie scientist. He was always interested in technology. He had no interest in sentiment. The first thing he said to the German crew was, "I want a trench and I want it so I can put the cameras in there so we can roll up and down." And that's one of the most important things in that movie that people remember...those opening battle scenes...You've got to get that audience in the first three or four minutes...if you don't, you're not going anywhere, especially if it's an action movie, a war movie.


AL: How would you describe Stanley's technique as a director?


Unlike Elia Kazan, Stanley Kubrick was really not interested in actors. As soon as we started shooting, I knew immediately what Stanley was interested in: The shot. Always the shot. He worked with George Krause, the German cinematographer, to make sure that everything looked like a newsreel of World War I. Kubrick had studied many photographs of the war in the library. The film was low keyed and had a grainy look to it. That's what Stanley was interested in.


AL: There were stories that later when Douglas and Kubrick made Spartacus there was friction between them. How did they work together on Paths of Glory?



There was an office scene Kirk and I were in together, and I remember Kirk saying to me, "This guy is terrific."  Kubrick liked that Douglas was always prepared. He knew his lines. So it started out great. He had great admiration for Stanley.



What did Kubrick think of Douglas's performance?



Douglas was not a favorite of mine. He was always selling himself. There was this brashness. But his best performance was in this picture because if you notice, he was listening, watching, waiting and when he finally has his big scene where he tells Menjou--"General, I'm not your boy--" he was effective because he wasn't pounding away all through the movie. I don't know what Stanley did there, but it was to his credit. One day Kirk's stand-in came over and said: "Kirk's doing something. He's come down. He's not over the top in this movie." And I started to look, and I said, My God that guy is right.


AL: In some Hollywood circles in the 1950s, Adolphe Menjou (1890-1963) was disliked because he had appeared as a friendly witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities when the committee was investigating communism in Hollywood. Did this matter come up with Kubrick?



Menjou was very anti-communist. He was against left wingers. He was with the company. Originally, Stanley had wanted Lee J. Cobb, but Cobb didn't want to do another heavy. Stanley liked what Menjou was doing. It was a brilliant piece of casting. Stanley was never involved with politics. Douglas, on the other hand, later disregarded the blacklist by hiring Dalton Trumbo on Spartacus and giving him screen credit. Kirk and Menjou never spoke to each other.


AL: Showing the execution of soldiers ran contrary to Hollywood's standard approach to filmmaking.



Max Youngstein insisted that the three soldiers not die at the end. He said, "If those guys die, who will go see the movie?" The studio wanted them reprieved at the last minute. In Munich, Stanley sent Youngstein the final script without making the changes Max wanted. He registered the script to show it had been sent--and held his breath. They prayed Max wouldn't call and say that the deal is off. No one at United Artists read the script. When Max was shown a cut of the picture, he turned to Stanley and said: "You were right."



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