There may have been a temptation, after the anti-climactic Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut, to wonder why there was so much fuss about Stanley Kubrick.
This superb 1957 film, re-released to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, is a reminder both of his extraordinary formal virtuosity and his powers as a satirist.
Adapted from Humphrey Cobb's 1935 novel, it is loosely based on the true story of French soldiers who were executed for "cowardice" after their companies failed in a suicidal mission to take an enemy stronghold.
Three men are eventually chosen at random to die. Kirk Douglas is the regiment Colonel who tries to stand up for them. The war scenes are brutal. There are some extraordinary sequences in which the camera travels through the maze-like trenches, revealing shell-shocked and wounded soldiers wherever it goes.
These scenes are contrasted with the palatial elegance from which the demented General Mireau (brilliantly played by George Macready and every bit as crackpot as George C Scott in Dr Strangelove) plans the carnage. There's a sleekly malevolent performance from Adolphe Menjou, too, as the General who cares far more about perception and prestige than the well-being of his men.
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