This early film from Stanley Kubrick has Kirk Douglas leading the cast as a colonel in WW I defending the rights of several of his men who retreated after a failed advance. The early scenes in the trenches are well portrayed and appropriately somber and tragic, but it is the later courtroom scenes where the film truly connects emotionally and intellectually. The court martial takes place in a grand palace hall, and the tension that builds in the decidedly high-stakes proceedings is palpable.
Kubrick’s touch can primarily be seen in two places: the framing of grandiose scenes such as the aforementioned court martial, and a bleak sense of humor. The somber tone of the film is made bearable by several subtle forms of gallows humor in the spirit of Full Metal Jacket and A Clockwork Orange, particularly satirizing the French high command and their foppish attitudes toward the countless men dying daily on the front. The military element, with obvious liberal overtones and a definitive anti-war stance, reeks of Kirk Douglas, but, aside from the early scenes that give the film a sense of preemptive overkill, the subject matter is quite effective. The ending, like much of Kubrick’s work, is a knockout.
Recommended for fans of Kubrick, Douglas, and classic cinema. Not the most exciting film in the world, but an enriching watch nonetheless.