KING AND COUNTRY—-mention ‘World War One court martial’ and alert movie fans automatically chirp Paths Of Glory. The great Kirk Douglas/Stanley Kubrick masterpiece from 1957 may lead the first wave over the top, but in reserve is this little seen 1964 pocket-issue nugget, directed by Joseph Losey. On a few suitably claustrophobic sets, with scant adornment beyond uniforms and mud and without any action scenes (just sound effects in the background) this kneecapper of inflexible military ‘justice’ (see:rigged) has quiet power out of all proportion to its tiny canvas.
Despite good reviews, it didn’t even make enough to cover the minuscule $300,000 production cost. Too bleak for mass approval, too good to ignore for those who appreciate riveting historical drama. As one character has it “It’s a bit amateur to plead for justice.” The sole survivor of his original company leaves the 1917 abattoir of Passchendaele* and starts to “walk home”. Tried for desertion, it’s a no-brainer that the cruel British stiff-upper mindset will condemn the shattered sod, but his lawyer makes a valiant attempt nonetheless. Starring Dirk Bogarde (tight and stalwart, as the defense attorney), Tom Courtenay (the shell-shocked trooper), Leo McKern (the inept doctor). 88 minutes, with Barry Foster and Peter Copley.
*Also known as the 3rd Battle of Ypres. Months of attacks to gain nothing beyond hundreds of thousands of casualties. Another superb film set in the same awful no-man’s land is Beneath Hill 60.