16 November 2018

Show ... without a lot of telling

An excellent example of this is the final scene in Stanley Kubrick's movie about World War I, PATHS OF GLORY (1957). A movie about war and pain and suffering, destruction and the unfairness of death.

The final scene involves a group of war-weary French soldiers in a cafe where a German girl is brought up on stage. She is terrified. Is she going to be molested? Made to take off her clothes? Killed? No. She is told to sing.

She stands in front of the crowd and sings through tears and trembling lips and as she sings, the racous crowd grows quiet, tears well in the eyes of these hard, lonely, distraught soldiers. Kubrick shows us what the men are thinking through their faces.

No one molests her because she is not seen as a sex object, but a woman, their girlfriend, their wife, their mother, someone to treasure. She is no longer the hated Bosche, no longer German, no longer the enemy. She is – a woman. For a brief moment, she brings beauty and music into the lives of these men.

The genius of the scene is how Kubrick shows us this without telling us. No one explains what's happening. No one says anything. We know without explanation. Sometimes, when I view this scene, I get a little choked up and I wasn't in WWI.

This is what showing instead of telling is about.


The actress who plays the singing German girl is Christine Harlan. Stanley Kubrick marries her and she remains his life-long companion until his death in 1999.

For its anti-war message and damning portrait of the French officer class, PATHS OF GLORY was banned in France for twenty years.

The scene described above can be seen on YouTube. Check it out here.



  1. Still my favorite Kubrick, after all this time. Terrifically shot. I think looser than the later pictures, less formal. It's calculated, of course, but how not? Both cynical and hopeful, and very affecting. "Now you got the edge on him." (Timothy Carey did a lot of striking character parts, and this is one of his best.) Douglas and Adophe Menjou were on opposite sides, politically, in real life: Menjou a strident supporter of the blacklist.

  2. Just copied and pasted the link and went to google to find it and it was unavailable, so I went to YouTube and pasted it and it IS available on YouTube (where I got it). Try: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJH8hO7VlWE

  3. A great director- and love the sidetone, too.

  4. A powerful scene from a powerful film that shows that sometimes less is more.

  5. O'Neil, thanks for reminding all of us about this great movie, and great scene. Who says we as writers can't learn from this kind of thing??

    TImothy Carey--one of those names not many people know, but a face EVERYbody recognizes.

  6. Love the movie, love the scene, loved hearing that Kubrick married her.
    I've also always loved Le Marseillaise scene in "Casablanca", because of the tears in Yvonne's eyes (Rick's ex-girlfriend). She means it.

    BTW, off-line this weekend - at an AVP workshop at the pen. Have a good one.

  7. Thanks for the comments. Love that scene in CASABLANCA with la Marseillaise rising over the German song and the tears in Yvonne's eyes. Yvonne was played by Marie Madeleine Berthe Lebeau, who lamented how her part had been pared down. Would like to see what they took out of her part.


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