Read, learn, and absorb: Stanley Kubrick and Jim Thompson’s screenplay for Paths of Glory [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
In 1956, a 26-year-old Stanley Kubrick asked Thompson to adapt Lionel White’s “Clean Break.” Retitled The Killing for the screen, it became Kubrick’s breakthrough movie. Thompson’s multi-narrative, tightly-wound script about a racetrack heist going wrong would resound down the years in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Jim also collaborated on Kubrick’s next venture, the World War I drama Paths of Glory.
In 1956, when Kubrick and producing partner James B. Harris secured the film rights to Lionel White’s caper novel Clean Break, it was Kubrick’s idea to recruit Thompson as his co-writer. “Are you familiar with a guy named Jim Thompson,” he asked Harris. “He’s a terrific writer who’s written some stuff I love.” Living in Sunnyside, Queens at the time, soft-spoken Jim Thompson was soon working with the budding maverick director.
In 1957, when Harris-Kubrick moved to California, the Thompson family relocated to Hollywood Hills to be close to Stanley. Riding into the sun-drenched city on the train, they were met at the station by the director. “The writing of Paths of Glory was essentially a very well-paid part time job for Thompson,” reported biographer Michael McCauley in his 1991 book Sleep With the Devil. “With a burst of spirit and a bust of creativity, he wrote and sold two novels (The Kill-Off and Wild Town) that same year.”
In actuality, Kubrick hired Thompson to rewrite the original draft penned by Calder Willingham. However, when their star Kirk Douglass read Thompson’s rewrite, he was appalled and reportedly threw the script across the room. Demanding that the Willingham’s version be reinstated, the final shooting script was credited to the two writers and director Kubrick. According to biographer Robert Polito, only seven scenes of Thompson’s made the final cut.
Although Paths of Glory won the Directors Guild of America Award for best screenplay, with the exception of a few television shows and a failed attempt to adapt his novel The Getaway (star Steve McQueen didn’t like the script), Thompson’s screenwriting career stalled. —Cold Blood: On Jim Thompson and Stanley Kubrick
Script pages for Paths of Glory with Kubrick’s handwritten notes:
On the set of Paths of Glory, Kubrick watches the actors perform with his characteristic look of concentration: