“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Victory

tn_victoryVICTORY is a 1981 John Huston film that combines a LONGEST YARD type game-between-prisoners-and-guards story with a GREAT ESCAPE type story about escape greatness. It all begins when Sylvester Stallone, a Canadian prisoner in a German WWII labor camp (I thought American, but apparently he has a maple leaf on him somewhere), loses control of his soccer ball. It rolls over to Max Von Sydow, a Nazi officer who starts showboating by foot juggling it even though he’s wearing his big Nazi boots, and he kicks it over to Michael Caine, a British prisoner who was a pro footballer/soccerer before the war.

That one casual sporting exchange is historic because it starts up the conversation that leads to the deal: the best players from among the Allied prisoners will play an exhibition game against the German national team. For the Nazis it’s good propaganda at the end of a war that, let’s face it, did not improve their country’s image on the international stage. For the prisoners it’s an opportunity to plan an escape.

I’m a little confused about the time period. I could swear they say the war is over, but some of the things I’ve read about the movie don’t seem to say that. Whenever it is there are still Nazis, they still occupy France, they still drape big swastika flags on the stadium. I guess the transition is still taking place, but our boys are desperate to escape. They explain that the labor camp prisoners haven’t been acknowledged as prisoners. They have to negotiate their way into the match. I guess they’re not gonna get released for a long time due to bureaucracy?

Stallone has to talk his way onto the team too. He’s initially not allowed because he pisses off Coach Caine with his aggressive, non-gentlemanly North American style of playing. But after the big game causes security changes that spoil his own escape plan he kind of bullies his way into the role of team doctor, then gets promoted to goalie.

mp_victoryThe music is by ROCKY’s Bill Conti, and it’s produced by Andrew Vajna and Mario Kassar, who would go on to produce the Rambo series. (This was their second movie, they’d only executive produced THE CHANGELING.) And Stallone is pretty much the main character, but despite all that it doesn’t feel like a Stallone vehicle. It feels like a British production, very polite considering who the bad guys are. It’s kind of weird, it just treats them as rivals instead of as fucking Nazis. In THE LONGEST YARD the prisoners are playing against the guards, so the appeal to them is being able to beat the shit out of the screws that usually beat them. This game is very professional, and it’s against the German national team anyway so you don’t know if they were kinda forced into it or what. Maybe they’re nice guys.

The Nazi officers don’t go further than normal sports movie bad guys, either. They don’t even try to cheat or play all that rough. They just add fake applause to the radio broadcast to make it seem like the crowd supports their team. More pathetic than evil.

Caine’s character is interesting because he’s a prisoner and he’s put together this game which will be more fun than sitting around doing nothing. But then he’s in a spot because everybody’s pressuring him to do something bigger with it, like plan an escape. He doesn’t want to be responsible if they try that and get killed. He doesn’t want to be involved. He just wants to kick a ball. I’m torn on what I think about that. Part of me respects it and part of me wonders what the hell his problem is that soccer can be the most important thing to him at a time like this.

I think most of the players are real soccer pros from the era. The Brazilian legend Pele (honestly the only player I could name besides Jacko, Vinnie Jones or David Beckham) is on the Allied team, and gets a special “soccer plays designed by” credit. (Yes, it says “soccer,” so I assume it’s really an American production. Or maybe it only says that on VICTORY. Everywhere else they call it ESCAPE TO VICTORY, and maybe they call it football in that version.) I think they just tried to play hard and film some highlights, sometimes in slo-mo. But there’s a big part where Pele does his famous show-offy bicycle kick where he flips and kicks the ball while upside down. That’s cool.

I’m gonna SPOILER a major plot turn here. During half time the team plans to escape through a tunnel built by the French Resistance. But some of them say “We can win this!” and decide not to go. Stallone knows it’s stupid but he can’t really escape on his own. This is a nice sportsman notion, but somebody’s gotta tell them that one of the things that’s more important than winning is escaping from a fucking Nazi prison. I think everybody would forgive you for forfeiting this match. Maybe they think it’s a good thing to do to give hope to the people or something, but 1) at half time it really doesn’t look like they have a chance, it’s only underdog movie formula that makes it possible and 2) they don’t even end up winning, it’s a ROCKY type victory where they come from behind to tie it up. But I like how things turn out.

Maybe the most unorthodox thing in the movie is Von Sydow’s Nazi with good sportsmanship. He’s the only one in his section who claps for Pele’s kick. I get the idea he was completely sincere in wanting to see a good, competitive game, and not just a German win. He seems pleased with the Allied team’s achievements. An honorable or won-over bad guy like that is normal in movies, but, again, not one that’s a fuckin Nazi. That’s pretty weird.

Despite this slightly odd aproach, or maybe a little bit because of it, it’s an enjoyable movie. Stallone is good, playing one of those kinda stubborn but well meaning lunkheads he’s good at playing. It’s definitely no THE GREAT ESCAPE but it’s a solid watch-with-your-dad-or-son-on-a-Saturday-afternoon type of movie.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Saturday, April 6th, 2013 at 9:35 pm and is filed under Drama, Reviews, Sport. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

27 Responses to “Victory”

  1. Wow. An old childhood favorite of mine. Pele was a god.

  2. I didn’t really like this film as a kid, but nowadays I can just enjoy it for what it is. “Make it a clean break skipper”, That kind of sacifice would’nt happen nowadays. Pele was not only the unluckiest Brazillian during WWII but also the originator of the Van Damme multi-angle kick. God bless Bobby Moore.

  3. This is more or less a remake of the 1962 Hungarian movie TWO HALF-TIMES IN HELL which was in itself based on true events. They have of course changed the ending a bit, since the real football (yes, it’s called that here in Europe) team (FC Dynamo Kiev) were sent to a prison camp and executed after winning all their matches against the German players.

    I’m not interested in football at all and I think this is a movie where the stories from the set are much more interesting. Stories about a certain American superstar who came to Bulgaria thinking he was a great athlete, betting a thousand dollars he could save at least two or three penalty shots from Pele and not being able to save a single one and then for some reason spending the rest of the shoot on his own. But at least he gave it his all, breaking a rib and a finger in the process.

    Not excactly one of Hustons masterpieces, but it has a huge following among football fans over here. I guess in Norway too, since one of the players is Halvard Thoresen, and it’s on TCM almost every week. These days football players are bugger stars than actors, and I can only imagine the fuss if they had done something like this today.

  4. The odd era in Huston’s life when after this (I think) he directed the musical ANNIE. (Not seen VICTORY in years so I can’t say if its good or not.)

    Then cancer got to him and inspired him to make as many good movies as possible before he died, which he did with his last 3 movies so he was to a degree like Ebert. Then again he was usually consistently pretty good as a filmmaker.

    (Herzog will make movies until they have to pry the camera from his cold dead fingers.)

  5. Eastwood as well, but I’m not sure about the quality in his case.

  6. I like this one a lot, I think the (spoiler) in the middle is funny, it sort of plays off the football/soccer madness in Europe that I still don’t think us Americans really understand. These guys are professionals with pride and they become obsessed with wanting to kick the German’s ass on the field. And while it ends in a tie, everyone in the stadium knows they won because the officials did cheat, taking a goal away from the POWs (or something like that). I mean, when they start saying “We can win this” is is played for a laugh, I saw it in the theatre when I was 10 and I still remember Caine and Stallone’s reactions to the guys’ saying this. Plus, from pretty early on it’s established Von Sydow is sympathetic (is he a Nazi or a German soldier? there is a bit of a difference) in that he too wants to just see great players play as opposed to use the game for propoganda. I think as an eccentric variation on GREAT ESCAPE it really holds up…

    81 was the year Stallone tried to be a real actor, doing this and NIGHTHAWKS with his beard. Neither did particularly well, I guess, and FIRST BLOOD was next (which was great, but where he largely decided to go the over-the-top action route)…

  7. Jim, at this point of his career, Sly WAS known as “real” actor! It really wasn’t until 1985, when he became the action star that he is now known as. (FIRST BLOOD was still more of a drama than a “real” actioner and in 85 he started doing stuff like FIRST BLOOD 2 or COBRA.)

  8. I wonder what if any of Stallone’s dramas made between ROCKY and FIRST BLOOD (like F.I.S.T.) had actually taken off critically or financially? Would his career have been more Oscar bait roles with maybe occassional popcorn?

    I always wondered why he didn’t seem to try to “act” again until COPLAND it feels like.

  9. I think LOCK UP was an attempt to return to drama which went off-track during production. I guess OVER THE TOP is technically a drama too!

  10. It’s the Travolta Curse, isn’t it? It’s all good until he meets and directs Travolta in STAYING ALIVE. After that he’s lost in the Ego Wasteland for a hile, concentrating on models, plastic surgery and right wing politics. I’m not saying that he became a scientolog, but it sure looks like he took some advice from them.

  11. I’d love to see Sly direct a straight up drama movie.

    I think he has the skills for it. I thought ROCKY BALBOA was a terrific drama (if not a great boxing film), and he rejuvenated Rambo’s character in RAMBO by adding some much needed emotional weight (well, that and gore). Even in THE EXPENDABLES, the best part was the earnest and sincere Mickey Rourke monologue – Stallone had the eye to direct the scene with restraint and not hog the screen from Rourke. He somehow managed to make a scene that was probably on paper goofy – and even in the finished film very much out of place – to work at that moment.

    But all those three have been continuations of existing franchises or just mining his action persona. I think Stallone is at the same point of his life and career as Eastwood was after directing THE UNFORGIVEN (which was Eastwood’s ROCKY BALBOA or RAMBO). As much as I like Sly’s action films, instead of doing them until he croaks, I’d rather see him follow Clint and take on drama directing full-time. I believe he’s ready.

  12. My god, somehow this movie totally escaped me, no pun intended. It looks hilarious, but i laughed so hard reading your review that that might just be enough!

    Also, perhaps the Von Sydow sportsmanlike Nazi is a hat tip to Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, who had defied orders from Hitler to execute captured commandos, even ordering that a British Major killed in battle be buried with full military honors. He had protested the Third Reich’s ‘final solution’, allegedly preferring an old-breed military fair fight. And for all of Rommel’s integrity, he was rewarded with a cyanide capsule. Not cool, man.

  13. “a solid watch-with-your-dad-or-son-on-a-Saturday-afternoon type of movie.”

    This is the perfect way to describe this film. It’s how I first saw it and how my son (if I ever have one) will probably see this.

    I love this movie. It’s not great,but it’s fun. The cast is awesome all around and it even sort of makes soccer interesting (the real sign it’s an American production… Cuz if it were Euro they’d say, we don’t need to make football look more exciting than it is because the beautiful game is perfect already and anybody who thinks it’s boring is just a boorish yank) [no offense meant to soccer fans or Europeans in general. I’m just pulling your legs, guys and gals, so please don’t attack me].

    But, yeah. The Nazis are way too sympathetic. It’s a little more Hogan’s Heroes meets Rocky than Great Escape meets Rocky in my opinion.

  14. pegsman – Funny I was gonna blame Scientology for Sly’s career once you brought Travolta up, but you beat me to the punch. Maybe the Thetans they E meter-ed out of Sly is why he did bullshit like OVER THE TOP.

    “I’d love to see Sly direct a straight up drama movie.”

    HT – He did, PARADISE ALLEY if I remember correctly. I’ve never seen it, so I might be wrong.

  15. Max Von Sydow plays a German officer in this movie, not a nazi. “Nazi” is the term used about the members of the National Socialist party. Judging by Von Sydows age his major Steiner were already in the army when Hitler came to power, and I doubt that he is supposed to be a party member. And thus he can seem nice. And prisoners of war were treated better than ordinary prisoners. Just saying.

  16. RRA – Never knew about PARADISE ALLEY. Looking at it on IMDB, it looks pretty interesting. And it has Armand Assante playing Sly’s brother, so that means JUDGE DREDD was a family reunion movie of sorts. Huh.

    Learn something new every day.

  17. Okay then, read “Von Sydow’s Nazi with good sportsmanship” as “Von Sydow’s Nazi-era German officer who wears swastikas and an Iron Cross and is in charge of prisoners during WWII and the reign of Hitler with good sportsmanship.’

  18. It may seem like a pointless quibble to a lot of people, but I do get slightly bothered when people use the term “Nazis” to desribe anyone who fought on the German side, whether they were a party member or not.
    “Nazi” has become such a dehumanising term that it makes it easy to forget that most German soldiers were just ordinary guys (largely conscripts) with no particular love for the National Socialist party.

    I like the movie poster, Vern. You seem to have all sorts of international posters in your reviews. Is it randomly selected by a script, or do you select them yourself?

  19. Paradise Alley is pretty meh, in my opinion, but Sly seems to be having a lot of fun with his role in that movie. It’s worth watching, but it isn’t going to blow anybody away.

  20. I agree with CrustaceanHate actually, there’s a book called The Forgotten Soldier that was written by a former German soldier about his experiences fighting during WW2, he was just an average guy, he did not really identify with the Nazis but he wasn’t given much choice either, he had to fight and many of his fellow soldiers were the same way and they went through hell just like anyone else during WW2

    it wasn’t Hitler and his SS cronies on the front line, no, it was the average German men they sent to die as cannon fodder for their evil cause

  21. I choose the posters, and if I can find a cool looking foreign one that I haven’t seen before I usually pick that. This one is extra weird. Sly reminds me of Speed Racer for some reason.

  22. I remember seeing it on a Saturday afternoon with my dad.

  23. HT – I kinda want to see PARADISE ALLEY only because a subplot involves pro wrestling, and not as a source of cartoonish jokes like say ThunderLips/ROCKY III apparently. Apparently Terry Funk and Ted DiBiase Sr. both worked on the movie too.

  24. RRA, I haven’t seen PARADISE ALLEY in a long while, but I don’t remember it being very serious about wrestling. The fights are beautifully filmed, but Stallone the director uses A LOT of slow motion combined with heavy rain (there’s a whole in the roof, don’t ask me why). Which of course looks cool the first couple of times a guy gets thrown, but not the tenth if you get my drift.

  25. Vern, oddly enough, Sly looks more like FIST OF THE NORTHSTAR in that poster than Speed Racer.

  26. Hey Vern, speaking of Nazis, have you ever done a review of DOWNFALL (Der Untergang, auf Deutsch), with Bruno Ganz as Hitler? Last days in the bunker scenario. I’d be interested to know what you think of that film.

  27. The main thing about this film, which I have forgotten about until now. Is the arm breaking scene. I remember how traumatic for me seeing the guy having the arm broken.

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