John Huston was nearing the end of his life. Having just finished the under seen, horrifically bad Phobia, he set his eyes on a project that looked incredibly commercial. It was the story of an allied soccer team who played Germany to escape. Having originally been written as a drama, the project Huston overtook was fluff. However, it was commercial fluff, and Huston was short on cash. The film was to star Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone and Brazilian soccer player Pele.
As soon as filming began, it became clear that Stallone had the biggest ego on set, through his insistence that he score a goal, despite being the goalkeeper (that's impossible in soccer). The film went on to become a modest hit, grossing close to $11 million, and it soon disappeared. Today the film is mostly found in bargain bins and double disks with similar films. It has a 6.4 on IMDb, and a 67% on Rotten Tomatoes. It is essentially a product of it's time, but that doesn't mean it is without perks.
We are introduced to Captain Robert Hatch and Captain John Colby, an American and a British officer stuck in a German prison camp in World War II. Colby was once a famous football (soccer) star back before the war. He holds a mutual admiration for Major Karl von Steiner, a former player, and now a German officer. Steiner sees a possible propaganda victory in a soccer team run by Colby, and challenges him to a friendly match. Colby agrees, while the officers around him try and convince him to escape sometime during the game.
It is after Hatch escapes and returns with the knowledge of a way out of the change room during halftime, Colby agrees to get him, and his ragtag team of soccer stars, out. But can they leave victorious as well...
My first thought when I heard of Victory was, "Wow, that sounds campy." After I saw it, I though "Wow, that was campy." As soon as you see Michael Caine and Max von Sydow as two former soccer stars, you can pretty much give up all hope for a serious film. Although that doesn't mean Huston doesn't try. Or at least he appears to try. Everyone involved takes it so seriously, it's actually kind of funny. There are points where you just start laughing at the absolute absurdity of the situation.
I mean really...a soccer game? The fate of World War Two depends on a soccer game? Well, according to this film it does. And the soccer game is so bad, it's actually entertaining. Don't get me wrong, I am not a huge fan of soccer, but I know that no soccer game can have as many absurd kicks and slow motion goalkeeping while someone yells "Victory!" in the background. The soccer game is so cheesy, that it instantly becomes memorable. That is not to say that the film proceeding it hasn't the same absurd perks.
The opening hour is pretty much just a setup for the big game, with Michael Caine doing a lot of running and shouting while Sylvester Stallone breaks out of prison from the shower. I mean, really... And I'm not even going to mention the ending, which is so implausible that even a six year old could have said "That's impossible!" Stallone could be considered to be the main character, I guess (he is billed first). He does an adequate job, but I have trouble believing that the bulky Stallone and the potbellied Caine are starving POW's. Stallone gets the bulk of the film's most dramatic scenes, which isn't a bad decision, but this is an action film.
At times it appears that Stallone is having a hard time deciding what his character is all about, while reading his lines in the same tone. He can really dive for a ball in slow motion though... Caine, when contrasted with Stallone seems like he's doing Shakespeare. He gives the best performance of the film (meaning he doesn't suck), while actually giving, gasp!, depth to his performance. Caine has always been a great actor, but he still didn't catch onto the campiness of the film, so he plays it straight. This makes it even cheesier, thus making it more entertaining.
There is another actor involved who gives an average performance, Max von Sydow. Von Sydow has always been a great actor, and he may have been the only actor in on the joke. He also portrays the nicest doggone Nazi I've ever seen. He just isn't threatening, but he is entertaining. After Pele gives a slow motion bicycle kick, he stands up and claps with absolute reverence. Oh, and Pele plays for the opposite team than the one he is supposed to cheer for. Just thinking about that moment has me in stitches.
Speaking of Pele, most of the cast is made up of famous soccer players. Besides Pele, who is largely considered one of the greatest soccer players of all time, the film also features Bobby Moore, Osvaldo Ardiles and so on. They all perform greatly on the field, as they do a lot of kicking, and yelling at Germans. The script is an absolute mess, yet it is such an entertaining mess! It walks the thin line between bad and average skillfully.
The cinematography is nothing to write home about, but I must pay tribute to Bill Conti's bombastic score. It is overly patriotic in the best way possible, in someways foreshadowing his terrific score to The Right Stuff. Also bombastic are the sets, particularly the stadium where the pivotal game is played, and contribute to the over the top nature of the film.
And that about brings me to Huston's direction. I know that he was nearing the end of his life, but this film is so lifeless, so devoid of direction, that you could have literally changed the directorial credit to anyone else, and I would have believed it. I do not mean to harp on the same point in every one of these reviews, but it is so frustrating that the film is so languid and relaxed direction wise, it gets me every time. Overall, this film is so bad, it is incredibly entertaining. In a campy sort of way, you could call it a success, but as a film it is definitely lacking.
Oh, and by the way, at one point Sylvester Stallone speaks french. Just thought I'd leave you with that thought.
Starring: Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone and Max von Sydow,
Directed by John Huston,
1. The African Queen
2. The Dead
3. The Man Who Would Be King
4. Moby Dick
5. The Asphalt Jungle
6. The Red Badge Of Courage
7. The Night Of The Iguana
8. Key Largo
9. The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean
10. The Misfits
11. Beat the Devil
12. Reflections in a Golden Eye
13. Fat City
14. Wise Blood
15. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
16. The Unforgiven
17. Under The Volcano
18. Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison
20. The List of Adrian Messenger
22. Prizzi's Honor
23. The MacKintosh Man
24. We Were Strangers
25. Phobia: A Descent Into Terror