Saturday, July 8, 2017

Escape to Victory

I think in large part because of the subject matter and the high number of athletes in the cast, the movie Victory (also known as Escape to Victory in the UK) gets a reputation as a hilariously awful movie. I bought the DVD some months back, and the movie is nowhere near as bad as it's often given credit for.

Max von Sydow plays Nazi Major von Steiner, who at the start of the movie is accompanying a delegation of Swiss Red Cross workers visiting a POW camp full of Allied prisoners. Steiner recognizes one of them, Capt. Colby (Michael Caine). Apparently, before the war, Colby played soccer for West Ham, one of the big English clubs, and even for the English national team. Colby has set up a makeshift soccer league in the camp.

Eventually, all of this leads to the Nazis having the idea of setting up a propaganda soccer friendly between a German team and a team of international POWs. This presents all sorts of problems because the British wouldn't want its soldiers becoming propaganda pawns of the Germans. Plus, there's really no way the soccer players can train properly. But Colby is told there are any number of internationals who are now POWs, including a Trinidadian (the Caribbean islands weren't independent countries yet) who looks and sounds surprisingly Brazilian, which is understandable when you consider the player is played by Pelé.

At the same time all this is going on, you've got an American who doesn't know much about soccer, and who wants to escape. Capt. Hatch (Sylvester Stallone), when he does play, tries to make American football-style tackles, which are highly illegal in soccer. But he spends more time on his escape plan, except that the soccer match is screwing that up. And then he does escape and make it to Paris, where the Resistance tells him it's possible that the big soccer friendly in Paris could be used as an opportunity for the team to escape! So we get to the big game. Will it be a fair fight? Will the Allies be able to escape at halftime? And what is Hatch doing playing in goal?

Victory is in some ways a familiar movie, what with the World War II theme and the idea of breaking out of a POW camp, topics that were covered in lots of movies. It's more the daft idea of putting a bunch of POWs in a soccer match in Paris that makes people want to bring the movie in for criticism. I find it's not so much that hook that's the problem. It's that the whole movie doesn't just require a suspension of disbelief; it requires disbelief to be levitated and flown off. The Resistance wants Hatch to go back into the camp to inform the soccer team of the escape attempt, but as we saw in The Great Escape, the Nazis just would have shot him in front of the others POWs without him having the opportunity to inform them of anything. Pelé gets subbed out of the soccer match, and then gets subbed back in, which is thoroughly against the rules of the game. And even though the refs aren't so neutral, there aren't even any yellow cards handed out to the Allies. If I watched the movie a second time, I could probably remember more obvious plot holes.

All that aside, though, Victory does entertain, and is nowhere near as bad as it's been made out to be. And the DVD is relatively inexpensive.

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