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‘…best enjoyed as a simple-minded Boys Own sporting daydream for worldwide man-children…’

Somehow a triumph and disaster at the same time, John Huston’s star-packed 1981 farrago of sporting nonsense offers plenty to unpack. Like Michael Caine heist movies with a patriotic flavour? Of course you do, who doesn’t love The Italian Job? Fancy Sylvester Stallone is a be-all-you-can-be motivational sports movie? Why not, who doesn’t love Rocky and his continuous montage of underdog training? Love The Great Escape? Who doesn’t thrill to tales of wartime heroism, with fascists overlords outsmarted by cheeky individuals of all nations? So given that we generally adore all of these things, why not have them all at the same time!? That’s what happens in Huston’s much anticipated movie, but the result is like putting orange juice and ice cream on your cornflakes; sure, the ingredients are all great, but the mix just doesn’t gel…

‘Can I have my ball back?’ asks cheeky USA chappie Captain Robert Hatch (Stallone) of a German guard; this is WWII as a Hogan’s Heroes sitcom and with zero connection to grim reality. We’re told that Captain John Colby (Caine) and his men are incarcerated in a POW area where they enjoy ‘good conditions compared to other camps’ which kinda half explains why a number of healthy, athletic footballers happen to be playing keppie-uppie on a robust diet of eggs and beer. Colby used to play for West Ham, something which immediately endears him to fiba-loving Good German Steiner (Max von Sydow), who promptly arranges a match between the German national team and Colby’s men in a packed Parisian stadium, for propaganda purposes, of course. Colby balks at being ‘exhibited…like performing fleas.’ ‘The whole bloody war is a regrettable mistake…if only we could settle out differences on a football field’ explains Steiner patiently, but Colby finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. The camp’s escape committee are keen to use the Paris trip as the focus for a breakout, but if his team manage to evade capture, who will defy the enemy in the big game?

‘Am I good or am I good?’ asks Stallone, but best not to answer him back. Hatch’s remarks about ‘old ladies and fairies’ perhaps aren’t the most inclusive; there’s a weird strain of homophobia in Victory, not least via the casting of Daniel Massey, Oscar nominated for playing Noel Coward in 1969’s Star, as the effete, cravat-sporting head of the escape committee who doesn’t know or understand war like the pro footballers do. Caine also has a hard angle to sell audiences; ’ None of us look like or feel like world-class players’ he says inaccurately of his troupe of, well, world-class players including legends like Brazilian Pele, Argentine Osvaldo Ardiles, England’s Mike Summerbee and Scot John Wark. More seriously, we discover that Colby is using his team selection specifically to keep a number of Eastern European prisoners from the death camps, ‘They may not exist as people, but they do exist as players,’ Colby explains of his skeletal fringe team who will be ‘sent back if they don’t play’. The football festival then commences, with a helpful radio commentary that patiently explains to football fans what a penalty kick is during the game, something of a sop to then un-clued up US audiences.

For a hyped film with big stars and a legendary director, there’s a reason why Victory, aka Escape to Victory, is forgotten now; it’s still in single figures on Rotten Tomatoes in terms of reviews. While most war movies are fantasies of a sort, Victory pushes a little too hard in imagining a fictional situation where the good guys give the bad guys a bloody nose. ‘You got feet, I got hands’ says Stallone as he finds his metier as a goal-keeper, ‘So, where do I stand for corner kicks?’ An enjoyable bad movie, Victory landed with The Sea Wolves, Hanover Street, Escape to Athena and other late 70’s, early 80’s WWII movies that few wanted. While Victory’s silly shenanigans could be offensive to the memory of those who fought and died in wartime, it’s probably best enjoyed as a simple-minded Boys Own sporting daydream for worldwide man-children, a group who still seem to be well catered for in all departments, not just sport.




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  1. I remember being hyped to see this on the telly when I was a kid. I also remember being pretty disappointed by it. And I’m a footie fan. Please remind me if we get the classic slow-mo Stallone leap through the air that became a trope in a lot of his movies.

    • I think it has more appeal now, but I’d agree that this doesn’t have the kind of cool that Great Escape had, despite having a wild selection of talents involved. It hardly does justice to the horrors of way, it’s just too glib. But as a good/bad movie, the presumptions are amusing, with Stallone exibiting many of the traits and tropes that turned a bit sour via too much repetition.

  2. Looking forward to your take on Escape to Athena and especially Hanover Street. I never took to this much for the reasons you state minus the free pass.

  3. Can’t believe this is in single figures on RT.. this is Scottish Xmas telly at its best.. did your family get excited about Pele in a movie on that Christmas showing.. of course back then it was only Caine I knew in this one of the first of his shouty movies.

    • Caine was just doing everything and anything in the early 80’s. He’s present, but phoning it in somewhat, ever in his shouts phase. 9 review this had on RT. Have people forgotten how these stars suffered to make this?

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