Victory also known as Escape to Victory was a 1981 film release from Lorimar/Warner Brothers. Arriving in theaters on the heels of Phobia and before his great 80s success with Annie, this was John Huston’s sports film. Shot against the backdrop of World War II with a variety of soccer’s greatest stars, Huston created a POW movie unlike any other. Come as we enter the world of this recent Warner Archive Blu-ray release.
Victory is a movie that was perpetually on cable when I was a little kid. For kids of a certain generation, that image of celebratory soccer players is burned into their head. Hell, this movie and the Atari 2600 Pele’s Soccer is how I learned soccer was a thing. Which raises a fun point. This is a fictional story based on a fictional story. While hailed as an interesting point about the World War II POW experience, no prisoners ever played the Nazis in a soccer game.
As one of the many odd stories to come out of the veterans returning from World War II, there was talk of a game between Ukrainian prisoners and Nazi commanders. The tale inspired a film in the early 1960s that none of you have seen. Naturally, that meant it was grounds for Huston to churn out an old fashioned sports film.
John Huston made some weird films at the end of his life. I’ll go so far as to say that he peaked in 1975 with The Man Who Would Be King and that should’ve been his career capper. But, that would be overlooking the later success of Wise Blood and Under the Volcano. Still, look at his later work. Phobia, Victory, Annie and even The Dead could’ve been made by anyone else. There was nothing distinctive about his work here.
Sylvester Stallone was riding the last of the critical buzz off of Rocky when the film dropped in his lap. Playing the American POW role that would have went to George Peppard or Steven McQueen a generation before, Stallone kills with the material. Working as the goalkeeper, Stallone’s job is to be the last line of defense against the Nazi players. He’s also working with Caine on the escape plan, but we’re getting off the point.
Pele as a superstar athlete is still alien to me. For years, I only knew him as the star of the Atari 2600 game that it seemed like everyone owned. Yet, the film does a lot with his bare minimum supporting role. The same is true for the other players, but none of them had Atari games. The film carries on with its stunning cinematography from Gerry Fisher. Past that, I’ve got nothing.
Victory is not a bad movie and it’s not an amazing relic from the 1980s. Like most films that come out at the start of a decade, its heart belongs to the prior era. If you had to put a pin in the film, it’s a story out of time and place. Couple that with an elderly Golden Age director shooting the film and you have a weird hodge podge of style fighting it out for screen time. Victory is quite the interesting film, but it’s not one that I’d call a must-see.
Warner Archive brings a Blu-ray loaded with stellar A/V Quality. I included several screenshots taken directly from the Blu-ray to showcase that 1080p transfer. Plus, the DTS-HD 2.0 master audio stereo track remains true to the original audio elements. I don’t know who is selecting the Warner Archive titles for release, but the eclectic choices are rivaling output from Criterion and other collections.