Summer of Sports Films: Victory

Victory illustration by Jeff Schwartzbauer

Victory (aka Escape to Victory) – 1981

Dir: John Huston | Starring: Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Pelé, Max von Sydow

Sport: Soccer

Review: A British soldier P.O.W. agrees to coach a Allies squad of soccer players/prisoners against a German Nazi commanders squad of elite German super stars. The game escalates from a “friendly” match to be held within P.O.W. camp to becoming what the Germans hope to be a show of power and propaganda within a large stadium in recently occupied France. The Allied soldiers are expected to escape during the match but players are apprehensive because of their desires to show up the Germans on the field.

This film is a reinterpretation of the infamous “Death Match” that was believed to have occurred in 1942 within occupied Kiev between German artillerymen and former star players from two prominent Russian Soccer Clubs. At the time of the filming the U.S.S.R. had still been spreading the rumors that after the Soviet players embarrassed the German officers (despite German referees trying to fix the match) that the SS shot several of the Soviet players dead on site. However, after the fall of the U.S.S.R. eyewitness’ from the match began to speak freely on the game and discounted the Soviets story as propaganda and that several of the Soviet players believed to have been shot dead had died due to events unrelated to the game many months later and in separate War related instances. The film merely chooses to take the aspects of Germans playing Soccer against their enemy and how that could be a pretty risky endeavor and added in various escape plots that occur both in the prison camp and at the soccer stadium to try and make a grand WWII fable.

The only aspects of the film that are very much worth watching is the Soccer match held at the last 3rd of the film. Michael Caine seems to be fairly uninterested in his role as player/coach during the portions of the film that are very weakly trying to emulate The Great Escape and Stallone is an awkward fit throughout the film and seems like he was just jammed in at the last minute by a producer. John Huston would have been 74 or 75 during the filming of this and pretty much saved any creative touches for the Soccer match and left the P.O.W. camp portions to be directed on autopilot. Its an interesting bit of history (albeit false history) but I can’t recommend it to anyone except for Soccer fans who want to see Pelé deliver some silly lines in broken english and show off his amazing Soccer skills.


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