Victory (aka Escape to Victory) (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Feb 19, 2020
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Victory (aka Escape to Victory) (Blu-ray Review)

Director

John Huston

Release Date(s)

1981 (February 25, 2020)

Studio(s)

Lorimar/Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros. (Warner Archive Collection)
  • Film/Program Grade: B
  • Video Grade: B
  • Audio Grade: B-
  • Extras Grade: D

Victory (Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

To pass the time in a German POW camp during World War II, former West Ham United player John Colby (Michael Caine) organizes a football league. A visiting German Army major (Max von Sydow) sees them practicing and proposes a match to boost morale—the camp’s best players against the Wehrmacht team. But when his superiors learn of this, they decide to use the game as part of the Nazi propaganda effort. Now, Colby will have his pick of players from the ranks of all POW camps—among them Luis Fernandez (Pelé) and American Robert Hatch (Sylvester Stallone)—and they’ll face the German National team in a “goodwill” game in Paris. With the game due to be broadcast live over the radio to all of Europe, a loss would be seen as a blow to the Allied war effort. But is Colby’s team playing to win… or escape to freedom?

Based in part on Zoltán Fábri’s 1962 Hungarian film Two Halves in Hell, John Huston’s Victory is probably the closest thing the legendary director made to a B-movie (aside, perhaps, from Phobia)—a classic feel good tale, a war film, and a sports movie all in one. The story certainly defies belief, but the script is deftly written by Evan Jones and Yabo Yablonsky. Caine and Von Sydow are at the top of their game, while Stallone is in his youthful prime (appearing here straight from Nighthawks and just prior to Rocky III and First Blood). And Brazilian sports legend Pelé choreographed the film’s climactic match, which features a who’s who of international footballers of the day. All of this is enhanced by a playful Bill Conti score that draws upon existing classical works (including Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 “Leningrad”) to elevate the whole damn film.

Victory was shot on 35mm photochemical film using Panavision cameras and anamorphic lenses and was finished at the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. For Warner Archive’s new Blu-ray release, the film was given a new scan in HD from the best archival elements. The image quality is surprisingly nice for an HD only scan. Detail and texturing are good, though sometimes a tad soft (especially in optical transitions). Grain levels are light to moderate but are seldom distracting. Colors are accurate, if perhaps slightly less saturated that you’d see on a more modern film. Still, the reds and blues are particularly vivid, as readily apparent in the football team’s jerseys and uniforms. Shadows are deep, but seldom look crushed. This image is a huge step up from the previous DVD release.

Audio is included in English 2.0 stereo in DTS-HD Master Audio format. It’s a no-frills mix, but the dialogue is largely clean and the tonal quality is full and natural. There’s little in the way of noise or analog defects in the source recordings, save for perhaps a bit of distortion in the loud stadium cheering in the film’s climax. Conti’s score is presented with fine fidelity—the main theme is a rousing march, not to mention an insidious earworm you’ll be humming long after the credits finish rolling. Optional English subtitles are also available.

Warner Archive’s Blu-ray includes only one extra (in SD):

  • Theatrical Trailer (2:30)

It’s the same trailer that was included on the previous DVD, sans the Paramount logo and in actual anamorphic widescreen instead of 1.33:1—it’s a nice bit of old school Hollywood Movie Marketing 101. The DVD also included production notes and the film’s full frame version. Neither are here, but neither is really a loss.

Is Victory preposterous? Sure it is. But it’s still an under-appreciated 80s gem, long a favorite of mine from its frequent airings on HBO in the early days of pay cable television. It’s not quite The Great Escape, but it is a great deal of fun (and its Blu-ray release is welcome indeed).

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

 

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