The Victors (film)
|Directed by||Carl Foreman|
|Produced by||Carl Foreman|
Written for the screen|
by Carl Foreman
From the novel
The Human Kind
by Alexander Baron
and Michael Callan
Composed and conducted|
by Sol Kaplan
|Cinematography||Christopher Challis B.S.C.|
|Edited by||Alan Osbiston|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$2,350,000 (US/ Canada)|
The Victors is a 1963 Anglo-American war film written, produced and directed by Carl Foreman, whose name on the film's posters was accompanied by nearby text, "from the man who fired The Guns of Navarone". Shot on location in Western Europe and Britain, The Victors features an all-star cast, with fifteen American and European leading players, including six actresses (Melina Mercouri from Greece, Jeanne Moreau from France, Rosanna Schiaffino from Italy, Romy Schneider and Senta Berger from Austria as well as Elke Sommer from West Germany) whose photographs appear on the posters. One of the posters carries the tagline, "The six most exciting women in the world… in the most explosive entertainment ever made!".
The film follows a group of American soldiers through Europe during the Second World War, from Britain in 1942, through the fierce fighting in Italy and France, to the uneasy peace of Berlin. Production of the story's action meant filming scenes that took place in Sweden, France, Italy and England.
It is adapted from a collection of short stories called The Human Kind by English author Alexander Baron, based upon his own wartime experiences. In the film the British characters of the original book were changed into Americans in order to attract American audiences.
Carl Foreman wrote, produced and directed the epic. He called it a "personal statement" about the futility of war. Both victor and vanquished are losers.
The film slips between Pathé-style newsreel footage showing the conquering heroes abroad for the audience at home, and the grim reality of battlefield brutality and post-conflict ennui. No battle scenes are depicted in the film.
The story is told in a series of short vignettes, each having a beginning and an ending in itself, though all are connected to the others, as a series of short stories adding up to a longer one.
Atypically of Hollywood interpretations of the Second World War at the time, the depiction of American GIs shows soldiers worn out by battle, weary of conflict and capable of casual cruelty towards outsiders and also to other Americans. In one vignette a group of white American soldiers attack and brutally beat two black American soldiers. Others show American military personnel (star George Peppard) becoming players in the "black market," although Peppard goes back to his unit when he sees them leaving for the front, and Americans and Russians alike exploiting German women sexually.
The hostility of German civilians towards their American and Soviet occupiers is also depicted.
One of the cinematic high points is the detour of one truckload of GIs out of a convoy, for the express purpose of supplying witnesses to the execution by firing squad of a GI deserter (a scene inspired by the real-life 1945 execution of Pvt. Eddie Slovik). Depicted in a huge, otherwise empty, snow-covered field near a chateau at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines on Christmas Eve, while the film audience first hears Frank Sinatra singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and then a chorus of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing", after the fatal shots are fired. This scene is remarkable for its stark, visually extreme imagery, and the non-combat stress and anguish foisted on GIs during a lull in combat. The New York Times film review stated "it stands out in stark and sobering contrast to the other gaudier incidents in the film".
The whole film is shot in black and white, and so the black regimented figures of the firing squad and witnesses face the lone man bound to a stake in the midst of a snow-covered plain. The addition of surreal accompanying Christmas music and absence of dialogue make this scene an often cited one. The juxtaposition of saccharine music with a frightful scene was emulated the following year by Stanley Kubrick in Dr. Strangelove, which was also shot in black and white.
An anti-war message also unusual for the time period - and particularly regarding America's involvement in the Second World War - is found in the final vignette. An American soldier (co-star George Hamilton) stationed in post-war Berlin picks a fight with a drunken Soviet soldier (Albert Finney), possibly to avenge the rape of his German girlfriend by Soviet soldiers during the Battle of Berlin. The fight ends with each man killing the other and the camera slowly pulls back to show the bodies of the two one-time allies lying in the shape of a "V" for victory in a seemingly limitless desert of rubble and ruins.
Starring in alphabetical order
The Squad [Firing squad members]
Songs listed in opening credits
"March of the Victors" • "Sweet Talk" • "No Other Man" by Sol Kaplan • Freddy Douglass
"My Special Dream" by Sol Kaplan • Freddy Douglass • Howard Greenfield
"Does Goodnight Mean Goodbye?" by Howard Greenfield • Jack Keller • Gerry Goffin
"My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity. All a poet can do today is warn..."
Born, 18 March 1893.
Killed in France, 4 November 1918.
Photographed on locations in Italy, France, England and Sweden, with the kind co-operation of the Swedish Army Ordnance Corps
and at Shepperton Studios, England
Released through Columbia Pictures Corporation
The Victors was cut by about 20 minutes within a few weeks of opening. The version in circulation (to the extent that it is circulating at all) is 154 minutes (see Leonard Maltin's Film & Video Guide).
The Hollywood Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, insisted that several scenes be deleted that showed two of the American soldiers were patronising a male French prostitute and paying him with food. While the Code had been gradually liberalised in the 1950s-early 1960s, homosexuality was still something that could only be, vaguely, implied in order to get approval from the Hollywood Production Code and the Catholic Legion of Decency.
American film executives encouraged Foreman to include a nude scene with Elke Sommer, already in the version released in Europe and Britain, when he submitted it for a Production Code seal. This was to be used as a bargaining chip in case of any other objections. Foreman submitted the more modest version of the scene that had been shot for the American market and the film was passed without incident.
The film was a box office disappointment. George Hamilton argued it "was way too dark, foreshadowing the great paranoid movies of the later sixties, ahead of the bad times that seemed to begin with the Kennedy assassination."
In November 1963, Dell Publishing issued a novelization of the screenplay by noted critic, author and war veteran Milton Shulman. The book's presentation is idiosyncratic, as it is both unabashedly a tie-in edition, yet seems to cautiously sidestep labeling itself an adaptation of the script per se. Both the cover and title page trumpet "Carl Foreman's The Victors" under which the byline is "by Milton Shulman, based on The Human Kind by Alexander Baron." bypassing mention of the actual screenplay. Curiously, the copyright is also assigned to Baron. It is unknown whether Dell bid for the publishing rights and commissioned the novelization, or if Foreman engineered its publication. The latter would seem the more likely, given Foreman's possessive over-the-title billing, and that the source of the screenplay is itself an established work of fiction. In either event, the book sold well enough to earn a second print run, issued in January 1964.
- "Big Rental Pictures of 1964", Variety, 6 January 1965 p 39. Please note this figure is rentals accruing to distributors not total gross.
- Greco, John. "Where Are They? The Victors (1963)" (Twenty Four Frames. Notes on Film by John Greco, 2009–15) Includes images of The Victors film posters
- 1963 Film The Victors, at Orato
- Cinema: Up in Arms for Peace, Time Magazine, 20 December 1963
- The Grim Message of War: Foreman's 'The Victors' at Two Theaters, by Bosley Crowther, New York Times, 20 December 1963
- Russo, Vito (1986). The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality In The Movies. Harper & Row. p. 136. ISBN 978-0060961329.
- Schumach, Murray (1964). The Face On The Cutting Room Floor:The Story Of Movie And Television Censorship. William Morrow. pp. 13–14. ISBN 978-0306800092.
- George Hamilton & William Stadiem, Don't Mind If I Do, Simon & Schuster 2008 p 177