Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I picked “Victory.”
The Movie: “Victory”
Starring: Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Pelé
Director: John Huston
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) As allied POWs prepare for a soccer game against the German National Team to be played in Nazi-occupied Paris, the French Resistance and British officers are making plans for the team’s escape.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 67 percent
Froemming: Last week, we sat through a very terrible non-sports sports movie with “Jerry Maguire,” a film that filled me with Patrick Bateman levels of rage. So to cap off Sports Month here at the JOE-DOWN, I decided to go with a sports movie that looked absolutely absurd and right up our alley.
I picked “Victory,” or otherwise known as “Escape to Victory,” a John Huston film starring Sylvester Stallone and Michael Caine as WWII POW’s who end up playing soccer against — Nazis?
To add to the confusion, Stallone plays an American who is part of the Canadian army? *looks on Wikipedia* Yup, that is a thing in this movie.
There is a lot to unpack with this one. I had so many questions. Such as, WTF accent is Stallone using when he is speaking French? Oof.
Brown, why don’t you give us your thoughts on “Hogan’s Heroes Play Soccer” as I attempt to escape this review by sneaking out a prison camp shower?
Brown: Because I had never heard of this movie before you picked it for the JOE-DOWN, this is all I thought of when looking at the title.
Instead, it was, like you said, “Hogan’s Heroes: The Soccer Episode.” Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. I mean, we got Michael Caine here, which usually means his part will be enjoyable. I was disappointed that his character’s name wasn’t Alfred so I couldn’t expand on my Alfred Pennyworth origin fan-fic.
As far as a sports movie, this may be the most sports we’ve seen in any of our movies this month. I’d like to think you picked this as a love letter to the World Cup taking place this summer, but we both know that’s a lie. It’s here because of Stallone, who’s in that post-”Rocky II” success and not quite his “Rocky III” ego trip where he had to have locked himself in a weight room for a year.
So with that said, I’ll let you lead us off to where all enchanted sports movies take place: A prison camp!
Froemming: A note on Stallone’s ego during the making of the film: He wanted his character to make the game-winning goal at the end, but the crew said a goalie making such a goal was a stupid, stupid idea. So, they ramp up his blocked shot as what won the game.
Just that idea alone makes me understand Paulie’s sex robot a little more in “Rocky IV.”
So we kick this thing off like all sports movies: A man attempting to escape a prison camp who gets caught in barbed wire and is shot down like a sick horse.
War is hell, folks.
Brown: I was grabbing coffee when this part of the movie began, so I thought that was Sly trying to escape the prison. I didn’t see someone get gunned down (again, coffee), but I saw a man posing in barbed wire, which is such a John Rambo thing to do.
Froemming: Well, we then begin to meet our hero in Cpt. John Colby (Caine) who is teaching the prisoners soccer to kill the time in the camp. We also learn that the British POWs are always hatching a plan for escape, but lack the charm of Colonel Robert E. Hogan. They just have pasty skin and those creepy British teeth.
Brown: They also lack the charisma of the other Hogan, Hulk Hogan. He helped with a prison escape, after all.
God, I love that skit.
Froemming: This soccer stuff catches the eye of Maj. Karl von Steiner (played by Max von Sydow) who sees this as Germany’s chance to win a game between his home country and the Allied forces, because apparently Germany sucks at football.
Brown: I think it’s actually von Steiner’s desire to see Germany beat England in soccer, not so much the Allies. Which is funny to look at now because Germany is one of the premier football (yes, we’re using football, not soccer. I’ll let Rafi explain why ) teams in the world while England seems to disappoint on the world stage for one reason or another.
Froemming: Pfft. I am calling it soccer. I’m an American, not some snotty EuroTrash elitist.
Brown: (Listening to Kraftwerk, ignoring Froemming) What did you say?
Anyhow, von Steiner recognizes Colby as a former soccer star from England, which is why he wants to put this exhibition together. Because he’s a fanboy, apparently. And his intention is to have a sporting event where politics can be thrown aside, at least for a 90-minute game.
Now, I get the idea of war is hell, etc.
I have to say, it was a little troubling for me to see this movie humanizing Nazis. As we discussed in our “Inglourious Basterds” review a while back, Froemming and I are very much anti-Nazi like how, you know, the ENTIRE WORLD was up until two years ago, apparently. One of them had an eye patch in this movie! A Nazi with an eye patch, how much more (REDACTED) evil can you make a movie character?! He may as well have had a mustache he twirls when evil deeds were afoot.
But, we are reminded (like we always should be) that Nazis are bad when instead of a friendly exhibition game, the Germans are using this as a propaganda tool.
Froemming: (REDACTED) Nazis. Especially the Tiki torch-wielding, khaki-clad morons of today.
Anyhoo, we also meet our U.S. citizen fighting for our Canadian friends (remember when we were friends with Canada a month ago?) in Cpt. Robert Hatch (Stallone) who has been plotting his escape from this prison camp for a year, and wants to join the team for reasons? The problem: He’s not any good. I mean, he ups and tackles some dude while they are hosting tryouts for the new team.
Brown: He probably thought he was trying out for the New York Giants or something? No, American hothead in a sea of upper crusty English higher-ups.
Hatch seems to be all in dire straits while Colby is still into this idyllic football match because for a prison camp, this group of prisoners are treated like royalty. Not quite like the labor (see: concentration) camps we’ve learned about in history. Unless you’re one of those (REDACTED) morons who doesn’t believe in the Holocaust.
Also, Pelé is somehow here. In a camp full of Brits, there is, for some reason, a group of POWs from Trinidad and Tobago (and not Pelé’s native Brazil) are also here. Way to luck into the world’s greatest soccer player, Colby.
Froemming: Colby also arranges for soccer players who are “not around” in the war to be found, like he’s Tony (REDACTED) Soprano or something. They show up later, looking like they were in an actual concentration camp.
Brown: Because they were in concentration camps, being from countries that the Germans took over.
Froemming: As this is going on, Hatch is plotting his escape with one of the Brits. And the guy literally says at one point it will take a while to get his forged papers in order because it is his “busy season.” WTF is he talking about? It wasn’t even put out there as a joke, this guy has a part of the year that is busy for him to help prisoners escape like it is December in a shopping mall.
Brown: Yeah, that line confused me, too. You’re a prisoner. Know what you have plenty of? Free time, because you’re not going anywhere. Maybe it was that dry British humour us Yanks just don’t understand (eyes roll so hard I can see my brain).
Can we mention Good-Guy Colby here for a second and how he’s Andy Dufresne before Andy Dufresne? In order to play this soccer game, he needs his players to have double rations (maybe even the occasional beer) and proper football gear. And, he helps get a couple former great Eastern European soccer players out of a concentration camp.
All we need is a Morgan Freeman narration and this would be “Shawshank: World Cup Edition.”
Froemming: The Nazis in this camp are complete pushovers, which makes it all the more like an episode of “Hogan’s Heroes.” They supply uniforms, a new bunk for the team, more food and whatnot. The only nefarious thing might be the fact the uniforms of red and white make the team look more like they are trying out to be in The White Stripes rather than a soccer team.
Now Hatch keeps pestering Colby to let him join the team, even just showing up at the bunk acting like he was already a member. This reminded me of the episode of “Seinfeld” when George quits his job, then shows up to work the following Monday as if nothing happened.
Colby agrees to let Hatch be the trainer, probably to get this guy to stop bothering him. And while they train, I swear Hatch suffers from Echolalia because he just mindlessly repeats everything Colby says.
Brown: If this were John Rambo, I’d be OK with Sly being the trainer because Rambo was a one-man army. Hatch, I wouldn’t trust him to find me a Band-Aid for a scraped knee.
And at one point during practice, we see that Hatch has a skill? Because he’s American or something, he shows an aptitude for playing goalie. Now, while he’s trying his hand between the posts, he does let a lot of balls go through, but everyone’s all “Hey, Hatch isn’t bad.”
Yeah… but he’s not good. Just my observation.
Plus, he doesn’t give a crap about this football thing. He wants to escape, which he manages to do. And the team covers for him from time to time with a terrible-looking dummy which legit got a laugh out of me.
Froemming: The Brits set him up for his escape, but have one caveat: Instead of heading to Switzerland or whatever, he has to go to Paris to meet with the resistance and help plot the soccer team’s escape at the big game coming up.
Look, this is where the movie got unrealistic for me: In reality he would have said “sure,” and ditched their plan and go his way. He has no ties to the team, the French Resistance or anything. I mean, when he is in Paris, he tells the woman housing him he has no family, pets or allegiances to anything.
So why the (REDACTED) is he doing this?
So he escapes while everyone is taking a shower, cuts through wire and hitches a ride on a side of a car and Hatch goes to Paris, you know, the place that is literally controlled by Nazis at this point.
Brown: To be fair, that dummy was a good enough fill-in for Hatch that the Nazis didn’t realize at the POW camp for a few days. Or, that’s what the movie has us believe. So there wouldn’t have been a APB for Hatch’s capture for Paris.
As for going to Paris, I think that’s a soldier’s honor thing that us civilians may not understand.
When Hatch reaches France, he meets up with the resistance, who don’t know quite how to free the soccer team from the camp. UNTIL, they find out the stadium the game will be played at in Paris has a sewer system running underneath it that they can use with some planning.
And, there’s this woman named Renee that Hatch stays with, and this whole thing confused me. She explicitly tells Hatch not to tell her anything about his life so if he dies, she’s not attached and won’t mourn him. Here’s how their dialogue went:
Renee: “I don’t want to know anything about you.”
Hatch: “Here’s everything about my loner life. So you can mourn how much of a loser I am.”
This “love,” shoehorned.
Froemming: Yeah, another baffling scene in an already baffling movie.
Well, the resistance figure out how to manipulate the sewer system like Bane in “Dark Knight Rises” to get the team out. Now to relay this plan back to the Brits, Hatch has to, you know, go back to the hell he spent the past year trying to escape.
He does. They send him back the camp, because it shows his escape was a failure and they throw him in the hot box, because peak Stallone has to have sweaty muscles at some point in this movie, right?
Brown: I had a problem with this logic. We are dealing with Nazis here. Sure, they could send you back to the POW camp. Or, I’ll let Lloyd here ask what I asked:
Yeah, I’ve long maintained that Sly kept up movie roles in the late ‘80s-early ‘90s to keep up his insane physique. I think that started in “Rocky III,” but you could see a genesis of that in this movie while he’s in the hot box.
However, because he was relaying information to the group, they need to find a way to have him go to France for the soccer game. So, they talk about how he’s their goalie because the starter broke his arm in practice. The Nazis buy it, but only after evaluating the starter.
Cue Colby breaking the arm of his starting goalie to keep the lie going. There were some “Misery” vibes here. Thankfully, no visual. Poor dude.
Froemming: Now it is the big day of the game. The team is in Paris, the Nazis are in the stands and here we find out that without von Steiner’s knowledge, the higher ups have made sure the game goes in their favor by having a corrupt ref call the shots. This, I believe, might be the genesis of sports fans’ paranoia that the ref is against their team in any given sport.
This whole thing seems to upset von Steiner, because humanizing Nazis and whatnot happened in this movie. Not to me though. I still thought von Steiner was a monster.
Brown: The propaganda machine moves on with or without you, von Steiner.
Predictably, the Nazis are easily in control with a 4-0 lead on our prison campers, some of whom were on the verge of death mere weeks ago.
I did like the touch of the Nazi radio broadcaster needing a radio that simulated crowd noise to make it seem like the French crowd (who were stone-faced when Germany scored) were cheering for the Nazis.
Plus, Pelé (not his character’s name but I don’t care) hurts his arm, so for the tail end of the first half, they play a man down.
Froemming: Well, the Nazis injure two players and the ref doesn’t bat an eye. The Americans bump into a Nazi, they get called out.
I imagine this was Colby explaining the situation decades later.
Brown: Nazis cheating?! Surely you jest.
Froemming: I don’t. And don’t call me Shirley.
Brown: I remember thinking as our heroes are down 4-0: “Just remember, you broke your goalie’s arm for Sly. You kind of deserve this.”
However, the Allies get a glimmer of hope when late in the first half, they score a goal to cut the deficit to 4-1… which is still a near-insurmountable lead in football. Here’s a visualization of the game up to this point. Imagine here that the Nazis are the bear and the Allies are the woman.
The teams go into the locker room at halftime and the escape is about to take place. The team watches as the pool… hot tub… whatever, is bubbling from the bottom until a hole bursts from underneath. It’s the French Resistance! And they’re here to free the team.
Hatch is gung-ho about finally escaping Nazi control. Only, now the team is down just three goals. They can hang with them! They want to finish this game and try to beat the Nazis.
Three goals, guys. That is extremely unlikely considering they’re healthier, they got the refs on their side and oh yeah, THEY HAVE A THREE-GOAL LEAD.
Stupid sportsmanship pride. As Marsellus Wallace said in “Pulp Fiction”: “(REDACTED) pride. Pride only hurts. It never helps. You fight through that (REDACTED).”
Froemming: Well, hubris hits these guys hard and they return to the field, where they miraculously come back from behind with two goals out the gate. So it is 4-3. And then they score again, only for the ref to say it didn’t count.
You know for a so-called superior race, it is odd they would have to cheat at soccer. In fact, cheating in soccer seems like a pretty pathetic thing to do.
Well, it is time for Pelé to shine! Beaten, but still walking, he enters the game and we get a classic crazy move that still looks (REDACTED) awesome today: He does a flip and kicks in a goal while he is upside down in the air.
Brown: The bicycle kick!
Froemming: Oh yeah. I am not a huge fan of this sport, but that is some pretty awesome stuff right there.
Brown: In the same way that Rocky Balboa ended the Cold War with his win against Ivan Drago, I’d like to think Pelé’s game-tying bicycle kick is what swayed World War II the Allies’ way. It was that majestic. I was angry that you had the world’s greatest-ever football player in this movie only for him to get hurt halfway through the match.
And well, explain it for me, Harry.
I also wrote in my notes that Pelé got the glory that Sly desperately wanted in this movie. I was a little premature in that jotting.
Froemming: The game is tied, and the Nazis get a penalty shot because of the crooked refs. Hatch walks up to the Nazi who will be doing the kicking and stares him down. That might work in boxing, but in soccer it looks silly.
Now this is what confused me. I feel like I missed something, because Hatch blocks the shot and…the Allied team wins? I thought the game was tied. Is this a rule in soccer that if you blow a shot like this, the other team gets the point? Because Hatch catches the ball, the French go crazy and storm the field and our heroes are snuck off to freedom. Did I miss something, Brown?
Brown: The only explanation that makes sense to me is that since they scored that goal that was disallowed, in the fans’ eyes, the Allies won. It’s like in pro wrestling when the crowd sees the fan favorite pin the heel but there’s no ref to count to three.
Now, I will say, football fan chants always get to me. As the French are singing along in the game and chanting “Victorie,” I was all “Hell yeah.” That’s always the part of football that fascinates me. Case in point, here’s Liverpool fans singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” It’s so (REDACTED) cool.
Froemming: If Americans sang this as their victory chant, I’d watch soccer.
Brown: So Hatch makes the game-tying save and he’s carried off the field, surely to feed Sly’s fragile ego. And, we get attack of the soccer hooligans!
The fans crash the gates of the stadium and seemingly celebrate with the Allied players. Only, they start draping the players in their coats and clothes to disguise them in the crowd so the Nazis can’t bring them back to the POW camp.
I loved this ending. I figured they would tie the game and rush back into the locker room to escape through the tunnel. Instead, the people help them escape, and what was already a chaotic crowd situation for the Nazis turns to the team’s advantage as they’re able to escape imprisonment.
Froemming: Why don’t you and I burst onto the field of recommendations!
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Sure. It is not a terrible movie, but it sure is baffling at times. But like Brown said, that was a pretty great ending, so yeah, check it out.
Brown: I really liked this movie so yeah, give it a watch. It’s a different sort of sports movie and that was quite appealing.