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The Victors Movie Review

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1963 – Carl Foreman –

The only film directed by writer-producer Carl Foreman, The Victors follows the adventures and loves of a group of American foot soldiers who travel from town to town in Europe near the end of World War II. Foreman, who had written such classics as High Noon, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and The Guns of Navarone, intended this as his greatest screen achievement. That may have been his mistake. Almost all of the weaknesses derive from the overly solemn preoccupation with art and the conscious aim to create a masterpiece. Foreman intercuts the dramas of the soldiers with clips of newsreel footage documenting the era complete with an iron-voiced narrator.

The strength of the film is in some of the smaller moments of the soldiers entering each town and interacting with the locals. In one scene in a cafe, George Hamilton watches the celebration of his fellow GIs degenerate into a race riot; his matter-of-fact acceptance of this shocks the Italian barmaid: “Why you fight? You all the same people. Why you fight?” In another, a private (Peter Fonda) who has looked after a stray dog climbs into the back of a troop truck heading to a new town. Unable to take his pet, he watches in anguish as his fellow soldiers bet on who is a good enough marksman to shoot the dog running after the truck. Fonda, though he wants to speak up, can't allow himself to seem soft and sentimental in front of his comrades. Most of the episodes convey a similarly dark tone as the film eventually acquires the feel of a cinematic short-story collection.

One near-wordless scene illustrates both the film's merits and its heavy-handedness. At Christmas in Belgium, Gls are chosen by lot to witness the execution of a deserter. As the MPs lead out the prisoner, Foreman effectively alternates closeups of the faces of the Americans with stark, long shots of the deserter and the firing squad against the bleak, snowy landscape. He makes his point about the inhumanity and irony of the event by playing Frank Sinatra on the soundtrack singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” But as so often in the film, Foreman can't leave well enough alone: after the fatal shots, Sinatra's voice is replaced by some rousing hallelujahs from a choir, and a scene intense enough to have spoken for itself has lost its subtlety.

Cast: George Hamilton (Trower), George Peppard (Chase), Eli Wallach (Craig), Rosanna Schiaffino (Maria), James Mitchum (Grogen), Jeanne Moreau (French woman), Romy Schneider (Regine), Michael Callan (Eldridge), Peter Fonda (Weaver), Melina Mercouri (Magda), Elke Sommer (Helga), Albert Finney (Russian soldier), Mervyn Johns (Dennis), Senta Berger (Trudi) Screenwriter: Carl Foreman Cinematographer: Christopher Challis, Austin Dempster Composer: Sol Kaplan Producer: Carl Foreman for Open Road Productions; released by Columbia Pictures Running Time: 175 minutes.

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