Greetings, Glancers! Today I run a more critical eye over my tenth favourite movie of the year 1981, seeking to ignore my bias and provide a fair score based on the 20 criteria I feel are most important in the creation of a film. Today’s movie is John Huston’s Escape To Victory, the story of a football match between Nazi soldiers and Allied Prisoners Of War.
Sales: 4. It made back almost three times its budget – but I don’t know how much in addition was spent on advertising etc. Of course, I don’t know how much it has made on home release and streaming since – streaming probably not so much. You can’t go less than 3 – I might be pushing it giving it the 4.
Critical Consensus: 3. A cult movie in that it’s really only a movie English football fans ever remember, and as such critical consensus was never great, most giving it average to positive reviews. It’s a strange subject matter and a strange cast, with an even stranger director and over time outside of its cult fandom the reviews which drop are equally average.
Director: 3. When most people think of John Huston, they think of his early Thrillers or his late dramas and most probably overlook this strange football movie. Huston was never afraid of tackling unusual subject matter and this was an attempt to make a rousing The Great Escape type movie. It’s not on that level, but the scenes of intrigue, the handling of character, and the shooting of the football are all entertaining.
Performances: 3. You have a bunch of footballers known for performing in a different way in front of cameras, and you have a post Rocky, pre Rambo Sylvester Stallone as the fish out of water. Then you have Max Von Sydow and Michael Caine hamming it up. It’s fun – not a movie about performances as much as spotting faces, but everyone is fun.
Characters: 3. Few of the characters are more than WWII movie stereotypes, with the added bonus of them being footballers. Stallone’s character is the plucky yank who hasn’t a clue how to play football, Caine is the Stalwart pragmatic Brit – you get it. You get behind them.
Cinematography: 3. It doesn’t have the benefit of looking as pretty or as grim as as other movies of this type, but those other movies don’t have football.
Writing: 3. It’s funny, it’s rousing. It lacks in the one-liners department and in terms of cynicism and getting to grips with the historical situation.
Plot: 3. A bunch of Allied POWs are plotting escape, as you do. The Nazis are bored, like a spot of footy, and decide to put on an exhibition match pitting the best of Germany against a load of starving amateurs. The POWs put together a team to play the match, then want to win the match, but also want to escape.
Wardrobe: 3. Sure.
Editing: 3. Yep. Good tension building between the match and the escape.
Make up and Hair: 3. Why not.
Effects: 3. Not applicable.
Art and Set: 3. Getting a lot of threes.
Sound And Music: 4. It’s Bill Conti so you know it’s going to be inspirational. Lots of military beats and plenty of nods to other pieces of music, including The Great Escape. It’s not as good as that – neither is the movie – but it’s still a good score and main theme, plus the noise of players and supporters during the match is well handled.
Cultural Significance: 3. I wish I could higher with this one – I mean, I wish the movie had a greater cultural significance beyond a select group of British football fans who remember it fondly telling their mates about it. But the film didn’t really change the War genre, it didn’t make football popular in the US, it never became a yearly festive favourite in the UK etc. I suppose it has inspired other football based movies. I should probably go with a 2 here, but it does have a devoted following and there’s always talk of a remake.
Accomplishment: 3. Getting this cast together, in fact even getting a film like this made at all, never mind in 1981 when no-one cared about WWII movies, is an accomplishment in itself.
Stunts: 3. Not strictly applicable, but there are a few scenes of action outside of the football, and I guess you could class some of the football as stunts too.
Originality: 3. There aren’t many POW films where the climax is a football match.
Miscellaneous: 3. Three seems to be the order of the day.
Personal: 4. It’s just a fun movie. It’s in the same vein as The Great Escape, that fist-pumping sticking your middle finger up to Adolf kind of movie without showing the true horrors of War or being a POW. Plus if you’re a football fan it’s probably the only legitimately good movie featuring football as a plot device – not to mention the fun of spotting the different players. A distinct lack of Liverpool players though.
Total Score: 63/100.
I guess that’s a fair score. It doesn’t leap out in any department, but overall it’s a fun oddity for everyone involved, all while being an entertaining watch with a rousing finale.
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