Bill Conti again this week, one of my favorite scores even though I just like half of it.
“Escape to Victory”, aka “Victory” is a sport movie directed by John Huston starring Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Max von Sydow and a bunch of famous soccer players, e.g. Brazilian legend Pele.
The movie is a strange one, it is half of a good movie, and I really cannot understand why John Huston agreed to direct this one. I love John Huston and read his highly enjoyable autobiography called “An Open Book” a few months ago. The movie is a remake of the 1962 Hungarian film drama Két félidő a pokolban ("Two half-times in Hell"), which was directed by Zoltán Fábri and won the critics' award at the 1962 Boston Cinema Festival. The film is based on a 1942 football match between German Nazi soldiers and their Ukrainian prisoners of war during World War II, known as the Death Match. The game took place on 9 August 1942 at the Kiev city stadium against the German team Flakelf, made up of air defense artillery football players. The real ending of the game was different, and for the players it had not such a happy ending like in the movie.
Here is the trailer for the John Huston movie:
For the American remake, the team now consists of a group of international prisoners. The movie received great attention, mostly because of the number of professional soccer stars playing in the movie. English World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks worked with Stallone on the goalkeeping scenes, and the game is marvelously photographed by Gery Fisher and second unit director Robert Riger. No German player was hired for the teams or for the training, an interesting fact to mention, too.
It is remarkable that in 1981, Stallone directed the second “Rocky”-sequel called “Eye Of The Tiger”, for me because of the great storytelling the best part of the franchise. I read that Stallone accepted the role in “Victory” just because of director Huston, he wanted to work with the legendary director. Stallone wanted to play all the soccer scenes without a double, and so he got injured a lot. The shooting place was Hungary, at that time a communist country, and because of this political situation, Stallone really valued the freedom he had in the US when he was coming back.
The movie was not a success, and this is not only the result of Huston’s way of directing, it is mostly the result of the boring screenplay and bad storytelling. The movie is also sort of weird because the people in the audience watching the soccer game are wearing typical clothes of the 70s, while this movie should have taken place during the 40s. There is a great comment on YouTube about this fact: “I love this movie, especially considering all those fans with '70s hair and clothes during World War II! The Paris fashion scene was so ahead of its time!” – haha.
The music is the best part of the movie. In wikipedia Conti is heavily criticized for using two classical symphonies by Dimitri Shostakovich, the “Leningrad Symphony” and “Symphony No. 5”. Conti’s music is similar to the march in the first movement of “Leningrad Symphony”.
And the music during the soccer game, especially in the end, is very similar to the last movement of “Symphony No. 5”, as you can hear especially at minute 45:50, listen to the usage of the percussion and the brass section. Shostakovich originally planned to call this last movement “Victory”. The “Leningrad Symphony” is still regarded as the major musical testament of the estimated 25 million Soviet citizens who lost their lives in World War II and is furthermore interesting because of the usage of the percussion at 07:00, and you have to think of James Horner’s “Aliens” and the track “Ripley’s Rescue”:
The “Victory” score is typical for Conti’s freshly composing, very dynamic in the action scenes, and with a majestic main theme. I especially like how he uses the horn in the first track “Main Title”. This is great music, fun to listen, and very elegant in the composing style. The music is very powerful and shows Conti’s ability to create emotions. The music will remind you of Conti’s music to “North And South”.
Track 2 “The Team Uniforms” is a more fun track; I especially like the use of the tuba. Like Elmer Bernstein’s “The Great Escape”, a score that I will discuss in a few weeks, we have some special humor in the music, and this musical humor is one of the reasons that this movie is fun to watch. The march gets introduced here, and it bas been one of Conti’s best themes ever.
I normally skip the following tracks: “Match’s Getaway”, “The Paris Getaway”, “Team Outing”, “Krauts On a Roll” (a very emotional one), “Don’t Leave”. Track 5 “Team Outing” is the best of these tracks that are mostly underscoring Hatch’s escape, the preparation of the game and the plans for the escape.
I normally just listen to the following tracks that are played during the match scenes. Because the team is not winning against the Germans, the music is sad, more desperate and still pushing forward the team. The second half starts with “Let’s Go Guys” (track 8), again with the march. With “Start Kick”, we have the famous goal of Pele, and the scene that shows us that the Nazi Max von Sydow is still able to appreciate a great kick. He stands up and give an applause.
The next track “Match Revenge” is the highlight of the score. The Nazis now have trouble to control Stallone and his team. We can see some great soccer scenes, perhaps a little bit too many slow motion scenes, and Conti gives us with this track another example why he is in my opinion one of the best movie music composers. The “End Credits” put all the themes together and give the score a very nice finale.
Here is the movie clip with the second half and the end:
To make it short: the movie is crap, the score is great. No, let’s be fair. The movie is still worth to see because it shows you Stallone’s approach to succeed in other roles that Rocky, Rambo and typical action movies, but I assume without Conti’s music, this movie would be long forgotten. So, get the CD and enjoy the score! And remember, the war is over since 70 years, so no reason to become rude when discussing the movie!
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