Bitter Victory

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Bitter Victory
Bitvicpos.jpg
Original US film poster
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Produced by Paul Graetz
Screenplay by René Hardy
Nicholas Ray
Gavin Lambert
Paul Gallico (additional dialogue)[1]
Based on Amère victoire 
by René Hardy[1]
Starring Richard Burton
Curt Jürgens
Ruth Roman
Music by Maurice Leroux
Cinematography Michel Kelber
Edited by Léonide Azar
Production
  company
Transcontinental Films S.A.
Robert Laffont Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s)
  • 29 August 1957 (1957-08-29) (Venice FF)
  • 20 November 1957 (1957-11-20) (France)
  • 25 January 1958 (1958-01-25) (UK)
  • 3 March 1958 (1958-03-03) (US)
Running time 101 minutes[2]
Country France
United States
Language English

Bitter Victory (French title Amère victoire) is a 1957 black and white Franco-American international co-production film, shot in CinemaScope and directed by Nicholas Ray. Set in World War II, it stars Richard Burton and Curd Jürgens as two British Army officers sent out on a commando raid in North Africa. Ruth Roman plays the former lover of one and the wife of the other. It is based on the novel of the same name by René Hardy.

Plot[edit]

During the Western Desert Campaign of World War II, two officers are interviewed to command a dangerous commando mission far behind enemy lines in Benghazi. The South African Major David Brand is an experienced professional soldier, but does not speak Arabic and has only a limited knowledge of the area in Libya in which the patrol is to operate. The Welsh Captain Jimmy Leith is the opposite; an amateur volunteer with extensive knowledge of the area who knows a local guide and speaks fluent Arabic as well. It is decided that both officers will go, with Major Brand in command. The men see Brand as a disciplinatian - "the only thing he's slept with is the rule book".

Major Brand's wife Jane is an RAF Flight Lieutenant who enlisted to be near her husband. When Brand invites Leith to drinks with his wife, he picks up the fact that the two had previously had an affair before she married Brand. Leith had walked out on her without explanation.

The unit parachutes behind enemy lines with the mission of attacking a German headquarters and bringing back secret plans from a safe to be opened by Wilkins, an experienced safecracker. Dressed as local civilians, Brand's hand shakes with fright when he has to knife a German sentry; the deed is done by Leith.

The mission is completed successfully with only one death and one man wounded. The patrol ambushes a German detachment, capturing the German Oberst Lutze, whom Leith knows was responsible for the secret information. Leith remains behind with the wounded man, who conveniently dies while he is trying vainly to rescue him, allowing him to catch up with the others.

The patrol is supposed to escape on camels, but they discover the men left with them have been murdered and looted of the camels and their weapons. During the long march back across the desert, Brand's animosity towards Leith grows, not only due to the affair with his wife, but to Brand's fear that Leith will reveal him as a coward to headquarters and destroy his career. Brand refrains from shooting Leith, which his orders permit, although after Leith dies during a sandstorm, the men believe he did kill him.

A patrol eventually picks up the group and takes them back to HQ. Brand's wife is distraught to learn of Leith's death, and when Brand is immediately awarded the Distinguished Service Order, instead of congratulating him, she walks off disconsolate. In the closing shot Brand pins the medal ruefully on a stuffed dummy.

Main cast[edit]

  • Richard Burton as Captain Jim Leith
  • Curt Jürgens as Major David Brand
  • Ruth Roman as Jane Brand
  • Raymond Pellegrin as Mekrane
  • Anthony Bushell as General Patterson
  • Alfred Burke as Lieutenant Colonel Callander
  • Sean Kelly as Lieutenant Barton
  • Ramón de Larrocha as Lieutenant Sanders
  • Christopher Lee as Sergeant Barney
  • Ronan O'Casey as Sergeant Dunnigan
  • Fred Matter as Colonel Lutze
  • Raoul Delfosse as Lieutenant Kassel
  • Andrew Crawford as Private Roberts
  • Nigel Green as Lance Corporal Wilkins
  • Harry Landis as Private Browning
  • Christian Melsen as Private Abbot
  • Sumner Williams as Private Anderson
  • Joe Davray as Private Spicer

Production and release[edit]

Although labelled a Franco-American co-production, Bitter Victory was mainly a French production, made by Transcontinental Films, the production company set up by German-born producer Paul Graetz (not to be confused with the German actor with the same name). The US co-production consisted of Columbia Pictures putting up some financing in return for worldwide distribution rights. The French financing came from the publisher Robert Laffont. Production started on 17 February 1957 and finished two months later. Much of the film was shot on location in Libya, with support from the British War Office and the British Army, while some interior scenes were done at the Victorine Studios, Nice, France.[1][3]

Christopher Lee recalls in his autobiography that upon arriving in Libya, all but the main stars essentially took part in a cast lottery for parts. Nobody was satisfied with the role they ended up with, particularly Raymond Pellegrin, who was stuck as an Arab guide who had only four lines. Lee says that the whole cast parted, "in the certain knowledge of having shared in a failure."[4]

The film had its premiere at the 18th Venice Film Festival on 29 August 1957,[5] where it competed for the Golden Lion award (which went to Satyajit Ray's Aparajito) as a French entry, but with English dialogue and Italian subtitles.[3][6] The first general release was in France, on 20 November 1957.[7]

When the film was reviewed by the British Board of Film Classification on 5 November 1957, it was decided that some ten minutes had to be cut, shortening it from the original 101 minutes[2] to 90 minutes,[8] before it saw its British release on 25 January 1958.[9] Not until 2006 did British TV show the uncut version.[10] The film was released in the US on 3 March 1958, cut down to 83 minutes.[3]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c BFI database: Amère victoire - technical credits Retrieved 2012-11-03
  2. ^ a b BBFC: Bitter Victory - Submitted runtime Retrieved 2012-11-03
  3. ^ a b c AFI Catalog of Feature Films: Bitter Victory Linked 2013-11-03
  4. ^ Christopher Lee, Lord of Misrule, p. 170
  5. ^ IMDb: Bitter Victory - release dates Retrieved 2012-11-03
  6. ^ Article in The Times, 4 September 1957, page 3: Venice Film Festival Gets Off To a Bad Start - found in The Times Digital Archives 2013-11-03
  7. ^ Encyclo Ciné: Amère victoire Linked 2013-11-04
  8. ^ BFI database: Amère victoire - release Retrieved 2012-11-03
  9. ^ Review in The Times, 27 January 1958, page 12: Talent Misused if Film of Desert Warfare Found in The Times Digital Archive 2013-11-03
  10. ^ BFI database: Amère victoire - TV transmissions Retrieved 2012-11-03