The Victors (film)

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The Victors
The Victors poster.jpg
Directed by Carl Foreman
Produced by Carl Foreman
Written by Carl Foreman
Starring George Peppard
Romy Schneider
Vince Edwards
George Hamilton
Melina Mercouri
Jeanne Moreau
Maurice Ronet
Rosanna Schiaffino
Elke Sommer
Senta Berger
Music by Sol Kaplan
Cinematography Christopher Challis
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • 1963 (1963)
Running time
175 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $2,350,000 (US/ Canada)[1]

The Victors is a 1963 British film by Carl Foreman. Shot on location in Western Europe and England, the film features an all star cast, including George Peppard, Eli Wallach, Melina Mercouri and Peter Fonda in an early film appearance.


The film follows a group of American soldiers through Europe during World War II, from Britain in 1942, through the fierce fighting in Italy and France, to the uneasy peace of Berlin. Production of the story's action meant filming scenes that took place in Sweden, France, Italy and England.[2]

It is adapted from a collection of short stories called The Human Kind by British author Alexander Baron, based upon his own wartime experiences. In the film the British characters of the original book were changed into Americans in order to attract American audiences.

Carl Foreman wrote, produced and directed the epic. He called it a "personal statement" about the futility of war. Both victor and vanquished are losers.[3]

The film slips between Pathé-style newsreel footage showing the conquering heroes abroad for the audience at home, and the grim reality of battlefield brutality and post-conflict ennui. No battle scenes are depicted in the film.

The story is told in a series of short vignettes, each having a beginning and an ending in itself, though all are connected to the others, as a series of short stories adding up to a longer one.

Atypically of Hollywood interpretations of World War II at the time, the depiction of American GIs shows soldiers worn out by battle, weary of conflict and capable of casual cruelty towards outsiders and also to other Americans. In one vignette a group of white American soldiers attack and brutally beat two black American soldiers. Others show American military personnel (star George Peppard) becoming players in the "black market," although Peppard goes back to his unit when he sees them leaving for the Front, and Americans and Russians alike exploiting German women sexually.

The hostility of German civilians towards their American and Soviet occupiers is also depicted.

One of the cinematic high points is the detour of one truckload of GIs out of a convoy, for the express purpose of supplying witnesses to the execution by firing squad of a GI deserter (a scene inspired by the real-life 1945 execution of Pvt. Eddie Slovik). Depicted in a huge, otherwise empty, snow-covered field near a chateau at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines on Christmas Eve, while the film audience first hears Frank Sinatra singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and then a chorus of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", after the fatal shots are fired. This scene is remarkable for its stark, visually extreme imagery, and the non-combat stress and anguish foisted on GIs during a lull in combat. The New York Times film review stated "it stands out in stark and sobering contrast to the other gaudier incidents in the film".[4]

The whole film is shot in black and white, and so the black regimented figures of the firing squad and witnesses face the lone man bound to a stake in the midst of a snow-covered plain. The addition of surreal accompanying Christmas music and absence of dialogue make this scene an often cited one. The juxtaposition of saccharine music with a frightful scene was emulated the following year by Stanley Kubrick in Dr. Strangelove, which was also shot in black and white.

An anti-war message also unusual for the time period - and particularly regarding America's involvement in World War II - is found in the final vignette. An American soldier (co-star George Hamilton) stationed in post-war Berlin picks a fight with a drunken Soviet soldier (Albert Finney), possibly to avenge the rape of his German girlfriend by Soviet soldiers during the Battle of Berlin. The fight ends with each man killing the other and the camera slowly pulls back to show the bodies of the two one-time allies lying in the shape of a "V" for victory in a seemingly limitless desert of rubble and ruins.

Saul Bass created the opening montage and title sequence that covers European history from World War I to the Battle of Britain in World War II.

The film was nominated for a Golden Globe (Most Promising Newcomer, actor Peter Fonda).



The Victors was cut by about 20 minutes within a few weeks of opening. The version in circulation (to the extent that it is circulating at all) is 154 minutes (see Leonard Maltin's Film & Video Guide). Seen on Antenna TV in 4:3 standard definition on Memorial Day 2014.

The Hollywood Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, insisted that several scenes be deleted that showed two of the American soldiers were patronizing a male French prostitute and paying him with food. While the Code had been gradually liberalized in the 1950s-early 1960s, homosexuality was still something that could only be, vaguely, implied in order to get approval from the Hollywood Production Code and the Catholic Legion of Decency. [5]

American film executives encouraged Foreman to include a nude scene with Elke Sommer, already in the version released in Europe and Britain, when he submitted it for a Production Code seal. This was to be used as a bargaining chip in case of any other objections. Foreman submitted the more modest version of the scene that had been shot for the American market and the film was passed without incident. [6]

The film was a box office disappointment. George Hamilton argued it "was way too dark, foreshadowing the great paranoid movies of the later sixties, ahead of the bad times that seemed to begin with the Kennedy assassination."[7]


  1. ^ "Big Rental Pictures of 1964", Variety, 6 January 1965 p 39. Please note this figure is rentals accruing to distributors not total gross.
  2. ^ 1963 Film The Victors, at Orato
  3. ^ Cinema: Up in Arms for Peace, Time Magazine, December 20, 1963
  4. ^ The Grim Message of War: Foreman's 'The Victors' at Two Theaters, by Bosley Crowther, New York Times, December 20, 1963
  5. ^ Russo, Vito (1986). The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality In The Movies. Harper & Row. p. 136. ISBN 978-0060961329. 
  6. ^ Schumach, Murray (1964). The Face On The Cutting Room Floor:The Story Of Movie And Television Censorship. William Morrow. p. 13-14. ISBN 978-0306800092. 
  7. ^ George Hamilton & William Stadiem, Don't Mind If I Do, Simon & Schuster 2008 p 177

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