Victory (1940 film)
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|Directed by||John Cromwell|
|Produced by||Anthony Veiller|
|Written by||John L. Balderston|
|Based on||novel by Joseph Conrad|
Victory is a 1940 film based on the popular novel by Joseph Conrad. On the eve of the American entry into World War II, the often-filmed Conrad story of a hermit on an island invaded by thugs was refashioned into a clarion call for intervention in the war in Europe, at the height of American isolationism.
Cromwell's 1940 film adaptation for Paramount repeated a story that had already been made by Paramount into film in 1930 by William Wellman, retitled as Dangerous Paradise and, in 1919, was Conrad's first novel to be filmed in a silent version with Lon Chaney Jr. Cromwell's version was adapted by John Balderston, who'd written a number of Universal horror pictures, such as Dracula, and the popular The Prisoner of Zenda also directed by Cromwell.
Widely considered the best film version, the 1940 film starred Oscar-winning Fredric March, in the steamy tropical psychological thriller, with Betty Field as the female lead (March had begged the recently arrived Ingrid Bergman to do it but she'd refused).
Set in the present day, Fredric March's intellectual British recluse has vowed to close himself off from the world and now lives alone on an island in the Dutch East Indies. But the bitter man is forced to break this promise to himself when lovely travelling showgirl Betty Field, also fleeing from the world, is threatened by three murderous scavengers on one dreadful evening. The villains are led by Cedric Hardwicke who stands out as a creepy, soulless villain, as does his Cockney sidekick, Jerome Cowan, whom Hardwicke treats with surprisingly explicit sexual sadism. They switch their attentions from Field to March when they believe that March's character has untold wealth to plunder. The morose March is motivated by love and their savagery to return to the real world and do his part, but his regeneration is tinged by tragedy. Though an uneven movie (it's possible the book was unfilmable, says one review), the 1940 Victory succeeds in its ability to convey Joseph Conrad's overall sense of doom and foreboding.
This is doubtless because Cromwell and March, both ardent anti-fascists in favor of then neutral United States joining Britain in the fight against Hitler, were themselves fearing the rise of Nazism in Europe. They refashioned Conrad's 1915 novel into a critique of the perils of isolationism - an issue then rending the US apart as England suffered under the London Blitz from Nazi bombers while the majority of Americans wanted nothing to do with the war.
The happy ending tacked onto to all three Paramount versions, in which March and Fields spend their lives together in bliss on the island, did not help the film, not least because March and Fields had very little on-screen chemistry in the first place.
"This film version of Joseph Conrad's novel impresses with several strongly individual performances rather than with the basic movement of the story itself," read a review in Variety. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times was even less enthusiastic: "The only things that distinguish it," he wrote, "are a star cast and smooth direction." Harrison's Reports called it "A strong but somewhat sordid drama, suitable only for adults. The direction is skillful, the acting realistic, and the production values good; but the story is somewhat brutal." Film Daily described it as "at all times gripping and exciting" and called Fredric March "highly effective". John Mosher of The New Yorker called the film "definitely expert, with a proper allotment of excitement and atmosphere," although he found the later scenes "too bald" in their simplification of the novel.
No one, apparently, noticed its application to the present day, and, despite the generally positive reviews, it failed to ignite at the box office. However, its lush cinematography by Leo Tover was noted by critics at the time. It has recently been rediscovered by film buffs and is finally available online.
- Fredric March as Hendrik Heyst
- Betty Field as Alma
- Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Mr. Jones
- Jerome Cowan as Martin Ricardo
- Sig Rumann as Mr. Schomberg
- Margaret Wycherly as Mrs. Schomberg
- Fritz Feld as Señor Makanoff
- Lionel Royce as Pedro
- Alan Ladd as Heyst Jnr
The film had been in development at Paramount for a number of years, allegedly due to the difficulty in securing an appropriate male lead. Filming started 15 March 1940.
- Quirk, Lawrence J. (1971). The Films of Fredric March. Citadel Press. p. 166.
- "Victory Reviews & Ratings - IMDb". IMDb.
- Fredric March - A Consummate Actor, by Charles Tranberg, Kindle edition, ibid.
- "Victory". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc. December 18, 1940. p. 16.
- NY Times, Dec. 23, 1940 https://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9D01E6DC1439E03ABC4B51DFB467838B659EDE
- "'Victory' with Fredric March, Betty Field and Sir Cedric Hardwicke". Harrison's Reports: 207. December 28, 1940.
- "Reviews". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 7 December 26, 1940.
- Mosher, John (December 21, 1940). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp. pp. 83–84.
- Fredric March - A Consummate Actor, By Charles Tranberg, Kindle edition, p. 2438
- Fredric March Chosen as Star of 'Victory': Michele Morgan Sought Capra Award Film Boss Luli Deste Featured Miss Leontovich Tests Warners Snub Harvard Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 09 Mar 1940: A7.