Everybody loves a good war. I personally watched Iraq on CNN, 24 hours a day for 3 weeks non-stop, living only on a diet of Jaffa cakes and pro-plus. Then my eyeball turned red and I had to stop. Everybody also loves a good football match so put the two together and what do you get? Well certainly not Escape to Victory. Christmas 1914, that football match in No-Man’s-Land, now that would have made a good film, Bertie, Ginge and Little Timmy kicking a pig’s bladder about with the Hun, dodging unexploded shells and corpses.
As far removed from the terrible reality of war as its possible to get, the Nazi propoganda machine puts Max von Sydow’s sympathetic Wehrmacht Major in charge of arranging an exhibition match in Paris between the cream of Aryan Soccer talent and a rag-tag assortment of Allied POW’s. (Keep an eye out for von Sydow’s laughable introduction to the Allies which requires a jack-booted stunt double to perform the keepie-ups)
The film plays out like The Great Escape with a football twist and though Bill Conti rips off Elmer Bernstein's memorable score, its still a catchy number. Michael Caine undertakes the selection and training of the Allied team (unfortunately the camp has an abundance of Ipswich players). But as they begin preparations, the camp’s British officers (played by a bunch of English thesps) saddle them with a wider plan to escape during the interval into the Parisian sewer system with the aid of the French Resistance. A brash American, Captain Robert Hatch (Stallone) can’t quite grasp Association Football rules but fancies himself as a bit of a Steve McQueen and so is seconded into the team to help secure the escape.
As ex-West Ham and England striker Major John Colby, a sweaty and bloated Caine does his best impression of Bobby Moore whilst the real Moore and the other Soccer stars ham their way around the makeshift training ground (its no wonder that they’re all POW’s, none of them look like they could even bayonet a goat). Pelé mumbles through most of the film but is put to good use as the humble Jesse Owens figure who manages to stick it to the Nazi top-brass (his nationality conveniently switched to Trinidadian while the Odessa boys were living it up in down town Rio). However as the end credits roll I can’t help but think that even the soldiers from ‘Ello ‘Ello could catch a black POW on the loose in German occupied France.
Pele’s overhead volley was apparently filmed in one take and the director makes sure that they milk every last drop. Unfortunately the film gave Pelé the confidence to extend his acting CV to include the eighties flick Hotshot, which also features the famous kick. He subsequently ended his distinguished career in cinema to concentrate on embezzling charity money and being the face of Viagra.
Soccer is not an easy sport to film and the match generally consists of 22 men in skin tight strips (some tighter than others Caine!) chasing a ball but there is some good cinematography for the set pieces, such as the aforementioned volley and the Ardiles flick.
As the film nears its climax, the allies find themselves facing a decisive penalty against a medicine ball with a disinterested crowd who only clap because they’re being paid (should have employed the coin throwers from the old shed-end at Chelsea). Although the first few tiers of the crowd have been draped in the obligatory French beret and flat cap, the end riot sees a bunch of Stones fans running about in flairs and seventies ski jackets.
Incidentally the referee should have been shot, not for his German bias but because an over-excited Stallone clearly jumps at least a foot and a half behind the goal line with the ball still in his hands. Disgraceful! I also think that if such a scenario were to ever arise, the Evian swilling players of today wouldn’t be seen dead doing their bit for the war effort.
‘Ah, David Beckham, it's a shame the war has ended your career'.
'Nah, it's alright, I've got a new fashion range coming out’.
Hyped to death during the 1981 NASL season, the film was inspired by the real war-time exploits of Dynamo Kiev (renamed FC Start) who took on the Nazis and won a series of matches in 1942. Unfortunately, on this occasion the Nazis didn’t take too kindly to losing and had them slaughtered like dogs.