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Film / Escape to Victory

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A 1981 film (also known as Victory in North America) directed by John Huston, in which a football team formed by Allied prisoners of war is forced to face a German team in Occupied France during World War II.

Starring Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone and Max von Sydow, it also featured several professional footballers such as Bobby Moore, Osvaldo Ardiles, Kazimierz Deyna, Paul Van Himst, Mike Summerbee, Hallvar Thoresen, Werner Roth and, most famously, Pelé, as well as several Ipswich Town players.

John Colby (Michael Caine) is a former professional footballer, now prisoner of war in a German camp, who gets roped in by the German camp commander (Max von Sydow) to have a team of his choosing play an exhibition match against a German team. While Colby begins to get his team ready for the game (which includes several POWs from other camps), American Robert Hatch (Sylvester Stallone) is trying to escape the camp, and gets into the team to get advantage of the relaxed security around it. When it turns out that the game will be played in Paris, the French Resistance agrees to help the team escape at halftime, but when the choice becomes between escaping and winning the match, the team reconsiders their priorities.

This film contains examples of:

  • The Ace: Fernandez, whose Establishing Character Moment is bouncing the ball on his head for a while, is the one who scores the final goal with an overhead kick. Even the Germans applaud.
  • A Father to His Men: Colby insists that enlisted men be allowed to join his team (and receive the special privileges granted to the prisoners participating) and is reluctant to get involved in an escape attempt due to being afraid that his players might be killed.
  • Anachronism Stew: The crowd that invades the pitch at the end wear mostly 1981 hairstyles and clothes.
  • Bad Job, Worse Uniform: The team is given all red, long-sleeved fatigues to train in (depicted in the poster), which earns them the laughs and taunts of other prisoners.
  • Bathroom Break-Out: Hatch escapes the POW camp by climbing out of the showers, the team later through a hole in the showers at the Stadium.
  • Covers Always Lie: The poster displays the word "Victory" alone and shows Caine, Stallone, and Pelé forming the letter 'V'. The match ends in a draw.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: The Allied team is made mostly of retired football stars but is against a professional football team that practices Unnecessary Roughness and is heavily favored by the referee. They score more goals, but one is disallowed.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Colby and Hatch clash in the beginning because Colby knows that Hatch is a poor football player who only wants to get in the team as a means to escape the camp. By the end, however, they've grown into actual teammates to the point that both choose to stay and finish the match instead of escaping during half-time.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When the German national anthem is played prior to the match, the German players are all doing the Nazi salute. So is the referee, which foreshadows his increasingly blatant bias towards the Germans during the match.
  • I Choose to Stay: Though the French Resistance fulfills its vow to open a escape tunnel to the team's dressing room at half time, the players choose to stay and finish the match, having convinced themselves that they can win it.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Hatch is instructed to let himself be captured again by the Germans in order to relay intelligence to people in the camp, under the reasoning that he will be taken to the same camp to show his companions that escape is futile.
  • La Résistance: A French Resistance cell contacts the team and helps them escape during the match.
  • Lighter and Softer: A feel-good story for all audiences, inspired by a nightmare-inducing real life incident (see Very Loosely Based on a True Story and below). The Hungarian film Two Half-Times in Hell is closer to What Could Have Been.
  • Local Reference: Stallone plays an American prisoner in a mostly British-occupied German POW camp.
  • Lost in a Crowd: The players eventually escape by joining the mass of French spectators that invade the pitch after the match is over, being given jackets and hats by the Resistance fighters. The German Major still spots Colby among the crowd, but allows him to go.
  • Master Forger: When Robert Hatch requires documents for his escape attempt, he goes to a fellow POW identified only as "The Forger". He not only has made his own camera to take pictures for the documents, but he's also gotten samples for all kinds of official documents (like government death declarations — good if your cover for moving around is going to a funeral) and has hand-carved a number of fake stamps. He even jokes to Hatch that the Germans are pretty inconsiderate with their habit of constantly changing document designs to try to stop people like him.
  • Nothing but Skin and Bones: The Eastern European players are starved and weak from poor treatment.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: And a football player (or former football player). There's a decent amount of respect between German officers and Allied officers who played football, doubly so if they met each other before.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Hatch tries to leave the team and escape several times through the movie, only to end getting back in for one reason or another.
  • Separated by a Common Language: Soccer not being popular in North America at the time, Hatch misunderstands what a "tackle" is in soccer. However, because of his experience using his hands in American Football, he is the natural choice to be the goalkeeper.
  • Sleeping Dummy: Hatch leaves a fake head on his bed while he escapes through the showers so the Germans won't know he's gone until the morning. The other players take it out with them for the morning recount and have a laugh at the guards, taking advantage of the fact that they can't discipline all without canceling the match.
  • Soccer-Hating Americans: Hatch is an American serving in the Canadian Army. He has taken to soccer for lack of other sports at the POW camp but finds hard to let go of hand play and only wants to get in the team as a means to escape. By the end he comes to enjoy his role as a goalie and finishes the match instead of escaping earlier.
  • Tokyo Rose: A "Lord Haw-Haw" type is shown commentating the match.
    "Listen to that crowd cheer!" (plays record of cheering crowd)
  • Unnecessary Roughness:
    • The Germans tend to use quite brutal moves against their Allied opponents. Luis Fernandez in particular gets a lot of this. The referee, who's biased towards the Germans, ignores this.
    • Earlier in the movie, Hatch is criticized by Colby for tackling one of the camp mates in the American football way.
  • Those Two Guys: English officers Waldron and Rose, in a Stiff Upper Lip manner.
  • Underdogs Never Lose: Played with. The final goal ties the game at 4-4, despite the referee's obvious bias towards the German team. Given that the Allied team had a perfectly good goal disallowed earlier in the game, though, they could claim a moral victory.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Was based on a Real Life incident in Ukraine with a much more depressing Downer Ending. The occupying Nazis forced the Ukrainian team to play several matches against them as a publicity stunt. When the home team Curb Stomped them, the Nazis had them tortured, shipped off to work camps, and executed.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Downplayed Trope. Colby and the Major were professional footballers before the war and participated in common competitions, which is why they are rather chummy despite being prisoner and captor and enemies in the war.
  • Worthy Opponent: The German camp commander regards most of the POW team (especially Fernandez) as this when they start showing their worth. In particular, he stands and applauds Fernandez's overhead kick, even though his recognition of it means the referee can't use an excuse to disallow the goal.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: In order to get Hatch out of solitary, the team claims that he is the substitute goalkeeper and that their first choice has broken an arm. They then break the arm for real in order to maintain the ruse.