Forgotten Gem of a War Film: 'The Victors' (1963)

Until Saving Private Ryan, the 1963 film The Victors was what I considered the best war movie ever. Although some have pegged this as an anti-war film, I believe it is more descriptive of a movie that proves that war is hell. The Victors is different from other military films in that it emphasizes the civilian victims of WWII in France, Italy and Germany. Sadly, the New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther was not impressed. His negative review probably killed the box office but he didn’t take into consideration the fact that this film was not meant for those who loved war films. I certainly didn’t and appreciated the film because it was not overrun with battle scenes, although I would hardly describe it as a woman’s cup of tea.

I can never hear Frank Sinatra’s version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” without hearing it as the music playing in the background while a WWII deserter was executed on Christmas Eve before battle weary soldiers watching stoically.

The film is episodic and loaded with cameos of great European actresses like Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Melina Mercouri, Elke Sommer, and Senta Berger in memorable and poignant vignettes. I had a mini crush on Albert Finney whom I had just seen in Tom Jones but he doesn’t appear until the end of The Victors and portrays a drunken Russian soldier in Berlin confronting George Hamilton one of the main American characters. George Peppard, Eli Wallach, Vince Edwards, Jim Mitchum, and Peter Fonda round out the excellent cast.

This was Carl Foreman’s first and only stint as a director. He had a formidable career as a scriptwriter for classics like High Noon; Bridge on the River Kwai; Guns of Navarone and others too numerous and notable to mention here.

As I said, The Victors is not anti-war but rather a “War is hell but still necessary” film. This is evident in a moving scene where the soldiers have liberated a concentration camp and the prisoners are overwhelmed by their rescue, kissing the hands of their saviors. Mr. Crowther may have found this movie to be overly sentimental and trivial but any film that demonstrates the terrible sacrifices made by our military deserves a wider audience.

What has always puzzled me is why this film has never been made available for the public in either videotape or DVD format. There are no scenes from the film available on YouTube that I know of and only posters of the film are online. Can anyone in Hollywood answer that?

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