Bitter Victory (1957)
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In Nicholas Ray's WWII drama, two British officers, Captain Leith (Richard Burton) and Major Brand (German character actor Curd Jürgens, who would later play Bond foe Karl Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me), a South African, are being considered to lead a daring raid to steal crucial documents from a Nazi stronghold in Libya. The two don't seem particularly fond of each other. Brand's wife, Jane (Ruth Roman of Strangers on a Train), arrives on the base. There's an odd awkwardness when Brand introduces her to Leith at the officers' club. It turns out the two already know each other, intimately. They were romantically involved long ago, until Leith broke it off without warning. Jane later met Brand. Leith and Jane keep their relationship a secret from Brand, but he realizes something's up when he goes out for a bit and comes back to find them dancing together. He later gets angry when his wife slips up and refers to Leith as "Jimmy." Brand and Leith are chosen to lead the mission together. Jane says goodbye to Leith, and Wilkins (Nigel Green of The Ipcress File) and some other soldiers see them together. The raid goes fairly smoothly, until Brand can't bring himself to kill a German sentry, and Leith feels compelled to step in and do it for him. Brand's resentment of Leith grows. The team steals the documents and heads out across the desert to make their escape. They're attacked by a German patrol, and after the melee, Brand arouses suspicious when he orders Leith to stay with three badly wounded soldiers while the rest of the group leaves for the rendezvous point. Bitter Victory is based on the novel by René Hardy. Jean-Luc Godard famously said of the film in his review, "Nicholas Ray is cinema." … More
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Critic Reviews for Bitter Victory
Nicholas Ray's direction of black-and-white CinemaScope, that freak child of the 50s, is consistently brilliant in this raw, confused masterpiece.
Contemplating the dangerous games men play with macho self-images, this survives as one of Ray's greatest works.
Fine thesping by Richard Burton leads a series of top performances by other members of large cast.
Odd amalgam of a French film, starring a British, German, and American trio, directed by an American and written by three men from different countries.
There is a sense that while the men here are well-versed in the theories of war, they are clueless about the realities of combat.
Nicholas Ray directs with an uncompromising austerity that puts the hypocrisy and the bitter inhumanity of war in focus...
Bitter Victory shows Ray at the height of his powers, making beautiful use of his black-and-white Cinemascope frame.
The whole picture, deeply pessimistic and subversive, exerts a fierce grip.
A starkly shot and probing inquiry into notions of cowardice and heroism.
Has almost become eclipsed by the thunder of Jean-Luc Godard's infamously rapturous tribute in the pages of Cahiers.
Audience Reviews for Bitter Victory
one of ray's more neglected films, it's a stunning black and white widescreen character study of the intense struggle between two british officers on a hopeless mission in the libyan desert. i somehow never realized before that richard burton was hot at one point in timeMore
Stark drama of principles in wartime. Excellent performances from the three leads. Ruth Roman's part is small but integral to the plot and she makes the most of it.More
In "Bitter Victory," General Paterson(Anthony Bushell) is in a bit of a pickle with a sudden dangerous mission to steal documents behind enemy lines in Benghazi requiring recruits. Major Brand(Curt Jurgens) is an obvious choice, especially considering his experience. Even though Captain Leith(Richard Burton) is very familiar with Libya, Paterson has doubts about him, especially about his being an intellectual...and Welsh. But that doesn't mean Brand and Leith have nothing in common, like say Brand's wife Jane(Ruth Roman).
"Bitter Victory" is an offbeat war movie with some interesting casting(Jurgens playing a hero on dry land while Richard Burton is not yet Richard Burton) and very good use of location photography being the main points of interest. While Brand and Leith are outsiders(yes, I know Brand is a white South African but that's a conversation for another time), the movie attempts a psychological portrait of war. The fact that it takes the most cliched approach possible(of all the suicide missions in this war, you had to choose this one...) including a shaky resolution is a huge shame and lost opportunity.
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