John Huston’s sporting war-time thriller Escape To Victory opens in a German prison camp run by Major Karl von Steiner (Max von Sydow). The senior British officer is Captain John Colby (Michael Caine) and the pair share a passion for football: both were professional players before the war, Colby an international. Von Steiner proposes a match between the prisoners and the Germans and what was initially to be a low-key affair becomes a propagnda exercise, hijacked by Von Steiner’s superiors with Colby’s team facing the German national squad in Paris.
The fly in the ointment is renegade American prisoner Captain Robert Hatch (Sylvester Stallone). Attempting freelance escapes from the camp causes trouble for all the prisoners but he makes a successful break and ends up with the French resistance, who have a plan to spring the entire team from the stadium. Allowing himself to be re-captured, Hatch explains the plan and joins the team as the goalie. And so the big day approaches and the two teams face each other in front of a packed crowd of German troops and French fans.
Apart from Stallone and Caine, the rest of the team were pro players, including Pele, Osvaldo Ardiles, Bobby Moore, Kazimierz Deyna and Paul van Himst, supported by a smattering of the Ipswich team. It’s fair to say their acting ability matched Caine and Stallone’s football skills but there is enough off-field tension to keep the film moving along and if the ending is a little flagged (will they escape or return to the field to beat the thuggish Hun?), the tension between Colby and Hatch is nicely played. Rumour has it Stallone wanted to score the winning goal until the responsibility of the goalie’s position was explained to him and he had to settle with saving a crucial penalty, while the stadium, supposedly Stade Colombes in Paris, was also a fake, the MTK Stadium, Budapest standing in since it was similar to the grounds of the time and, most importantly, didn’t have floodlight pylons.
USA / 1981
Director: John Huston
Writer: Evan Jones
Cast: Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Max von Sydow, Daniel Massey, Tim Piggott-Smith