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Escape to Victory, known simply as Victory in North America, is a 1981 film about Allied prisoners of war who are interned in a Germanmarker prison camp during World War II. The film was directed by John Huston and stars Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone and Max von Sydow.

The film received great attention upon its theatrical release, as it also starred football superstars Bobby Moore, Osvaldo Ardiles, Kazimierz Deyna, Paul Van Himst and Pelé. Numerous Ipswich Town F.C. players were also in the film, including John Wark, Russell Osman, Laurie Sivell, Robin Turner and Kevin O'Callaghan. Further Ipswich Town players stood in for actors in the football scenes - Kevin Beattie for Michael Caine, and Paul Cooper for Sylvester Stallone. The script was written by Yabo Yablonsky.


Association Football plays an integral part of the film. The Allied prisoners of war (POWs), coached and represented by Englishman John Colby (Michael Caine), who was a professional footballer for West Ham before the war, agree to play an exhibition match against a German team, only to find themselves involved in a German propaganda stunt. In the end, the POWs can leave the German camp only to play the match; they are to be imprisoned again following the match. During the game, despite the match officials being heavily biased towards the Germans, and the German team causing several deliberate injuries to the Allied players, a draw is achieved after great performances from Luis Fernandez (portrayed by Pelé), Carlos Rey (portrayed by Osvaldo Ardiles) and Arthur Hayes (portrayed by John Wark). American POW Robert Hatch (Sylvester Stallone) plays goalkeeper, and makes excellent saves including one last save on a penalty kick as time expires to deny the Germans the win, drawing the game 4-4. Although, the POWs scored a goal which was disallowed by the referee, for a dubious offside decision, making the score 5-4 which prompted the crowd to shout "Victoire!"

Colby is the captain and essentially the manager of the team and thus chooses his squad of players. Hatch isn't initially chosen but makes his way onto the team by virtue of escaping and then being recaptured after making contact with the Franch Resistance. in oder to accommodate him onto the team the existing goal keepers arm is broken by their own team mates.

Some team members plan to escape at halftime (in an escape led by Hatch) but the rest of the team (led by Russell Osman saying "but we can win this") want to carry on with the game, despite being behind at halftime. They manage to escape at the end of the game, amidst the confusion caused by the crowd storming the field after Hatch preserves the draw.

V is used frequently in the film, particularly in the final match. This is a nod towards the title of the film (Escape to Victory, or simply Victory in some countries). As Pelé scores the fourth goal, equalising the match, his legs make a clear V-shape which is held in slow-motion. The V-shaped two-fingered salute of defiance popular in British culture is brandished by several spectators. The goal that is wrongly disallowed would have been the Allies fourth, and would have given them five goals overall, in Roman Numerals this is a V.

Basis of the story

The movie is based on the 1961 Hungarian film drama Két félidő a pokolban ("Two half-times in Hell"), which was directed by Zoltán Fábri and won the critics' award at the 1962 Boston Cinema Festival.

The film was inspired by the true story of Dynamo Kyiv's players, who defeated German soldiers while Ukrainemarker was occupied by German troops in World War II. According to myth, as a result of their victory, the Ukrainians were all shot. The true story is considerably more complex, as the team played a series of matches against German teams, emerging victorious in all of them, before finally being sent to prison camps by the Gestapomarker. Most of the team were killed there, but a few survived.

Actors and footballers

Escape to Victory featured a great many professional footballers as both the POW team and the German team. Many of the footballers came from the Ipswich Town squad, who were at the time one of the most successful teams in Europe. Despite not appearing on screen, English World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks was closely involved in the film, working with Sylvester Stallone on his goalkeeping scenes. Sports Illustrated magazine said "the game is marvelously photographed by Gerry Fisher, under second unit director Robert Riger.

Selected cast

Michael Caine Captain John Colby
Sylvester Stallone Captain Robert Hatch
Max von Sydow Major Karl von Steiner
Anton Diffring Radio announcer
Carole Laure Renée
Gary Waldhorn Mueller
Benoît Ferreux Jean Paul
Clive Merrison The Forger
Maurice Roëves Pyrie
Michael Cochrane Farrell
Zoltán Gera Victor
Tim Pigott-Smith Rose
Daniel Massey Colonel Waldron
Jean-François Stévenin Claude

Pelé Corporal Luis Fernandez
Bobby Moore Terry Brady
John Wark Arthur Hayes
Osvaldo Ardiles Carlos Rey
Kazimierz Deyna Paul Wolchek
Søren Lindsted Erik Ball
Paul Van Himst Michel Fileu
Werner Roth Baumann (German team captain)
Mike Summerbee Sid Harmor
Hallvar Thoresen Gunnar Hilsson
Russell Osman Doug Clure
Kevin O'Callaghan Tony Lewis
Co Prins Pieter Van Beck
Laurie Sivell Schmidt (German goalkeeper)
Robin Turner German Player
Kevin Beattie Stand-in for Michael Caine
Paul Cooper Stand-in for Sylvester Stallone

Les Shannon, the ex-Burnley player, choreographed the actual game presented in the film. The movie also credits Pelé as the designer of plays. Gordon Banks, World Cup winning goalkeeper, coached Sylvester Stallone. The game was filmed in the Hidegkuti Nándor Stadiummarker in Budapestmarker, Hungarymarker. In the film, Pelé is a native of Trinidad and Tobagomarker and not from Brazilmarker.


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