Friday, March 19, 2021

#2,541. Bitter Victory (1957) - The Films of Nicholas Ray


I admire Bitter Victory.

I really do.

It’s a well-made World War II film about a platoon of British soldiers sent on a desperate mission in North Africa. Richard Burton delivers a strong performance as Captain Leith, former archaeologist and second-in-command, as does Curt Jurgens, who portrays Major Brand, the inexperienced officer heading up the operation.

Bitter Victory also boasts an intriguing love triangle; Major Brand is married to Jane (Ruth Roman), who, unbeknownst to him, once had an affair with Leith. In addition, this 1957 movie features a handful of competently-staged action sequences - including a raid on General Rommel’s headquarters - and the desert setting definitely works in the film’s favor (many scenes were shot on-location in Libya), as does the tension that builds between Leith and Brand (Brand is slow to act, putting the mission in jeopardy time and again, and he fears that Leith will report him to the High Command).

Hell, Christopher Lee himself, one of the stalwarts of Hammer’s classic horror films, turns up in Bitter Victory in a supporting role (he plays Sergeant Barney, the platoon’s medic).

Yet, despite the film’s many strengths, Bitter Victory never feels like a Nicholas Ray film.

For one, the pacing is sluggish; even with its action sequences the movie never really builds up any momentum, limping from one scene to the next. Also, Bitter Victory lacks the cinematic flair that Ray brought to so many of his previous movies (I mentioned above that the action scenes were "competently staged". For any other filmmaker, this would have been fine, but for Nicholas Ray, whose They Live By Night, In a Lonely Place, and Rebel Without a Cause were oozing style, it’s a back-handed compliment at best).

Again, I don’t want to discourage you from watching Bitter Victory. It’s a fine motion picture, and I recommend it. It just didn’t feel like a Nicholas Ray film to me, and with his name attached to it, I was hoping for something more.
Rating: 6 out of 10

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