Legendary director John Huston has been associated with many of Hollywood’s greatest icons. Bogie being the most prevalent. Connery, Duke, Mitchum. Gable and Monroe’s final film. So for those not “in the know” let’s add Sylvester Stallone’s name to the list. Fan or not he’s an icon of cinema over the last forty years.
This WW2 film presents somewhat of a hybrid plot line. It’s a dash of The Great Escape, Stalag 17 and The Longest Yard all rolled into one. It also reteams Michael Caine with John Huston. Their previous go around together is for some, Huston’s best work. The Man Who Would Be King.
The plot is a simple one and Huston wastes little time in setting it’s direction. After the killing of an escapee in the film’s opening moments a selection of officers and Geneva Convention Red Cross representatives arrive at the prisoner of war camp. Among the German officers is Max Von Sydow. He takes note that the POW’s are playing soccer as a form of recreation. Acting as coach and referee is Caine. Max recognizes him as former pro player prior to the outbreak of war. Unlike the guards vs. the inmates of The Longest Yard, the proposal is a select group of former pros now in the camps vs. a team of Germany’s best.
With no soccer skills to his name but a burning desire to escape, Sly is enlisted as the team’s trainer and promptly goes about trying to upstage the other actors with a routine that reminded me of Don Knotts repeating everything that Andy Griffith might say to jail house guests. Most of the film source books I have read over the years don’t speak to kindly of Sly’s inflated ego during this films production.
The game is to be used as a backdrop for a mass escape plan when it is decided that the game will be played in Paris. Serving as the game’s play by play announcer we’ll see Anton Diffring turn up though his voice has been dubbed by another for no good reason I can think of. With the score seemingly out of reach, our out of shape and malnourished inmates on the team will have to make a hefty decision at half time.
Our trio of well known stars do their best in this odd ball entry in the career of Huston. At the end of the day I found the German’s weren’t mean enough as history has shown. Stallone as an inmate looks like he’s ready for a rematch with Apollo Creed as opposed to wearing rags and looking frail. Caine is amusing as he looks nowhere in the condition needed to play soccer. It isn’t because he’s malnourished either. Not with the paunch he’s hiding under his shirt.
Max Von Sydow comes off the best with dignity befitting an officer and has high hopes of a great sporting contest where grudges and talk of war would be left in the dressing rooms. His superiors don’t quite share his enthusiasm for fair play.
The game itself isn’t exactly much to witness over the first half and generated very little emotion. Good or bad. Not wanting to play spoiler here but just remember that Sly is in here and there’s another half to play.
The game is apparently littered with real life players of whom I know little about though world famous player Pele is in a featured role and gets plenty of opportunity to display his skills with a soccer ball.
I don’t mean to be to harsh on this film though I did enjoy poking a bit of fun at it. It’s a formula picture starring three well known actors and with the Huston name attached to it one shouldn’t so easily brush it aside. At the end of the day it’s watchable though not memorable.