DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Bitter Victory

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Aaron Silverman, Mar 19, 2005.

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  1. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    Bitter Victory [​IMG]

    US Theatrical Release: March 1958 (Columbia Pictures)
    US DVD Release: February 22, 2005
    Running Time: 1:41:47 (12 chapter stops) (The original US release only ran 82 minutes.)
    Rating: None (Has old-fashioned bloodless war violence)
    Video: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Black & White
    Audio: English DD1.0
    Subtitles: None
    TV-Generated Closed Captions: English
    Menus: Not animated.
    Packaging: Standard keepcase; no insert.
    MSRP: $19.94

    THE WAY I FEEL ABOUT IT: 3.5/5

    Richard Burton, the original Angry Young Man of British theater and cinema, shows us his bitter side in Nicholas Ray's dark war drama Bitter Victory. He and Curt Jurgens lead a unit of British commandos on a secret mission in World War II Libya, where their personal clash of wills overshadows the battle against the Germans.

    Major David Brand (Jurgens) is a 13-year veteran, but has never seen real action in the field. Stiff and by-the-book, he longs for a chance at glory, but secretly questions how he'll handle the intensity of combat. He has authority over his men, but he does not yet have their respect. He longs for a chance to be a hero and earn that respect.

    Captain Jimmy Leith (Burton) is as independent-minded as Brand is conformist. He was an adventurer in North Africa even before the war, when he traveled on archaeological digs. He always speaks his mind, which is full of bitterness and cynicism. This often rubs his superiors the wrong way, but it has earned the respect of the enlisted men.

    When an important commando mission comes up, both Brand and Leith are assigned to it. But before they embark, Brand's wife Jane (Ruth Roman) arrives as a WAC (Women's Army Corps). Unbeknownst to Brand, she and Leith (who was completely unaware of her marriage to Brand) were once involved. Leith abandoned her at the beginning of the war, setting up a triangle of lost love, Casablanca-style. Although they never speak of it in front of Brand, it's pretty clear to him that this is not Jane and Leith's first meeting.

    The obvious tension between the former lovers doesn't do much to improve Brand and Leith's already chilly relationship, which comes to a head when Brand shows cowardice in front of Leith during the attack. Killing is not as easy as he'd expected it to be. Leith, whose outlook can charitably be described as bleak, is forced to step in and do Brand's job for him.

    Brand is tortured by the knowledge that Leith could expose his cowardice to the men and to their superiors. He is further tortured by Leith's unending litany of cynical commentary. Leith is full of cheery greeting-card commentary such as "I kill the living and save the dead" (a statement that makes sense within the context of the sequence in which it appears). When Brand orders Leith to stay behind and guard some wounded men in the middle of the desert, the men wonder whether Brand is trying to ensure that Leith doesn't make it home. Leith, and even Brand himself, wonder the same thing.

    A definite product of its time, the script of Bitter Victory is chock-full of dark proverbs and musings on war and killing. However, it's not without its moments of humor, and the love triangle subplot anchors the story to the world beyond the war. A few action sequences keep things moving along, although director Nicholas Ray could probably have done a better job with them. While it's not Rambo-style combat, the violence in the film doesn't display the realism that modern audiences are accustomed to. In one scene, a knife drips fake blood just before piercing the skin. In another, a commando grabs a sentry and stabs him -- but the sentry does not react at all in the full second between the hand on his back and the knife in his throat. This is simply sloppy filmmaking.

    The focus on angry, fatalistic dialogue and dated action will probably not endear Bitter Victory to audiences who prefer Hollywood's latest releases. On the other hand, those who appreciate older films and who are interested in the Angry Young Men should enjoy it.


    THE WAY I SEE IT: 3.5/5

    The transfer is decent for a relatively obscure film of its age. Contrast is good, with satisfying blacks. The image shows some natural grain, unmarred by compression artifacts. The source print is in relatively good condition, with a bit of dirt and scratches but not too much. Certain scenes suffer from some strange Edge enhancement and the occasional slight purple haloing are visible in some shots, while others look quite film-like.


    THE WAY I HEAR IT: 2/5

    The mono soundtrack suffers from a fair amount of distortion and isn't always as clear as it could be. Some bits of dialogue are a little tough to make out. It's not quite bad enough to be distracting, but it's not in the greatest shape.


    THE SWAG: 0.5/5 (rating combines quality and quantity)

    Previews:

    Three trailers are included. They are only playable via a Play Previews button on the main menu that plays them all.
    • Castle Keep (3:24) (DD1.0; approximately 2.00:1 anamorphic and thoroughly bizarre!)
    • From Here To Eternity (1:04) (DD1.0; 1.33:1 non-anamorphic)
    • The Fog Of War (2:08) (DD5.1; 1.78:1 non-anamorphic)
    SUMMING IT ALL UP

    The Way I Feel About It: 3.5/5
    The Way I See It: 3.5/5
    The Way I Hear It: 2/5
    The Swag: 0.5/5


    Bitter Victory, based on a novel by Rene Hardy, features plenty of the anger and bitterness common to British films of the late '50s. Its dark dialogue is an interesting document of the times. Its philosophic musings are delivered in the form of a decent war action picture that features top-notch performances by the principal actors (as well as by a very young Christopher "Dooku/ Saruman" Lee as one of the British soldiers). The picture quality is passable, but unfortunately the audio could use some cleaning up. Overall, while it may be a bit dated, it's still a pretty good film that provides food for ethical thought and doesn't ever get boring.
     
  2. Jan H

    Jan H Cinematographer

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    Thanks for the review. I bought this on the day of release and thought it was a terrific film, one of director Nicholas Ray's best. Hopefully we'll see more of his work on DVD soon, like Bigger Than Life and Johnny Guitar.
     
  3. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    Glad you liked it. Sony's been releasing a pretty good number of these older catalog titles recently (watch for seventeen Westerns on April 5!); I would like to see a little improvement in the presentation, but I appreciate that we're getting these films at all.
     

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