Bitter Victory (1957)
A Moderate Victory
Like Alfred Hitchcock director Nicholas Ray has his devotees who find his movies to be a cut above the norm. There is nothing wrong with that as Nicholas Ray certainly crafted stylish and classic movies and he deserves a lot of the praise awarded him. But sometimes I find myself at odds with those over his movies and find that whilst those who like to analyse a movie will be blown away by the look and sub context of a movie I will find it doesn't have the same impact on purely the entertainment front. One such movie is "Bitter Victory" which is loved by devotees of Nicholas Ray but for those who watch because it is a movie will probably not be as blown away by it in the same way as the fans are.
With a need to retrieve documents from inside German held Benghazi Major David Brand (Curd Jürgens - The Enemy Below) is assigned to lead a commando operation with Capt. Jimmy Leith (Richard Burton - Sea Wife) going along as his second in command with his ability to speak Arabic being crucial to the mission. But the night before they head off the situation becomes complicated when Brand discovers that his wife Jane (Ruth Roman - The Far Country) was once with Leith and still has feelings for him. This leads to animosity between the two men which during the mission escalates as their flaws come to the surface.
For those looking for an in-depth review of "Bitter Victory" which examines the sub context of the story, that of masculinity, I suggest venturing off else where to a movie review written by a devotee of Nicholas Ray. Nope this review focuses on how well "Bitter Victory" worked as a piece of war movie entertainment and in fairness it works but it isn't great. The trouble is that in order to create style it often feels that a scene is drawn out longer than necessary with silent pauses which go on too long. There is also a real sense of manufactured about it with too many scenes feeling too tightly constructed rather than recreating the raw atmosphere of war.
The knock on effect of this attempt to create style is that often the performances feel forced. When ever Richard Burton has anything to say it feels too rehearsed, too theatrical which is the same for Curd Jürgens. And it is a shame because from their actions and looks you can feel the animosity and rivalry between them but never see their characters as real.
It is for those reasons why "Bitter Victory" doesn't really work for me although as a crafted movie there is no denying that Nicholas Ray has delivered. The various shots of Burton and Jürgens lurking in the shadows are stunning and the use of the desert makes for an unforgiving location.
What this all boils down to is that "Bitter Victory" is popular amongst fans of Nicholas Ray because of his style and touches. But for those looking for war movie entertainment might find his styling too heavy handed and manufactured for this sort of movie.
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