The Victors (1963 film)

The Victors is a 1963 British-American war film written, produced and directed by Carl Foreman, whose name on the film's posters was accompanied by nearby text, "from the man who fired The Guns of Navarone". Shot on location in Western Europe and Britain, The Victors features an all-star cast, with fifteen American and European leading players, including six actresses whose photographs appear on the posters — Melina Mercouri from Greece, Jeanne Moreau from France, Rosanna Schiaffino from Italy, Romy Schneider and Senta Berger from Austria as well as Elke Sommer from West Germany.[2] One of the posters carries the tagline, "The six most exciting women in the world… in the most explosive entertainment ever made!".

The Victors
The Victors poster.jpg
Directed byCarl Foreman
Produced byCarl Foreman
Written byCarl Foreman
Based onthe novel The Human Kind
by Alexander Baron
StarringVincent Edwards
Albert Finney
George Hamilton
Melina Mercouri
Jeanne Moreau
George Peppard
Maurice Ronet
Rosanna Schiaffino
Romy Schneider
Elke Sommer
Eli Wallach
and Michael Callan
Music byComposed and conducted
by Sol Kaplan
CinematographyChristopher Challis B.S.C.
Edited byAlan Osbiston
Open Road Films
Highroad Productions
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • 18 November 1963 (1963-11-18) (London-Royal Premiere)
  • 19 November 1963 (1963-11-19) (United Kingdom)
  • December 27, 1963 (1963-12-27) (United States)
Running time
175 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
United States
Box office$2,350,000 (US/ Canada)[1]

The film follows a group of American soldiers through Europe during the Second World War, from Britain in 1942, through the fierce fighting in the Italian Campaign and Invasion of Normandy, to the uneasy peace of occupied Berlin. Production of the story's action meant filming scenes that took place in Sweden, France, Italy and England.[3]

It is adapted from a collection of short stories called The Human Kind by English author Alexander Baron, based upon his own wartime experiences. In the film the British characters of the original book were changed into Americans in order to attract American audiences.

Carl Foreman wrote, produced and directed the epic. He called it a "personal statement" about the futility of war. Both victor and vanquished are losers.[4]

The film slips between Pathé-style newsreel footage showing the conquering heroes abroad for the audience at home, and the grim reality of battlefield brutality and post-conflict ennui. No battle scenes are depicted in the film.

The story is told in a series of short vignettes, each having a beginning and an ending in itself, though all are connected to the others, as a series of short stories adding up to a longer one.

Atypically of Hollywood interpretations of the Second World War at the time, the depiction of American GIs shows soldiers worn out by battle, weary of conflict and capable of casual cruelty towards outsiders and also to other Americans. In one vignette a group of white American soldiers attack and brutally beat two black American soldiers. Others show American military personnel (star George Peppard) becoming players in the "black market," although Peppard goes back to his unit when he sees them leaving for the front, and Americans and Russians alike exploiting German women sexually.

The hostility of German civilians towards their American and Soviet occupiers is also depicted.

One of the cinematic high points is the detour of one truckload of GIs out of a convoy, for the express purpose of supplying witnesses to the execution by firing squad of a GI deserter (a scene inspired by the real-life 1945 execution of Pvt. Eddie Slovik). Depicted in a huge, otherwise empty, snow-covered field near a chateau at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines on Christmas Eve, while the film audience first hears Frank Sinatra singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and then a chorus of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing", after the fatal shots are fired. This scene is remarkable for its stark, visually extreme imagery, and the non-combat stress and anguish foisted on GIs during a lull in combat. The New York Times film review stated "it stands out in stark and sobering contrast to the other gaudier incidents in the film".[5]

The whole film is shot in black and white, and so the black regimented figures of the firing squad and witnesses face the lone man bound to a stake in the midst of a snow-covered plain. The addition of surreal accompanying Christmas music and absence of dialogue make this scene an often cited one. The juxtaposition of saccharine music with a frightful scene was emulated the following year by Stanley Kubrick in Dr. Strangelove, which was also shot in black and white.

An anti-war message also unusual for the time period - and particularly regarding America's involvement in the Second World War - is found in the final vignette. An American soldier (co-star George Hamilton) stationed in post-war Berlin picks a fight with a drunken Soviet soldier (Albert Finney), possibly to avenge the rape of his German girlfriend by Soviet soldiers during the Battle of Berlin. The fight ends with each man killing the other and the camera slowly pulls back to show the bodies of the two one-time allies lying in the shape of a V for Victory in a seemingly limitless desert of rubble and ruins.


An American infantry squad is sent to Italy including Sergeant Craig, and Corporals Trower and Chase, and GI Baker.

The squad take possession of a small town in Sicily. Craig has to stop his men from looting. Baker strikes up a relationship with Maria, a young mother whose soldier husband is missing. They talk to a Sikh soldier. At another stop, white American soldiers beat up black American soldiers in a bar.

The squad then transfer to France. Craig spends the evening with a Frenchwoman who is terrified by bombing raids.

The men help liberate a concentration camp. In Ostend Trower meets Regine, a violinist, and falls in love with her. However she leaves him for a sleazy pimp, Eldridge. The men observe an American soldier be executed for desertion.

Chase has a relationship with Magda, who suggests he desert and join her in the black market. He refuses, rejoins his unit, and is wounded in the leg.

A newcomer to the group, Weaver, adopts a dog. But when the unit pulls out, his fellow soldier, Grogan, shoots it dead.

When Chase gets out of hospital in England he is stuck at a bus stop in the rain. A man, Dennis, invites him in to have tea with his family. He has a pleasant time but when he visits Craig in hospital, he discovers Craig has had most of his face blown off.

The war in Europe ends. In 1946 Trower lives in the Russian zone of Berlin. He's in love with Helga whose parents he provides with imported goods. Helga's sister has been sleeping with Russians. Trower gets in a fight with a drunken Russian soldier. Neither understand each other, and the two men pull knives and stab each other to death.


Starring in alphabetical order



The Squad [Firing squad members]

Songs listed in opening creditsEdit

End quotationEdit

"My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity.
All a poet can do today is warn..."
Wilfred Owen
Born, March 18, 1893.
Killed in France, November 4, 1918.

Original novelEdit

The film was based on the book The Human Kind, which was published in 1953.[6] It was the third in a trilogy of autobiographical war works from Alexander Baron, the first two being From the City, From the Plough and There's No Home. The Human Kind was a series of autobiographical notes and sketches which covered the war from 1939 to 1945 with an epilogue in Korea.[7] The Independent called it "an ambitious collection of vignettes pitched between fiction and autobiography, short story and novel, which took pitiless stock of what the war had done to people and their sense of goodness or hope, political hope especially." [8]



Film rights were bought by Carl Foreman. In May 1957 he announced a slate of productions he wanted to produce under a deal with Columbia in England, including an adaptation of The Human Kind. The deal was for four films over three years, with a budget of $8–10 million. He called Human Kind a "series of vignettes of the early days of the blitz in England."[9]

In 1960 Foreman announced The Human Kind would follow his production of The Guns of Navarone. Foreman's intention was to "select several of the stories, adapt them to the screen and make one overall drama out of the kaleidoscopic collection." Foreman also said he intended to make his directorial debut with the movie.[10]

In February 1961 Foreman said he would make the film before adapting The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.[11]

In August 1961 Foreman said the project would be titled The Victors as he felt the theme of the book was that in war the winners are also the losers.[12] In February 1962 Foreman arrived in Los Angeles to cast the movie.[13]

"It will be controversial and may well shock people, said Foreman in August 1962, just as filming began. "But it represents a deeply personal feeling I have about war and specifically heroism. People are very capable of coming up with heroism when it is necessary - but it's not a game anymore. What I resent is the need for heroism in warfare."[14]

Sophia Loren and Simone Signoret were originally cast but dropped out and were replaced by Jeanne Moreau and Rosanna Schiaffino.[15]


Filming began 7 August 1962. There was filming then England, then Italy and France then the unit returned to England.[16]

"It's lonely directing," said Foreman.[17] Mercouri admitted in her memoirs that "I gave Carl Foreman a hard time" during the shoot but said this was because she was physically unwell.[18]

Saul Bass created the opening montage and title sequence that covers European history from the First World War to the Battle of Britain in the Second World War.

The end credit reads "Photographed on locations in Italy, France, England and Sweden, with the kind co-operation of the Swedish Army Ordnance Corps and at Shepperton Studios, England."



The Victors was cut by about 20 minutes within a few weeks of opening. The version in circulation (to the extent that it is circulating at all) is 154 minutes (see Leonard Maltin's Film & Video Guide).

Among the sequences cut was one where an 11 year old boy, Jean Pierre, propositions the American soldiers to exchange sex for food money. The Hollywood Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, insisted that several scenes be deleted. While the Code had been gradually liberalised in the 1950s-early 1960s, homosexuality was still something that could only be, vaguely, implied in order to get approval from the Hollywood Production Code and the Catholic Legion of Decency.[19]

American film executives encouraged Foreman to include a nude scene with Elke Sommer, already in the version released in Europe and Britain, when he submitted it for a Production Code seal. This was to be used as a bargaining chip in case of any other objections. Foreman submitted the more modest version of the scene that had been shot for the American market and the film was passed without incident.[20]

Box OfficeEdit

The film was a box office disappointment. George Hamilton argued it "was way too dark, foreshadowing the great paranoid movies of the later sixties, ahead of the bad times that seemed to begin with the Kennedy assassination."[21]


The film was nominated for a Golden Globe (Most Promising Newcomer, actor Peter Fonda).

Paperback novelizationEdit

In November 1963, Dell Publishing issued a novelization of the screenplay by critic, author and war veteran Milton Shulman. The book's presentation is idiosyncratic, as it is both unabashedly a tie-in edition, yet seems to cautiously sidestep labeling itself an adaptation of the script per se (though within Shulman's sensitively internalized retelling, it is quite faithful to the film's dialogue and structure). Both the cover and title page proclaim "Carl Foreman's The Victors" under which the byline is "by Milton Shulman, based on The Human Kind by Alexander Baron." bypassing mention of the actual screenplay. It is unknown whether Dell bid for the publishing rights and commissioned the novelization, or if Foreman engineered its publication. The latter would seem the more likely, given Foreman's possessive over-the-title billing, and that the short story collection providing the source of the screenplay is itself an established work of fiction. What does seem clear is that Baron himself was approached to write the novelization, and that he declined—possibly because, with the Americanization of the characters, he felt the novel's authorship should have a genuinely American voice—but nonetheless wanted to select the author and supervise. That he did so can be extrapolated from the copyright registration: The copyright is assigned to Baron, with a notation that he engaged Shulman to write the book as a work for hire. The resultant novelization sold well enough to earn at least a second print run, indicated on that identical edition's copyright page, issued in January 1964.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Big Rental Pictures of 1964", Variety, 6 January 1965 p 39. Please note this figure is rentals accruing to distributors not total gross.
  2. ^ Greco, John. "Where Are They? The Victors (1963)" (Twenty Four Frames. Notes on Film by John Greco, 2009–15) Includes images of The Victors film posters
  3. ^ 1963 Film The Victors, at Orato
  4. ^ Cinema: Up in Arms for Peace, Time Magazine, 20 December 1963
  5. ^ The Grim Message of War: Foreman's 'The Victors' at Two Theaters, by Bosley Crowther, New York Times, 20 December 1963
  6. ^ 'England's Chicago Tribune' Strout, Richard L. The Observer 4 March 1951: 5.
  7. ^ How Savage Man Can Be: THE HUMAN KIND. By Alexander Baron. 187 pp. New York: Ives Washburn. By JOHN C. NEFF. New York Times 28 June 1953: BR12.
  8. ^ BOOKS: [3 Edition 3] Williams, John. The Independent; London (UK) 11 June 1994.
  9. ^ NOTED ON THE LOCAL SCREEN SCENE: Foreman's Full Agenda --On the Schulbergs' Slate--Addenda Anatomy of Fear By A.H. WEILER. New York Times 17 Mar 1957: X5.
  10. ^ BY WAY OF REPORT: Metro, French Company Team -- Other Items By A.H. WEILER. New York Times 4 Dec 1960: X7.
  11. ^ FOREMAN WRITING 'MUSA DAGH' FILM: Salary for Adapting Werfel Novel Put at $225,000 -- 'Misfits' Opens Today By EUGENE ARCHER. New York Times 1 Feb 1961: 30.
  12. ^ Blowing Up of Guns Pet Foreman Effect: Minnelli's Is Sky Horsemen; Stage-Play Titles Real Gone Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 14 Aug 1961: C9.
  13. ^ Film Roles Await Yankees in Florida Hedda Hopper's Hollywood:. The Washington Post, Times Herald 6 Feb 1962: B8.
  14. ^ Foreman Will Show Victors Are Losers: Producer-Director Indicts Wartime Heroism in Movie Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 7 Aug 1962: C9.
  15. ^ 'Cleopatra' Movie Cast Coming Home This Week Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 11 July 1962: a2.
  16. ^ Looking at Hollywood: Sports Writer to Do Williams' TV Script Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 6 June 1962: b2.
  17. ^ FOREMAN VIEW OF WAR: Writer-Producer Turns To Directing In European-Made 'The Victors' In Retrospect Appraisal By STEPHEN WATTS. New York Times 14 Oct 1962: 131.
  18. ^ Mercouri, Melina (1971). I was born Greek. Doubleday. p. 158.
  19. ^ Russo, Vito (1986). The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality In The Movies. Harper & Row. p. 136. ISBN 978-0060961329.
  20. ^ Schumach, Murray (1964). The Face On The Cutting Room Floor:The Story Of Movie And Television Censorship. William Morrow. pp. 13–14. ISBN 978-0306800092.
  21. ^ George Hamilton & William Stadiem, Don't Mind If I Do, Simon & Schuster 2008 p 177

External linksEdit