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The Victors is a 1963 film by Carl Foreman following a group of U.S. soldiers through Europe during World War II, from the early days of the Battle of Britain, through the fierce fighting in Italy and France, to the uneasy peace of Berlin. It is adapted from a collection of short stories called The Human Kind by British 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.
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.
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 World War II 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 African-American soldiers. Others show American military personnel becoming players in the "black market," and American and Russians alike exploiting German women sexually.
The hostility of Germans civilians towards their American and Russian occupiers is also depicted, although the depiction of German hostility towards the Americans is somewhat surprising given the era in which the film was made.
One of the cinematic highpoints is a bizarre and long sequence depicting the execution by firing squad of a GI deserter in a huge, otherwise empty, snow covered field while the movie 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 ( for this statement of opinion).
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 plane. The addition of surreal accompanying Christmas music and absence of dialog make this scene an oft cited one. The juxtaposition of saccharine music with a frightful scene was emulated the following year by Kubrick in Dr. Strangelove, which was also shot in black and white.
This scene is presumably based on the execution of Eddie Slovik by the US Army in France in early 1945. He was the only soldier executed for desertion by the Americans in the second war. His sentence was approved by Dwight Eisenhower himself, presumably to act as an example.
An anti-war message also unusual for the time period -- and particularly regarding America's involvement in World War II -- is found in the final vignette. An American soldier stationed in post-war Berlin picks a fight with a drunken Russian soldier, possibily to avenge the rape of his German girl friend by Russian 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 a seemingly limitless desert of rubble and ruins.
The all star cast included George Peppard, Romy Schneider, George Hamilton, Albert Finney, Melina Mercouri, Eli Wallach, Elke Sommer, Jeanne Moreau, Vince Edwards, Senta Berger, and Peter Fonda.
The film was nominated for a Golden Globe (Most Promising Newcomer, actor Peter Fonda).