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BITTER VICTORY (AMERE VICTOIRE) (director: Nicholas Ray; screenwriters: from the novel by René Hardy/Paul Gallico/Gavin Lambert; cinematographer: Maurice Le Roux; editor: Léonide Azar; music: Maurice Le Roux; cast: Richard Burton (Captain Jimmy Leith), Curd Jurgens (Major David Brand), Ruth Roman (Jane Brand), Raymond Pellegrin (Mokrane), Anthony Bushell (General Paterson), Alfred Burke (Lt. Colonel Callander), Sean Kelly (Lieutenant Barton), Nigel Green (Pvt. Wilkins), Christopher Lee (Sgt. Barney), Ronan O’Casey (Sgt. Dunnigan), Fred Matter (Col. Lutze); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Paul Graetz; Columbia Pictures; 1957-France-in English)
“It’s one of Ray’s more powerful films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Directed by Nicholas Ray (“Rebel Without A Cause”/”On Dangerous Ground”) from a book by René Hardy, who was tried for war crimes twice for betraying those in the Resistance and acquitted each time. The location shots were taken in Libya, but most of the film was shot in a studio in France. Godard was so impressed with it, that he said “It’s more than cinema.” He’s right, it reflects Ray’s philosophy that no one is all good or all bad, and that all heroes are not without faults. Ray does a number on man’s need to be macho, in a film that plays with safe mottos about life and turns them upside down. It’s one of Ray’s more powerful films.

The WWII psychological antihero and anti-war drama revolves around the conflict between rival Brit officers who go on a dangerous mission together and find they both must confront from within their deep-seated personal anguish. The narrative is at times confusing, but there’s a raw power in the moralistic telling of it that springs forth with metaphysical truths as in the end both commandos are broken in spirit and must live with their life and death choices.

The impulsive cheeky intellectual and former archaeologist, an army volunteer, Captain Jimmy Leith (Richard Burton) and the more sober-minded South African born career military man, heretofore always behind a desk, Major David Brand (Curd Jurgens), are Brit officers stationed in a remote outpost in North Africa. The two are chosen by General Paterson (Anthony Bushell) to go on a dangerous raid inside Rommel’s Nazi stronghold in Libya to steal vital documents. Unexpectedly Brand’s pretty wife, Jane (Ruth Roman), an army officer, has come to join her hubby in the outpost. She turns out to be the same woman Leith loved before the war. But he left for Libya without saying goodbye and she married on the rebound Brand. The old lovers obviously still love each other, which Brand picks up when he sees them dancing together and goes into a jealous snit.

With Brand in charge of the mission, they are disguised as Arabs when they enter Benghazi. Brand freezes when he’s unable to kill a Nazi sentry and a contemptuous Leith, realizing that Brand is a coward, has to stab the sentry to death. They then succeed in breaking into the headquarters’s safe and stealing the documents. More Germans arrive and give chase in the desert, but all get killed but for one German officer taken prisoner. Two Brit soldiers are too wounded to move, and Brand orders Leith to stay behind with them in the desert. Leith kills one who begs for a mercy killing and tries to carry the other on his back, but in the desert runs into his old Arab friend and protector on this mission Mokrane (Raymond Pellegrin), who tells him the soldier is dead. This leads Leith to exclaim without emotion “I kill the living and save the dead.”

When the rendezvous’ second part of the mission is carried out and Leith joins up with Brand, the cowardly Brand doesn’t warn his rival of a scorpion and when he gets bit orders him left behind to the shock of the other men when he coldly says “I’m not obliged to save the wounded if it jeopardizes the mission.” When Mokrane realizes that Brand is responsible for his friend’s deadly condition, he tries to kill the major but is instead killed. Leith ends up buried in a desert storm. At last the mission succeeds and General Paterson awards the undeserving Brand the Distinguished Service Medal, but Jane senses what happened and leaves him. After the general dismisses the men, they stare daggers at Brand and also leave. Brand ends up a hero, but all alone.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”