Review: Escape To Victory (1981)
Composer: Bill Conti
Label: Prometheus Records
Catalogue Nr.: PRC 520
Even legendary directors can produce weak films. John Huston had to experience that with Escape To Victory, an odd mixture of WWII and sports movies that was claimed to be based on actual events surrounding the arrest and execution of several soccer players from Dynamo Kiev after they won a series of games against a German team. However, what ended up in the film could not be more far away from what really happened: A soccer team assembled of POW's has to play against a Nazi team in a big event-match in Paris arranged by Goebel's ministry of propaganda and naturally the POW's win the game and their freedom in a typically feel-good Hollywood finale. Having 'Sly' Stallone did not really help the film either though hearing him mumbling with a stoned face always makes for a good laugh or two (especially when his 'acting' skills are put against a world class actor like Michael Caine here). The story reportedly went through several changes due to Sly's egomania and the end result almost looks like a failed variation of The Great Escape (1969) with some soccer in it, even though it carries quite solid performances by Michael Caine and Max Von Sydow. Sadly, that's pretty much about it with the positive aspects of this flick. Audience responses were poor and the film is rightfully forgotten these days.
Bill Conti was called to compose a big score for the film as he did on several 'Sly'-films from that decade including the classic Rocky movies but the informative liner notes of this release reveal that his many assignments for 'Sly' films were never really linked with Stallone being in the film. Conti had 4 weeks to write and record the music for Escape To Victory but especially the recording would proof to be a tough challenge because the orchestra was very big and all recording stages with considerable size were booked out for other recording sessions at the time. That was the moment when Todd-AO studios stepped in (now a frequently used side for big orchestral recordings) which was nothing more than a huge empty hall without any equipment back then. But the crew brought everything in and the sound was fine as it would be the case with all future scores that came from the studio. The film itself is scored rather sparse and with a lot of care during spotting sessions. It has a rousing patriotic and very militaristic feeling to it (almost like WWII propaganda music) since almost every major cue comes along as some sort of march.
The album opens with "VICTORY - Main Title" which is pure orchestral ear candy that unites all main aspects of this score in a rousing march which quickly turns itself into an earwig because the theme is extremely memorable. A moment for lush strings is build into the patriotism and indicates a love theme for a romantic interest between two key characters in the film but it really does not develop any further except for some reprises during the final pieces. A catchy and somewhat playful theme for the POW soccer team is introduced in "The Team Uniforms" when they first appear in their red uniforms and begin their training. Of course this is another march which picks up elements from the main title but ends up as a very individual piece which sounds even more patriotic.
Several suspense cues appear throughout the score, reflecting the sneaky 'escape' aspect of the story, but they come along as rather dull and empty like "Match's Getaway" with rather meaningless low playing strings, flutes and woodwinds. It is the typical WWII suspense film music which sadly lacks of excitement in Escape To Victory. "The Paris Express" picks up the team theme and turns it into yet another very obvious nod to Elmer Bernstein's score for The Great Escape (1963) before empty, percussive suspense music ends the cue. A lengthy suspense cues with subtle militaristic percussion and playful woodwinds and strings comes with "Team Outing" and is another cue which has 'The Great Escape' written all over it. A solo horn offers a slight note of patriotism in the middle of the piece which breaks up the repetitive suspense sound a little. It does not last for too long though because suspense returns, this time for dramatic strings and light percussion in "Krauts On A Roll" which has some nice dark fanfares that merge with the dramatically whining strings at the end.
More tragic tones appear in "Don't Leave" as the main players have to make the fateful decision to either play the game or escape with the help of the resistance. Of course they are playing their final game and "Let's Go Guys" kicks in with a big triumphant variation of the team theme after a short quote of the echoing trumpets from Jerry Goldsmith's classic WWII score for Patton (1970). Then the march gets a slightly classical, very Slavic tone which is probably the controversial quote of Shostakovich's "Symphony No. 5" (although I am not enough of a classical music aficionado so this is just a wild guess). Lush and romantic strings which are pure Bill Conti joy and in that form a trademark of his orchestral scores take over as the cue is coming to an end. "Start Kick" features meditative woodwind playing interrupted by occasional outbursts of brass as we see some slow motion shots of stunts by soccer star Pele (who also appears in this odd film). The patriotism returns and reaches almost insane heights with a larger-than-life reprise of the main title in "Match's Revenge" as the POW team is winning the game and freedom. The score is closing with the obvious reprise of the material in "VICTORY - End Credits". Alternate takes of "The Team Uniforms", "Let's Go Guys" and "Match's Revenge" round out the album.
Review by Andreas Creutzburg
Score as heard in the film: 76%
Score as heard on CD: 80%
Prometheus Record's Club CD edition of Escape To Victory represents a nice overall presentation of all highlights from the score and runs very smooth at a running time of 42 minutes. The sound quality is okay if you consider the circumstances of the sessions. There is a little bit of hiss here or there but it remained very vibrant and powerful and the remastering was done with a lot of care. There is only a minor downside as this release does not feature the complete score but maybe the pieces on that disc are all that remained in good shape from the master tapes. Dan Goldwasser provided the liner notes which feature comments by Bill Conti and are a joyful and highly informative read. Kick the bootleg in the can because this release is far superior in every way.
Presentation by the Label: 72%
Escape To Victory is a rousing patriotic score by Bill Conti with a catchy march in the tradition of other WWII scores such as The Great Escape (1963) or even Patton (1970). It is almost a nod to music from WWII propaganda films due to a very playful and strong nationalistic (almost British) sound. That creates a very exiting and uplifting listen which may not be as epic as The Right Stuff (1983) or as complex as Masters Of The Universe (1989) but clearly makes a worthy predecessor. Sadly, the suspense parts of the score are lacking of a similar excitement and maybe if the love theme had been fleshed out a little this score would have received a higher rating but what we have is still very enjoyable. The funky rhythms and orchestrations which dominated Conti's output from the decade is entirely absent here since this is all orchestral joy performed by a 70 piece ensemble. Fans of Conti and WWII scores don't want to miss this score (and besides, it comes right in time for the soccer WM 2006).
01. VICTORY - Main Title (03:27)
02. The Team Uniforms (02:11)
03. Match's Getaway (02:29)
04. The Paris Express (03:29)
05. Team Outing (04:13)
06. Krauts on a Roll (02:02)
07. Don't Leave (02:15)
08. Let's Go Guys (04:54)
09. Start Kick (01:18)
10. Match's Revenge (02:42)
11. VICTORY - End Credits (03:39)
12. The Team Uniforms (Alternate) (02:12)
13. Let's Go Guys (Alternate) (04:54)
14. Match's Revenge (Alternate) (02:42)