Bitter Victory (1957)

Bitter Victory (1957)

“If you haven’t got the courage to kill me, don’t try to save me.”

Two British officers (Curt Jurgens and Richard Burton) with differing skill sets are assigned to co-lead an incognito mission to retrieve Nazi papers from Rommel’s headquarters in Benghazi — but tensions quickly arise when Jurgens learns that his wife (Ruth Roman) was Burton’s former lover.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Christopher Lee Films
  • Curt Jurgens Films
  • Deserts
  • Love Triangle
  • Machismo
  • Military
  • Nicholas Ray Films
  • Richard Burton Films
  • Ruth Roman Films
  • World War II Films

Nicholas Ray directed this adaptation of a novel by French writer RenĂ© Hardy, set in Northern Africa during World War II and centered on bitter conflict between the two male leads — both of whom (for unexplained reasons) adore Roman. Indeed, the miscasting of butch Roman (luminous Moira Shearer was the original choice):

… is second only to the confusion of having a German-born-and-accented actor (Jurgens) playing a British Major (the lame excuse given in the screenplay is that he’s a Boer). The narrative begins to pick up steam once we see the deadly extent to which the two men allow their neuroses and rivalries to play out in the hot desert sun.

… with a particularly harrowing sequence showing Burton being forced, as he puts it, to “kill the living and save the dead”:

Other tension-filled desert-survival scenes include a potentially tainted water source:

… and a deadly scorpion:

Meanwhile, the black-and-white cinematography — much of it shot on location in Libya — is gorgeous, making it all the more frustrating that the overall storyline doesn’t quite deliver.

Note: Watch for Christopher Lee in a minor supporting role as an accompanying soldier.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Richard Burton as Captain Leith
  • Curd Jurgens as Major Brand
  • Fine b&w CinemaScope cinematography and location shooting

  • Raymond Pellegrin as Mekrane

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look.


One thought on “Bitter Victory (1957)

  1. Not must-see but fans of director Ray will want to have a look.

    Somewhat engaging story, handled with appropriately cold efficiency and slow pacing, makes for an unusual entry in the Ray canon – yet it’s not hard to see (esp. in the Jurgens character) what may have drawn Ray to the material.

    Roman does seem miscast; Shearer would have been more effective.

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