I was reading an excerpt from S.L. Price’s excellent book, Far Afield the other day and there was a part where he was reminiscing with Michael Jordan about their days at the University of North Carolina. Despite his fame and his accomplishments, Jordan’s secret refuge was those days before he became a global icon. And Price told of how Jordan would talk of those good old days.
Many people try to escape or forget their past for various reasons. I myself wish to bury more than quite a few of those relics and memories. But there are many precious and golden that even when I’m fighting those bouts of unhappiness I retreat to them.
Just last night while I was fighting off the effects of food poisoning, I was watching Robert Rodriguez’ Planet Terror. It’s not the greatest movie in the world, but Rodriguez never intended it to be an art film or something akin to even Saving Private Ryan – a masterful film cut across the swath of death and destruction of war. Planet Terror is nothing more than a 1970’s zombie flick that’s meant to pass the time by. The 70’s weren’t so innocent and much of it I didn’t like since disco ruled during the decade’s end. But aside from Marvel Superheroes, Saturday morning cartoons, fantasizing about Cheryl Tiegs in that famous fishnet swimsuit, and Farrah Fawcett-Majors flashing those dazzling pearly-whites in a bikini, I loved football. I loved the mud on my face and my spikes. I loved the sweat from heat of the sun and the incandescent celebration that exploded from a goal.
The 70's -- here I am speaking like some ancient dinosaur -- was decades removed from cable television and the internet. The only access I had to the New York Cosmos was when I was at my grandparent’s place. Watching Rodriguez’ retro film made me think about a couple of films: One on One starring Robbie Benson and Escape to Victory starring Sly Stallone, Michael Caine, Max Von Sydow, and Pele. Now since I have the DVD of Escape to Victory (I bought it at Best Buy in East 86th and Lex), I ejected the zombie flick and plopped Victory in.
Then as it is now, it’s a treat to watch a film about football set during World War II (military adventure and football are two of my favorite genres). The story is about when the Germans played Allied prisoners in a friendly match in occupied France. Unknown to German intelligence, the Allies and the French underground hatched a plan to spring the players in a mass escape. I never knew it back then but the film was inspired by a true story when the Germans played Ukrainian prisoners who once played for Dynamo Kiev before the war. The Germans lost handily every time out and the sore losing Master Race sent the Ukrainians to labor camps where many of them perished.
The film directed by John Huston received a great deal of attention for its stars and the football players it featured. There was Tottenham great Osvaldo Ardilles, West Ham and Manchester United’s Bobby Moore (although he was more heavy set since he was well past his playing days in the film), Mike Summerbee of Manchester City, Werner Roth, Pele’s teammate with the Cosmos, Co Prins of Ajax Amsterdam, Hallvar Thorensen of PSV Eindhoven, and several players from Ipswich FC, Anderlecht, and Manchester City.
Football plays an integral part of the film. The prisoners of war are coached and represented by John Colby (Michael Caine) who agrees to play an exhibition match against a German team, only to find themselves involved in a Nazi propaganda tournament. In the end, the POWs can leave the Nazi camp only to play the match; they are supposed to return to the camp after the game. During the match, despite the match officials being heavily biased towards the Nazis, a draw is achieved after great performances from Terry Brady (played by Bobby Moore), Luis Fernandez (portrayed by Pelé), Carlos Rey (portrayed by Osvaldo Ardiles) and Arthur Hayes (portrayed by John Wark). American soldier Robert Hatch (Sylvester Stallone) plays goalkeeper and makes excellent saves including one last save on a penalty kick as time expires to deny the Nazis the win, drawing the game 4-4. Although, the POWs scored a goal which was called offside by the referee, that should have made the score 5-4, the crowd began to chant "Victora!"
Some team members plan to escape at halftime (led by Hatch) but the rest of the team (led by Russell Osman saying "but we can win this") want to carry on with the game despite being behind at halftime. They manage to escape at the end of the game amidst the confusion caused by the crowd storming the field after Hatch preserves the draw.
Les Shannon, ex-Burnley F.C. player, choreographed the actual game presented in the film while Pelé designed of plays. Gordon Banks, England’s World Cup winning goalkeeper, coached Sylvester Stallone. The game was filmed in the Stadion Hidegkuti Nándor in Budapest, Hungary.
Watching it again for the nth time the other night while battling a fever, I enjoyed it just as I did back then. That was a time when Pele’s bicycle kick was one of the most incredible sights I thought I’d ever see. There aren’t many football movies I like. Kuno Becker’s Goal I & II are okay, but Escape to Victory is still my fave.