The Sunday Intertitle: Total Victory

Bull Montana does what Bull Montana does best.

It was Hogmanay, in Edinburgh, the most Hogmaniacal city on this particular hemisphere of the planet, and we were all set to go round to friend Nicola’s to celebrate in comfort and warmth and alcoholic haze but (1) Nicola got a stinking cold and (2) I got a stinking cold, which meant Fiona and I celebrated in front of the TV with a good film, which is my answer to any crisis anyway (my late friend Lawrie, octogenarian, frequently housebound, paralysed down one side, after watching any decent film: “Ah, life is good“).

The film chosen was VICTORY, about which you can read a bit here (am I David Bordwell’s publicist? Or just a long-distance stalker?) — apart from its many dramatic and aesthetic merits, the film may contain cinema’s earliest over-the-shoulder shot, we learn. One of the great things about the o-t-s shot is that, used sparingly, it can still seem as fresh as when Maurice Tourneur tried it out in 1919. In THE KNACK, Richard Lester avoids the standard shot-reverse-shot formula so consistently that when he does do it, near the start and near the end, it seems almost like some crazy sixties gimmick he’s come up with, along with jump-cutting the actors around a park or winding the film backwards.

VICTORY is a 9-10ths faithful 1-crucial-10th travesty of Joseph Conrad’s novel, which incidentally Lester once planned to make with a screenplay by Pinter. The Great Harold’s script perhaps short-changes us on the romantic aspect of the story, which Tourneur and his scenarist Jules Furthman (later of Sternberg-Hawks affiliation) allows more expression, as you’d expect, but they cop out on the tragic ending. The result is a slightly weird moral to the story which equates true love with homicide — both are things you apparently have to be prepared to do if you want to live a full life. Hmm.

Mmm, that Rembrandt lighting, by René Guissart, about whom I need to learn more. He shot the 20s BEN-HUR, is all I know.

BUT — the film is visually a treat, with many many striking images. Conrad’s dastardly villains are one part of his novels that the movies can really get down with — see James Mason in LORD JIM as a frinstance — and here we can exult in Wallace Beery, Lon Chaney, LOST WORLD man-myth Bull Montana and a terrifying fellow called Ben Deeley as the psycho-albino Mr Jones, who becomes somewhat less terrifying as the film progresses but starts off as the most terrifying specter I’ve ever seen in a silent movie. Scarier than Chaney!

Some primo villainous musing from Deeley and Chaney.

Nevertheless, Chaney is impressive, with an unpleasant makeup and some impressive athletic work, and that powerful presence and ability to distort his body in expressive, expressionistic ways. What a performer he was. This shouldn’t really be considered as “a Lon Chaney movie” — it’s early in his career and he has only a supporting part, but in many ways, it utterly IS — the grotesquerie and violence, faithfully transferred from Conrad (a moment where a character falls face-first into a bonfire is an unconvincing special effect but memorably wince-making all the same) seem to exact prefigure Chaney’s later stick-in-trade.

Maurice Tourneur, whose work is nearly all hard to see via legit channels, is somebody who really should be honoured with a fat box set sometime. Here’s what’s available just now in the USA — I highly recommend it all. Nothing whatever is available in the UK.

The Blue Bird

The Poor Little Rich Girl

The Last of the Mohicans (1920 – Silent)

Before Hollywood, There Was Fort Lee, N.J. – Early Moviemaking in New Jersey

NB — if you follow the links and buy anything from Amazon, I get a percentage!

42 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Total Victory”

  1. david wingrove Says:

    Wow! This looks amazing. I remember a decent-ish film of VICTORY back in the 90s, directed by Mark Peploe, with some good psycho acting by Sam Neill. It didn’t quite work, and never got a proper release.

    This film, however, looks like the real deal!!

  2. My friend Sheree has a passionate fondness for Lon Chaney, I wonder if she’s seen VICTORY. So you’ve got Chaney (Lon), Tourneur (Maurice), and Conrad (Joseph), if that isn’t a promising mix then what is? Only 63 minutes, but then again, it’s adapted from a short story, so why not a short film. Very astute of you to introduce the post with the shot of a comely back, you’ve always had an appreciative eye for that aspect of the female form. From 1919 (had to look it up), and well -preserved, you’ve got me wanting to see this.

  3. For some reason there was a mini-flood of unreleased Conrad adaptations in the 90s — The Film Council showing their literary side? The Secret Agent seemed like it would have to be worth a look just for the weird cast.

    Bordwell is mistaken about the Conrad story, which qualifies as a short novel, I think. But it’s a pretty simple story — Lester called it PURE CINEMA because of the two narratives, one happy and one sinister, that intersect tragically. It’s also proto-noir exotica, so I’m sure you’d like it, Guy.

  4. My favorite Conrad adaptation is Patrice Chereau’s Gabrielle.

  5. Another Chereau I’ve yet to see!

  6. Interesting piece.

    My favourite Conrad adaptations are Sabotage and Apocalypse Now which are conventional choices I suppose. I still haven’t seen Outcast of the Islands.

  7. I suppose there will never be a shortage of filmmakers with an eye toward Conrad’s works. Welles seriously considered adapting Heart of Darkness before settling on KANE, as I’m sure many of your readers are aware. And speaking of which, who out there has seen the 1958 television rendering of HoD, with Boris Karloff (Kurtz), Roddy McDowell (Marlow), and Eartha Kitt (!)?

  8. Christopher Says:

    ..Its a Bull Montana mornin’ baby left me without warnin’…..

  9. Nicholas Roeg did a cable TV Heart of Darkness a few years back with Tim Roth and Malkovich (talk about “type casting”!) It wasn’t bad.

    Gabrielle is based on Conrad’s nouvelle “The Return” which was inspired by James’ “The Spoils fo Poynton.” In fact on completing it he presented James with a copy of the manuscript in person. It’s about a very full-of-himself haute bourgeois who thinks he has everything he wants in life. One day he comes home to discover a note from his wife, declaring that she has left him for another man. No sooner has he finished reading the note than she comes back to the house saying she’s made a mistake and won’t be leaving after all. In the conversation that follows he discovers that his wife, who he thought of strictlyas a posession, is an actual human being. Unable to deal with this prospect he flees his home in horror.

    Chereau stages this on a set that looks as large as the Musee D’Orsay. The couple has an army of servants — three to dress each of them alone. Chereau gives it the Full Wagnerian Monty. Isabelle Huppert holds herself in as only she can as a woman with no life at all save for mechanical social duties. Pascale Greggory is suitably smug and gobsmacked in his discovery of her actual corporeal existence. And there’s a raft of supporting players as the ‘friends” who attend their weekly soirees — which we learn aren’t quite as fashionable as those of others in their set (see the Verdurins in Proust.)

  10. I quite enjoyed Richard Brooks’ version of Lord Jim.

    I rewatched Tati’s wonderful Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot the other day. It is such a “grace-full” film in every sense.

    Speaking of Chéreau, I saw Ceux qui m’aiment prennent le train. It’s a film I would need to see more than once. There’s a lot going on in it.

  11. Indeed there is. He made sure to eliminate all standard “explanatory” material that would spell out who’s who in the usual fashion. Instead we’re tossed into the deep end of the pool and have to swim our way out as best we can. I wore out my original U.S. DVD looking at it to write my “Film Comment” piece — which took me longer to do than any single article I’ve ever written. Getting to the precise relationships requires at least three viewings. But the emotional through-line is always clear and strong. The deceased has left behind a virtual nation-state of widows (mostly male but several women as well) all vying fo the the title of The One in his life. At the same time there’s a major conflict between his surviving twin brother (Jean-Louis Trintignant) whose son (Charles Berling) always preferred Funny Uncle to Dear Old Dad. And that’s not to mention the transsexaul (the amazing Vincent Perez) who may be the son of the deceased — or maybe not.

    Brooks’ Lord Jim is indeed not bad. But it was a major very expensive flop and nearly sunk his career. His excellent adaptation of Capote’s In Cold Blood (with Robert Blake more-typecast-than-anyone-at-that-time-suspected as Perry) brought him back.

  12. Christopher Says:

    Bite The Bullet is one of my favorite Richard Brooks films..such a happy return to old style ,all-star ensemble acting that was about all gone in ’75..I don’t think it did well in theatres then..but was a hit on early Cable days in the early 80s where I caught up with it..

  13. Still to get a good copy of Bite the Bullet. In Cold Blood is astounding, much more tightly organized than Lord Jim and at least as hard a work to adapt. What a strange career he had. The last films look very peculiar indeed.

    This year I must have a Chereau blow-out.

  14. That means you should start with Flesh of the orchid, Chereau’s film of James Hadley Chase’s sequely to <i.Nor Orchids For Miss Blandish starring Charlotte Rampling with Hughes Quester, Bruno Cremer, Simone Signoret, Edwige Feuilliere, Alida Valli and Eve Francis.

    The move right on to


  15. His latest finds him reunited with Jean-Hughes Anglade

  16. Danièle Thompson, who co-scripted Ceux qui m’aiment prennent le train, is also a very good director in her own right. Her directorial debut La Bûche was a warm and witty comedy.

    Olivier Gourmet, the very talented Belgian actor who plays Bernard in Ceux qui m’aiment prennent le train, is a regular in the films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who are two the the finest contemporary directors. I thought that Gourmet was brilliant in Le fils, one of the very best films of the decade.

    By the way, there is a very good soundtrack on Ceux qui m’aiment prennent le train, including the likes of Nina Simone, Divine Comedy and Bjork.

  17. Christopher Hampton’s Secret Agent, with Eddie Izzard, Gerard Depardieu and Bob Hoskins was also very enjoyable.

    A bit of favourite Wagner:


  18. david wingrove Says:

    David E – you’re obviously a great authority on Chereau! I have mixed feelings about his work – LA REINE MARGOT and GABRIELLE are both masterpieces (in my view) but I hated CEUX QUI M’AIMENT… Far too much jiggly camerwork, and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi is the most annoying screen actress this side of Liv Ullmann. And as for INTIMACY…not even Marianne could save it from tedium!

  19. I actually liked Chereau’s Imtimacy. I hated La Reine Margo.
    I think that Valeriea Bruni-Tedeschi is a great actress.

  20. Liv Ulmann is brilliant. Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage is a masterpiece. As is Saraband.

  21. My favourite Bergman star is always Harriet Anderrson but Liv is great too in those films and in Cries and Whispers(which I saw a week back, still haven’t recovered yet).

  22. david wingrove Says:

    I know this sounds heartless, but all Liv Ullmann ever seems to do is whine and snivel. Give me the icily glamorous Ingrid Thulin any day!

  23. She does no whining or snivelling at all in Persona or Cries and Whispers, which are her two most famous films…so?

  24. And she’s fabulously flirty and funny in person. But I think David saw her in enough films to decide he didn’t like her and then probably avoided the rest.

    I like La Reine Margot, which seemed like a really good gangster film. And indeed David W introduced me to The Flesh of the Orchid which is almost the same story made as a gangster film (and a quasi-sequel to No Orchids for Miss Blandish).

  25. Actually it’s a direct sequel.

    Rather surprised you don’t like Carla Bruni’s sister Mr. Wingrove. Her screaming fit at the “La Souterraine” train station in Ceux Qui m’aiment is a classic, IMO. She’s also good in Francois Ozon’s very weird Time to Leave.

    Grangster film? La Reine Margot is Visconti on Acid. That he should get such a great perfomance out of Virna Lisi (of all people) is remarkable enough, but his all-ex-boyfriend cast comes through for him in scene after scene.

    Ceux Qui m’aiment was an overwhelmingly emotional expeirence for me before it became an intellectual one. It arrived at the end of the 90’s — a decade that for me was one long series of funerals. Chereau summed them all up perfectly in his film — especially the panicked breavement of the survivors. My favorite line is when Roshody Zem’s randy bisexual male nurse screamed “I got him his smack! He wanted to die in my arms!!!!”

  26. I loved Valerie Bruni-Tedeschi in Chabrol’s Au Coeur du Mensonge as this single mother who is also police chief. In addition to being Sarko’s sister-in-law she’s also Louis Garrel’s girlfriend.

  27. Really? She’s going with Louis?


    Chereau should make a movie with them ASAP.

  28. I read it in gossip colums a while back. It was a note on Madame le President talking about how happy she is that her sister was adopting an African kid and it mentioned that she was dating Louis Garrel. They certainly make an interesting couple.

  29. Louis is SMOKIN’ HOT!

  30. I don’t know what to say….
    Eric Rohmer est mort…

  31. That is momentous and terrible news. I presume he’d been ill — he had previouslyannounced his retirement.

    Those Who Love Me isn’t officially available here — nonetheless, I’m grabbing a copy.

  32. Rohmer had been quite ill for some time. Terrible back problems that made it impossible for him to stand or sit. He directed his last film L’Astree et Cedalon laying on a cot

  33. david wingrove Says:

    I’d have thought the lovely Louis Garrel could do better than Valeria Bruni Tedeschi! He strikes me as out of her league.

    However, I’m a great fan of her ravishing sister Carla (her husband notwithstanding) and am thrilled by rumours that she’s about to appear in a Woody Allen film.

    They have potential to be the Joan and Olivia of France!

  34. […] adapts Joseph Conrad’s novel, previously filmed by Maurice Tourneur and later a dream project for Richard Lester (scripted by […]

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