Bitter Victory

France/USA 1957, 102 mins
Director: Nicholas Ray

Two officers leading a mission to attack Nazi headquarters in the Libyan desert come into conflict, due partly to sexual jealousy, partly to differences in capability and courage in facing the perils of war. Ray – always expressive with horizontals – and cinematographer Michel Kelber use the expanses of the ’Scope frame to turn the arid landscape into an arena of deadly rivalry and private anguish.

Bitter Victory is a very characteristic Nicholas Ray film: there is a spectacular lyric pain in sustained passages; it is always suggestive of uglier or lovelier things unsaid or unshown; like lightning in its action scenes; but flawed – in this case by the intractable limitations of Curd Jürgens (Ray had wanted Montgomery Clift) and Ruth Roman. Like all Ray’s best work, the more overt the action becomes, the more surely we discover depth in characters who have a greater doubt and self-awareness than is common in American pictures. Time and again, over 15 years, he made insecurity the focus in people, rejecting Hollywood’s industrial confidence and vigour.

The just war against the Germans in North Africa in Bitter Victory takes second place to the temperamental hostility of fellow officers – it is a study in grace and shabbiness (like The Savage Innocents) and to Richard Burton’s wintry refusal to regard life as more than a trap or an anachronism. It is a CinemaScope picture of unfailing visual crisis. The close-ups on the stretched screen are among the most sombre images of exposed loneliness ever filmed. In one sequence, Burton has to shoot a wounded soldier and then labours to carry another on his back, only to find the burden has died too, after dreadful agony: ‘I kill the living and save the dead.’ It is one of Ray’s grimmest jokes, resigned, mirthless and apocalyptic.
David Thomson, Sight and Sound, Autumn 1979

BITTER VICTORY (Amère Victoire)
Directed by: Nicholas Ray
©: Transcontinental Films
Production Companies: Transcontinental Films, Productions – Robert Laff
Presented by: Columbia Pictures Corporation
Executive Producer on Location: Janine Graetz
Produced by: Paul Graetz
Production Manager: Paul Joly *
Assistant Directors: Christian Ferry, Eddie Luntz
Continuity: Lucie Lichtig
Screenplay by: Rene Hardy, Nicholas Ray, Gavin Lambert
Additional Dialogue from Mr Hardy’s novel by: Paul Gallico
Director of Photography: Michel Kelber
Camera Operator: Wladimir Ivanov *
Editor: Leonide Azar
Art Director: Jean d’Eaubonne
Wardrobe: Jean Zay
Make-up: René Daudin *
Opticals: Lax
Music Composed and Conducted by: Maurice Le Roux
Sound Engineer: Joseph de Bretagne
Sound by: Western Electric
Military Adviser: Major General C.M.F. White
Thanked in credits: The War Office, Her Majesty’s Forces in Libya
Studio: Studios de la Victorine (Nice)

Richard Burton (Captain Jimmy Leith)
Curd Jürgens (Major David Brand)
Ruth Roman (Jane Brand)
Raymond Pellegrin (Mokrane)
Anthony Bushell (Major General R.S. Paterson)
Sean Kelly (Lieutenant Barton)
Christopher Lee (Sergeant Barney)
Alfred Burke (Lieutenant Colonel Michael Callander)
Andrew Crawford (Private Roberts)
Raoul Delfosse (Lieutenant Kassel)
Ramon de Larrocha (Lieutenant Sanders)
Nigel Green (Private Wilkins)
Harry Landis (Private Browning)
Fred Matter (Oberst Lutze)
Christian Melsen (Private Abbot)
Ronan O’Casey (Sergeant Dunnigan)
Sumner Williams (Private Anderson)
Joe Davray (Private Spicer)

France/USA 1957©
102 mins

* Uncredited

Bitter Victory
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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
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