After much behind-the-scenes plotting by the French Resistance and British intelligence, and after weeks of intensive training (led by Michael Caine's John Colby), a group of allied POW's are given the chance to escape to neutral ground via the ruse of a friend vs. foe football match.
Escape to Victory has a true story around which to base its tactics: a group of POW's in Germany were challenged to a football match by their captors and the deal was: lose and be set free in Switzerland or win and face the firing squad. Not much of a choice, but the POW's won and were promptly shot. Suffice to say, John Huston's loose spin on real events remains loyal to none of the bleakness and cruelty of POW life and only fleetingly pays tribute to the heroics (futile or otherwise) of interned allies. Instead, he assembles a couple of big-name actors (von Sydow, Caine) and an entire squad of international footballing heroes (Moore, Pele, Ardiles, Summerbee, Prins, and an ill-cast Sylvester Stallone betwixt the sticks) to take on the sneakiest, dirtiest German XI ever to dribble a ball. Ruudi Voeller would be ashamed of this lot.
Despite splicing together some jovial training camp (pardon the pun) sessions and some Great-Escape style music to lift the heart, the only thing about this film that matters, both narratively and in terms of our enjoyment, is the game at the end. Played out before a thronging French crowd, the action is some of the truest to the sport in film history, with pacey dribbling, convincing flicks, dizzying close-ups, textbook overhead kicks and, yes, shite technique from the American in goal.
A Boy's Own fantasy that will seem laughable to those out of love with the game and stretch the patience of those in love with it. In the end, however, Huston, showing admirable range in his old age, creates enough on-field magic and nostalgia for the beatiful game as an idyll of now-extinct sportsmanship, you can almost forgive the boss's choice of goalkeeper. Almost.