Victory ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

(originally posted on IMDb 4 July 2005)

Director Maurice Tourneur was one of the great pioneering filmmakers of the 1910s, and he ended the decade with one of his best: "Victory". His films are noted for their pictorial beauty. With the death of John van den Broek, René Guissart takes over the cinematography duties here. Clarence Brown, who worked as editor and assistant director on many of Tourneur's films, isn't credited here--he was beginning his own successful career as a director at about this time. Ben Carré, one of the best of early set designers, did work on this film, though.

There are some impressive chiaroscuro effects here, as well as good use of tinting, in addition to Tourneur's trademark silhouettes. The film contains pictorial beauty, but also ferocity, which corresponds well with the film's narrative and intriguingly-drawn characters. It climaxes in the volcanic dénouement. The film moves quickly, too, and displays proficient continuity editing, and the careful timing is visible in one scene where the cuts are in unison with gunfire. (Edit: As film historian Kristin Thompson has pointed out, this film also features perhaps one of the earliest instances of over-the-shoulder shot/reverse shots.)

There's also a flashback in one scene, which is rather breezy; it setups Lon Chaney's character Ricardo, who narrates it, at the center of the film. There are several characters in this picture, each at some time pulling the narrative: Wallace Berry's character, who owns the hotel and tries to own Alma; the mistreated and fickle Alma herself, whose questionable loyalties turn the film's suspense on her; and even the protagonist who doesn't want to influence anything. Berry's nosey busybody, with the beard and glasses, the bestial physicality of Pedro, and the dark sunglasses and white suit of Mr. Jones make them visually intriguing characters, too--causing viewers to focus on them without the story having to.

Heading all of that, however, is Chaney, whose feats in movie makeup invented the trade. Without credits, I wouldn't have known he played Ricardo. Chaney was also at the forefront of introducing cinematic acting, subtler than the theatrical and, more importantly, a fully-convincing embodiment of a character. In that way, his character becomes the center of the film, and the rest of the characters unravel with the climactic events on his cue.

Tourneur often adapted his pictures from literary sources, but using a novel by Joseph Conrad surely helped to make this one of his best works, as does Chaney. One of the things I like most about "Victory" is that it's more cinematic than some of his other films, although he referenced theatre in interesting and self-aware ways in such films as "The Wishing Ring: An Idyll of Old England" (1914) and "The Blue Bird" (1918). "Victory" has both a consistent visual and cinematic style, in addition to the rarity (in Tourneur's films and in movies in general of the time) of intriguing characters convincingly and cinematically portrayed.

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