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Victory (1919)

Not Rated | | Drama, Romance | 7 December 1919 (USA)
Axel Heyst, an uncommitted wanderer, has settled on an island in the South Seas. He takes pity on a troubled young woman, Lena, and gives her refuge on her island. But the piratical Mr. ... See full summary »

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Storyline

Axel Heyst, an uncommitted wanderer, has settled on an island in the South Seas. He takes pity on a troubled young woman, Lena, and gives her refuge on her island. But the piratical Mr. Jones, who believes Heyst has treasure buried on his island, leads his cohorts in an invasion of Heyst's haven. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

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Drama | Romance

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Not Rated
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7 December 1919 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Le secret du bonheur  »

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1.33 : 1
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This was the only film version of one of his novels or stories that Joseph Conrad actually saw. See more »

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Version of Victory (1945) See more »

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Love that volcano!
11 September 2005 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

A bare outline of this film's plot suggests that it must be some kind of pulpy melodrama, a B-movie with a touch of the lurid. Our handsome hero is (initially) a passive, brooding figure who has withdrawn from the tumult of life, having retreated to a tropical island where he lives a secluded existence. He wants nothing to do with human affairs, especially where women are concerned, preferring to puff on his pipe and read philosophy. Before long, however, he becomes involved with a young lady who works at a hotel on a nearby island, a woman who is friendless and mistreated, and he gallantly provides her with shelter in his home -- on a platonic basis, of course. Soon, three sinister men arrive on the scene, sent by her former employer. To avenge himself on her, he has told the trio that our hero is hoarding a stash of loot on his island. When the woman is imperiled, our hero must rise above his passivity and fight. The violent climax of the story unfolds concurrently with the eruption of the island's volcano.

The plot may sound a little absurd spelled out like that, but the film itself is surprisingly enjoyable, and its source material is more than respectable: Victory is an adaptation of a 1915 novel by no less than Joseph Conrad, and it generally follows the action of Conrad's story, aside from the Hollywood-style happy ending. This was no B-picture, it was a major release from Paramount with first-rate production values, an excellent cast, and sensitive direction from Maurice Tourneur, a top director at the peak of his career. French-born Tourneur began his career as an artist and scenic designer, and his films are marked by striking compositions that differ sharply from the prevailing flatness of so many routine movies of the time. The cinematography in Tourneur's films is always beautiful and often surprisingly sophisticated, highlighted by dynamic shots that utilize the background, foreground, and middle range of the image. For example, watch the early scene in Victory when leading man Axel Heyst (played by Jack Holt) returns to the hotel with Alma (Seena Owen) to retrieve her belongings and escape. Where other directors of the period might direct this scene as it would be done on stage, with the two characters simply entering from one side and crossing the lobby, Tourneur keeps the hotel's staircase in the left foreground as Axel & Alma enter from the right background and slowly move forward. It's night, the wind is blowing hard, and we can see tree branches rustling through the windows; Axel & Alma must creep down a corridor toward the camera, not laterally across a "stage." It's very cinematic, a composition that doesn't resemble other movies of 1919 so much as the work of Orson Welles at RKO in the early 1940s, and the many shadowy crime dramas which followed.

Still, all the innovative camera angles in the world won't carry a film if the actors aren't up to the task, and happily Victory features a number of first-rate players. The primary reason this film is remembered today (and certainly the reason it's been made available on DVD) is the presence of Lon Chaney as Ricardo, one of the trio who arrive on Axel's island to menace our hero and heroine. Chaney may not be the first actor one might think of for the part of a knife-wielding Hispanic thug, but he brings his unique charisma to the task and makes the role his own, deftly stealing the show. Today Chaney is generally pigeonholed as a horror star, but it's worth noting that he spent most of his career in roles like this one, certainly villainous but in no way touched by any element of the supernatural. Chaney threw himself into his portrayal of Ricardo with his customary energy, at times moving like a dancer and always drawing our attention in any grouping of actors.

Jack Holt is stolid and frankly not too interesting in the lead role of Axel Heyst, but in fairness the part is a thankless one, as the demands of the story force our protagonist to be little more than gentlemanly and laid-back until the climax. Seena Owen makes a stronger impression as Alma. Prior to seeing this movie I was aware of her primarily for her amazing performance as the Mad Queen in Erich Von Stroheim's notorious Queen Kelly, a role vastly different from the one she plays here. Owens' Alma is a more demure (to put it mildly!) and complex figure, and she's especially impressive in a sequence when Ricardo mauls her. Alma must fend him off while pretending to be flattered, even "turned on" by his brutish attentions, only allowing her genuine feelings to become clear after he has gone. Wallace Beery, who generally played slimy bad guys at this point in his career, sports an amusing beard and is as unpleasant as ever in the role of August Schomberg, the despicable hotel manager whose lust for Alma sets the plot in motion. Finally, I was very much taken with an unfamiliar actor named Ben Deeley, who played "Mr. Jones," the leader of the trio who invade the island. Jones is a fey, feline, and startlingly modern looking villain. For today's viewers his slicked-back white hair and dark shades suggest the star of a Euro-pop rock video of the 1980s. Deeley gives an understated performance that goes with his appearance. Over all, the acting here is remarkably low-key; the arm-waving histrionics often associated with silent drama is nowhere to be found.

In sum, Maurice Tourneur's Victory is an unexpected treat for silent film buffs, a well-made, well-acted and entertaining melodrama featuring a number of unusual touches that lift it well above the realm of the ordinary. And hey, it boasts an action finale set against the backdrop of an erupting volcano! What's not to like?


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