Probing the German defense

Writer Carlos Marañón's new book examines the filming of 'Escape to Victory,' the WWII soccer drama that teamed Pelé with Sly Stallone and Michael Caine

At Christmas in 1981 seven-year-old Carlos Marañón went with his father to watch Escape to Victory. "When we came out we couldn't stop imitating Pelé's scissors kick. On the street, at home..." The now-editor of Cinemanía magazine also remembers other moments in the movie that made an impact on him. "Specifically the applause in the movie theater after the scissors kick and during the end credits when all the soccer players who appeared in the shoot are credited."

The worm of the project was already inside him: he's the son, grandson and nephew of soccer players, so he was raised on the sport at home. A few years ago he published Fútbol y cine (or, Soccer and cinema), about the strange and tortuous relationship between the beautiful game and the seventh art. Now, as a kind of spin-off of one of the chapters of that book, he has written Un partido de leyenda (or, A mythical match) about Escape to Victory.

Directed by John Huston, the movie probably isn't the best feature film about soccer, but it is the one most worshiped by fans. "It made more of an impact on me than all the times I went to the stadium to watch live soccer," Marañón says.

Huston wasn't the right director for the story about the match between Allied prisoners-of-war and German players in a Paris stadium in August 1944 (which ended 4-4), while Sylvester Stallone wasn't its ideal star. But the good work of Michael Caine and the many soccer stars who performed in the film (Pelé, Bobby Moore, Osvaldo Ardiles, a plethora of European hot shots and the squad of England's Ipswich Town) overcame a poor script and the feeling that Sly was more than a little lost.

Marañón devotes the first part of the book to a real match that may have inspired the film - between Dynamo Kiev and a German team - before starting to pick out anecdotes and analyze the film. "My biggest source was the biographies of the soccer players, which do not portray Stallone in a particularly favorable light."

Pelé was assigned the task of choreographing the soccer sequences. "Huston wanted them to be tested and measured, and they convinced him that this was impossible, that it was better to play matches and take the best moments from there. They did that for two weeks." Worth mentioning are Pelé?s famous scissors kick ? in the film you see they used two distinct takes - and the penalty kick saved by Stallone, which took 30 takes.

Marañón keeps wondering why a great soccer movie has yet to be made. "My favorite is The Damned United, and the scenes of the soccer players' reunion in Begin the Beguine: [director José Luis] Garci's love for the sport is noticeable."

Of all the stories in the book, he picks out one of the first that he read, which pushed him to continue with his research: "I don't know if it is true or was invented by its star, but I love the one about John Wark, Scotland international, Liverpool player, who was out strolling with his family while on holiday in Glasgow in 1987 when an old man came up to him and said: "Bloody hell, John, it's true! You managed to escape!"

A frame from the movie <i>Escape to Victory.</i>
A frame from the movie Escape to Victory.

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