|Directed by||John Cromwell|
|Produced by||Anthony Veiller|
|Written by||John L. Balderston|
|Based on||novel by Joseph Conrad|
|Music by||Frederick Hollander|
|Edited by||William Shea|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
Victory is a 1940 film directed by John Cromwell and starring Fredric March, Cedric Hardwicke, and Betty Field. It was based on the popular novel by Joseph Conrad. On the eve of the American entry into World War II, the often-filmed Conrad story of a hermit on an island invaded by thugs was refashioned into a clarion call for intervention in the war in Europe, at the height of American isolationism.
Cromwell's 1940 film adaptation for Paramount repeated a story that had already been made by Paramount into film in 1930 by William Wellman, retitled as Dangerous Paradise and, in 1919, was Conrad's first novel to be filmed in a silent version with Lon Chaney Jr. Cromwell's version was adapted by John Balderston, who'd written a number of Universal horror pictures, such as Dracula, and the popular The Prisoner of Zenda also directed by Cromwell.
Widely considered the best film version, the 1940 film starred Oscar-winning Fredric March, in the steamy tropical psychological thriller, with Betty Field as the female lead (March had begged the recently arrived Ingrid Bergman to do it but she'd refused).
Set in the present day, Fredric March's intellectual British recluse has vowed to close himself off from the world and now lives alone on an island in the Dutch East Indies. But the bitter man is forced to break this promise to himself when lovely travelling showgirl Betty Field, also fleeing from the world, is threatened by three murderous scavengers on one dreadful evening. The villains are led by Cedric Hardwicke who stands out as a creepy, soulless villain, as does his Cockney sidekick, Jerome Cowan, whom Hardwicke treats with surprisingly explicit sexual sadism. They switch their attentions from Field to March when they believe that March's character has untold wealth to plunder. The morose March is motivated by love and their savagery to return to the real world and do his part, but his regeneration is tinged by tragedy. Though an uneven movie (it's possible the book was unfilmable, says one review), the 1940 Victory succeeds in its ability to convey Joseph Conrad's overall sense of doom and foreboding.
This is doubtless because Cromwell and March, both ardent anti-fascists in favor of then neutral United States joining Britain in the fight against Hitler, were themselves fearing the rise of Nazism in Europe. They refashioned Conrad's 1915 novel into a critique of the perils of isolationism - an issue then rending the US apart as England suffered under the London Blitz from Nazi bombers while the majority of Americans wanted nothing to do with the war.
The happy ending tacked on to all three Paramount versions, in which March and Fields spend their lives together in bliss on the island, did not help the film, not least because March and Fields had very little on-screen chemistry in the first place.
In July 1939 it was reported Marc Connelly was writing a script with William Le Baron to produce and John Howard as a possible star. The film was part of a plan on Paramount's behalf to build Howard - then starring in the studios Bulldog Drummond films - into a star. Connelly started writing the script in July. By November John L. Balderstone was working on the script.
Eventually John L. Balderstone wrote the script, Anthony Veillier was the producer and John Cromwell the director. In February 1940 Paramount announced Ida Lupino would play the female lead and that they were seeking Charles Boyer to play the male lead. Neither appeared in the film.
In March 1940, Fredric March agreed to star and the film was greenlit.
Filming began in May 1940 and was finished by early July.
Harrison's Reports called it "A strong but somewhat sordid drama, suitable only for adults. The direction is skillful, the acting realistic, and the production values good; but the story is somewhat brutal."
John Mosher of The New Yorker called the film "definitely expert, with a proper allotment of excitement and atmosphere," although he found the later scenes "too bald" in their simplification of the novel.
No one, apparently, noticed its application to the present day.
Despite the generally positive reviews, it failed to ignite at the box office. However, its lush cinematography by Leo Tover was noted by critics at the time. It has recently been rediscovered by film buffs and is finally available online.
Shortly after filming was completed Paramount said they were considering making a biopic of Conrad who would be played by March. However no film resulted.