Bitter Victory

Maurice Le Roux

" The major scale approach sounds rather glorious, almost enjoyable, but simultaneously illustrates a rather bitter and disillusioned take on resolution "

Written by Joep de Bruijn - Review of the download only release

Bitter Victory (Amère Victoire) is a 1957 psychological war drama directed Nicholas Ray, including mesmerizing performances by Richard Burton and Curd Jürgens, arguably the highlight of both their careers. The film is an inspiring psychological experience involving a captain, whose reflective nature deems him unfit to lead a mission, more so because of his conflicting love towards a woman who is now married to a major, also involved in the same mission. Onward, both factors create a devastating tension between the two rivalries and as the film progresses, it provides for a great reflection on war, human conflict and generally a very unearthed sense.

The director wanted to pursue a different kind of career and in making this French-American co-production he originally felt Dmitri Shostakovich needed to write the music to the film, which was rejected by a Soviet delegation after they previewed the film. It was a rather bold attempt, which given the anti-hero content, could not possibly be accepted by the Soviets. Instead, composer Maurice Le Roux, who just scored the outstanding Le Ballon Rouge, was attracted to write the music.

Le Roux approached the film mostly from the unearthed sense that is highly appropriate for the film, often relying on Herrmannesque orchestral tension building and a considerable percentage of atonal music. In that sense it is a relatively, for the time, minimal score. If memory serves correctly, the intriguing monologues by the character of Richard Burton - they are a key figure in illustrating the human element, its inner conflicts and emotions - were left unscored.

The main theme is a rather ironic and conflicting theme, appearing in Commando On Mission, Carrying a Wounded Prisoner, The Commando Is Rescued and finally in Bitter Victory Final. While its first appearance is rather subtly, in Carrying a Wounded Prisoner it becomes a seemingly early resolved sounding theme, one usually expecting towards the end of the film. The major scale approach sounds rather glorious, almost enjoyable, but simultaneously illustrates a rather bitter and disillusioned take on resolution, written for a very cynical scene where a dead soldier is saved, while a soldier who could go on living is killed. I must admit, the devastating use of this theme here is impossible to exceed elsewhere, and so the later use is still very effective in its conflicting nature, but misses a similar powerful impact.

Bitter Victory is a strong score by composer Maurice Le Roux. In appreciation of his career there are three important scores, all because of different reasons. First, there is the openly expressive, tonal music he wrote to Le Ballon Rouge, which is very accessible. Secondly, his strong, conflicting score to Bitter Victory. And third, his score to Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Petit Soldat, in which the quality of the actual music is perhaps less important than the aesthetic use in the film.

In recent days, Disques Cinémusique has launched a series of digital downloads, but they do not derive from a very good source, which in the case of Bitter Victory, also means it is not a restored version, including sound effects. Nonetheless, I am very happy with this release and like how the final cue of the score morphs into a suite from another Le Roux score, Vu du pont (From a View from the Bridge), which artistically and emotionally feels like a very good transition, offering similar musical trademarks.

1. Bitter Victory (Main Title) 1:09
2. Commando On Mission 1:35
3. Benghazi in Libya 1:38
4. Crossing the Desert / Execution of a Dying Germain Soldier 3:32
5. Carrying a Wounded Prisoner 1:51
6. Deadly Scorpion 3:51
7. The Commando Is Rescued 3:40
8. Bitter Victory Final 2:14
9. Suite (From a View from the Bridge) (1962) 3:04

Total duration: 22:34

(written 20-05-2020)
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(total of 1 votes - average 4.5/5)

Released by

Disques CinéMusique (download only release 2020)