Victory (1940 film)

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.

Directed byJohn Cromwell
Produced byAnthony Veiller
Written byJohn L. Balderston
Based onnovel by Joseph Conrad
StarringFredric March
Cedric Hardwicke
Betty Field
Music byFrederick Hollander
CinematographyLeo Tover
Edited byWilliam Shea
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • December 21, 1940 (1940-12-21)
(New York City)[1]
CountryUnited States


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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4]



Film rights to Joseph Conrad's novel were bought by Paramount, who filmed it in 1919.[5] The studio filmed it again, a decade later, as Dangerous Paradise (1930).[6]

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.[7][8] 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.[9] Connelly started writing the script in July.[10] By November John L. Balderstone was working on the script.[11]

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.[12] Neither appeared in the film.

In March 1940, Fredric March agreed to star and the film was greenlit.[13]

The female lead was given to Betty Field, who was borrowed from Paramount. Paramount ordered her to leave the cast of Elmer Rice's Two on an Island on Broadway to do the film.[14] [15]

Filming began in May 1940 and was finished by early July.[16]



"This film version of Joseph Conrad's novel impresses with several strongly individual performances rather than with the basic movement of the story itself," read a review in Variety.[17]

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times was even less enthusiastic: "The only things that distinguish it," he wrote, "are a star cast and smooth direction."[18]

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."[19]

Film Daily described it as "at all times gripping and exciting" and called Fredric March "highly effective".[20]

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.[21]

No one, apparently, noticed its application to the present day.[22]

Box Office

Despite the generally positive reviews, it failed to ignite at the box office.[22] 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.[23]

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.[24]


  1. Quirk, Lawrence J. (1971). The Films of Fredric March. Citadel Press. p. 166.
  3. "Victory Reviews & Ratings - IMDb". IMDb.
  4. Fredric March - A Consummate Actor, by Charles Tranberg, Kindle edition, ibid.
  5. Conrad Novel in Compressed Form Will Please Tinee, Mae. Chicago Daily Tribune 22 Dec 1919: 20.
  6. THE SCREEN: Melody and Beauty. Conrad Incidents. By MORDAUNT HALL. New York Times 15 Feb 1930: 15.
  7. DRAMA: Irene Dunne, Doug Jr. to Costar at R.K.O. 'Gang' Graduate Signs Warners' London Plans Connelly on 'Victory' Shirley, Studio Feud Pasadena Actor Pacted Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 13 July 1939: 8.
  8. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times 3 July 1939: 14.
  9. Louella O. Parsons: Close-Ups and Long-Shots Of the Motion Picture Scene The Washington Post 3 July 1939: 12.
  10. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times ]13 July 1939: 23.
  11. NEWS OF THE SCREEN: 'Patent Leather Kid' Remake to Deal With Invasion of Poland--Capital Gets 'At the Circus' Of Local Origin By DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. 16 Nov 1939: 29.
  12. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times 8 Feb 1940: 25.
  13. Fredric March Chosen as Star of 'Victory': Michele Morgan Sought Capra Award Film Boss Luli Deste Featured Miss Leontovich Tests Warners Snub Harvard Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 9 Mar 1940: A7.
  14. News of the Screen The Christian Science Monitor 16 Apr 1940: 16.
  15. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Kaufman May Sign Contract With Warners and Produce 'Man Who Came to Dinner' By DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL New York Times 11 Apr 1940: 35.
  16. Ida Lupino Build-up Gains New Momentum Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 5 July 1940: A14.
  17. "Victory". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc. December 18, 1940. p. 16.
  18. NY Times, Dec. 23, 1940
  19. "'Victory' with Fredric March, Betty Field and Sir Cedric Hardwicke". Harrison's Reports: 207. December 28, 1940.
  20. "Reviews". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 7 December 26, 1940.
  21. Mosher, John (December 21, 1940). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp. pp. 83–84.
  22. Fredric March - A Consummate Actor, By Charles Tranberg, Kindle edition, p. 2438
  24. March Probable Choice to Play Joseph Conrad Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 19 Dec 1940: A10.
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