Legendary Hungarian director Zoltan Fabri’s Two Half-Times in Hell (aka The Last Goal, original title: Két félidő a pokolban ) is a deliberately inaccurate retelling of the real life 1942 European football match (Dubbed the Death Match) between a German soldiers team and an Ukrainian War prisoners team made of former footballers of Kiev Lokomotyv and Dynamo who worked at factories under the occupation. For dramatic purpose, the players are Hungarian in Fabri’s movie.
The story takes place towards the end of World war II, in April 1944. To celebrate Hitler’s birthday, the Germans organize a soccer game against their war prisoners. The Hungarians agree to prepare for the match hoping to ease their detaining conditions. One of the players, Steiner, is a Jew and can’t play football but lies to make the team.
An oddity in Fabri’s filmography, Two Half-Times in Hell is done in a simple and straightforward fashion. He and co -writer Péter Bacsó (another great Hungarian director) dramatization is patiently built and efficient. It fully plays like the propaganda it actually is as the outcome supposedly wasn’t as harsh in reality depending on time, place and the regimes’ versions. It is quite interesting to see the manipulative effects of a system (and its film making talents) by such a great director compared to its western counterparts.
As usual Ferenc Szécsényi (Professor Hannibal)’s B&W cinematography is carefully crafted and Imre Sinkovits as Onodi, the player/trainer together with Dezsö Garas, as Steiner, if a bit purposely cliché, offer remarkable opposite performances.
Two Half-Times in Hell was remade two years later by Russian director Yevgeni Karelov as Tretiy taym and in 1981, as Victory, by John Huston with Sylvester Stallone (and Pélé!), featuring an International team with a highly different (happy) ending.
The film is also seen as an influence on Robert Aldrich-Burt Reynolds 1974 film The Longest Yard, the story of a prisoner VS warden match up of American football.
Two Half-Times in Hell is a wonderful sport (and wartime) drama.