Great Escape (1963)
Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles
time: 172 mins
taking considerable liberties with the true story of the greatest
escape effort by Allied prisoners from Germany during the
Second World War, this epic film has deservedly attained classic
"sell" the story to the all important U.S. audience,
several big American stars were cast, despite only one American
taking part in the real event (a major in the British army).
Thus, Steve McQueen's insolent turn as an American airman
and his famous bid to escape to Switzerland on a motorcycle
made for some exciting cinema, but his character and his exploits
were pure fiction.
fact, many of the characters in the movie were composites
of several real prisoners. James Garner, for example portrayed
Hendley, an American "scrounger" who could steal
just about anything that could be used in the escape, particularly
official German passes and ID papers. Garner's character represents
one of several resourceful prisoners who did such work.
the movie does score with camp survivors and historians is
in the realism of camp life and the escape efforts, from digging
hazardous tunnels to trying to hide in delivery vehicles leaving
the camp. The monotonous routine of men who'd been held captive
for months and even years is well portrayed, explaining why
they were so desperate to get back to their families. Others
were motivated by the desire to cause maximum disruption to
their German captors: escapes required intensive searches
that tied up soldiers who could have been fighting.
details aside, director John Sturges and his marvellous international
cast produced a rip-roaring adventure full of tension, excitement
and ultimate tragedy.
Attenborough plays Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett, a British
escape veteran who winds up in Stalag Luft lll, a maximum
security camp for troublesome prisoners. He immediately starts
planning the most audacious escape of all - 250 prisoners.
Despite setbacks, including tunnels caving in and others being
discovered, 76 men manage to flee from a tunnel during an
with German troops and the Gestapo on high alert, getting
out of German will not prove easy.
only three POWs got to freedom and the 50 of the recaptured
escapees were murdered by the Gestapo. It's not shown in the
movie, but many of those Germans involved in the killing of
the prisoners were tracked down after the war and executed
for committing war crimes).
Great Escape is a thrilling war film featuring great performances.
And Elmer Bernstein's jaunty theme tune will have you whistling
long after the screen fades to black.
2004 two-disc set is the only one to have of this classic.
The earlier single disc is cheap for a reason - it has a lousy
picture and poor sound. The remastered high-definition picture
and sound of the two-disc set is excellent and so are the
extras - two extensive documentaries and five featurettes
on the movie and the real story behind it.