It's a dreary Christmas 1944 for the American POWs in Stalag 17. For the men in Barracks 4, all sergeants, have to deal with a grave problem - there seems to be a security leak. The Germans always seem to be forewarned about escapes and in the most recent attempt the two men, Manfredi and Johnson, walked straight into a trap and were killed. For some in Barracks 4, especially the loud-mouthed Duke, the leaker is obvious: J.J. Sefton, a wheeler-dealer who doesn't hesitate to trade with the guards and who has acquired goods and privileges that no other prisoner seems to have. Sefton denies giving the Germans any information and makes it quite clear that he has no intention of ever trying to escape. He plans to ride out the war in what little comfort he can arrange, but it doesn't extend to spying for the Germans. As tensions mount and a mob mentality takes root, it becomes obvious that Sefton will have to find the real snitch if he is to have any peace and avoid the beatings Duke and ... Written by
We learn from the escape plan in the beginning of the movie that the Stalag 17 prison camp is located on the river Danube near Linz, which is on the Austrian and German Border. Later in the movie, when the prisoners are watching the women in the Russian compound, Cookie claims that on a clear day, you could see the Swiss Alps with this telescope. Nobody could see the Swiss Alps with even the best telescope, from this point of view, because the Austrian Alps would definitely be in the way. This could be a simple exaggeration of the power of the telescope within the character of the prisoners whose scientific knowledge is limited. With a good telescope one can see mountains on the moon; no telescope can ever show anything beyond the horizon. See more »
[referring to Sefton's safe escape with Dunbar]
Whadda ya know? The crud did it.
I'd like to know what made him do it.
Maybe he just wanted to steal our wire cutters. You ever think of that?
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Despite the fact that this movie got made 10 years before the WW II POW classic "The Great Escape", the movie is still known as the 'other' WW II POW movie. While I do admit that "The Great Escpae" is still a better movie than this one ("The Great Escape" is probably one of my favorite all time movies) this movie is a great and classic one as well.
Just like "The Great Escape", the movie knows to create a perfect balance between its drama and comedy. This movie could easily been turned into a heavy war drama but instead a more light approach gets picked, without loosing any of its serious and more dramatic power. It makes the movie entertaining as well as effectively powerful. It can be assumed that "The Great Escape" and its style got inspired by this movie.
The movie is a 'great' portrayal of the lives of American officer POW's, in a German stalag. They try to make the best of it, with very limited resources. Every small thing and things that are out of the ordinary are the things that make them go through their days and is what's keeping them alive. The first halve of the movie isn't even about the William Holden character and he is just one of the boys. It isn't after about halve way through the movie that the story takes to take shape and the main plot of the movie becomes obvious. In advance you would just expect from this movie to be one about POW's trying to escape. But the story is way better written and layered than that though.
But it above all things is also a very well made and especially directed one, by 6 time Academy Award winner Billy Wilder. He also received a directing nomination for this movie. It's a '50's movie but it doesn't feel like one. The movie seems to be ahead of its time with its story handling, directing and just overall style of film-making. The camera-work is especially great and worth mentioning.
William Holden does a great job at portraying a complicated character. At first you just don't know what to think of him and he isn't a very likable character but he slowly turns into a strong and more important character, that starts doing the right thing. Holden also actually won an Oscar for his role in this movie, despite the fact that he never really wanted to do this movie. It was the only Oscar he ever got, which makes it quite ironic.
A great powerful, entertaining classic, which was truly ahead of its time.
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