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
Von Scherbach and the other officers of the camp are wearing Wehrmacht (Army) uniforms and caps. The stalag camps for Allied airmen were operated by the Luftwaffe, whose uniforms were somewhat different in design and color (obvious from the emblems on the officer's caps, though not the color, since the film was photographed in black and white). See more »
When William Holden's character is laying on his bed on his back and first notices the swinging light bulb's shadow near his feet, the next scene shows the light from his bunk and there is no light source behind the swinging light that could have cast that shadow. 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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This absorbing and very entertaining movie creates a believable and interesting cast of characters, puts them into an intriguing story, and uses its settings, props, and other resources very creatively. It is a fine combination of drama and comic relief that stands up very well against anything else of its type. The setting and atmosphere are quite believable, and they make it easy to enter the characters' world.
The opening sequence sets up everything nicely, with most of POW's helping two of the prisoners in an escape attempt, while William Holden as the cynical Sefton separates himself from the rest. Sefton is interesting enough as it is, a man who simply by remaining true to his nature cannot help arousing suspicion and antagonism, and Holden was quite a good choice to play him. The story builds up nicely, with developments coming at a careful pace, and some good stretches of lighter material.
There are numerous interesting characters and good performances among the other prisoners, and in particular Robert Strauss and Harvey Lembeck steal more than one scene with their antics which, though goofy, are also an appropriate complement to the main plot and the setting. The German characters are more stylized, but both Sig Ruman and Otto Preminger make them come to life, and help them fit in seamlessly with the others.
Billy Wilder's direction and the photography also deserve praise. Besides the way that each sequence fits together so nicely with the others, there are several individual scenes and shots that are done in an impressive fashion - not flashy, but creative and thoughtful. The scene with Holden lying on his cot while most of the others sing and celebrate is one particularly good example. There is a wealth of good material throughout, making "Stalag 17" a classic that has lost nothing over the years, and one that can be seen and enjoyed several times.
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