Stalag 17 (1953)

Not Rated  |   |  Comedy, Drama, War  |  10 August 1953 (Brazil)
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Reviews: 138 user | 76 critic

When two escaping American World War II prisoners are killed, the German POW camp barracks black marketeer, J.J. Sefton, is suspected of being an informer.



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Won 1 Oscar. Another 1 win & 5 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Don Taylor ...
Sgt. Stanislaus 'Animal' Kuzawa
Sgt. Harry Shapiro
Sgt. Frank Price
Sig Ruman ...
Michael Moore ...
Sgt. Manfredi
Peter Baldwin ...
Sgt. Johnson
Robinson Stone ...
Robert Shawley ...
Sgt. 'Blondie' Peterson
William Pierson ...
Sgt. Clarence Harvey 'Cookie' Cook (as Gil Stratton Jr.)


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 garykmcd

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

german | barracks | escape | spy | guard | See All (56) »


Hilarious, heart-tugging! You'll'll'll cheer William Holden in his great Academy Award role! (from reissue print ad)


Comedy | Drama | War


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





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Release Date:

10 August 1953 (Brazil)  »

Also Known As:

Infierno en la tierra  »

Box Office


$1,661,530 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


Ross Bagdasarian:  uncredited soldier singing at the Christmas Party. See more »


In at least two scenes, German solders are seen using US Browning 30 cal. machine guns; some still think of it as an error, but the use of captured enemy equipment was common by all sides in the war. A POW compound would be the ideal place to locate captured weapons, with a relatively limited ammo supply, while they still served to deter escape. See more »


Animal: Marko: All right
Animal: At ease! Animal:
[making fun of Marko]
Animal: At ease!
See more »


Referenced in The Penguins of Madagascar: The Hidden/Kingdom Come (2009) See more »


I Love You (Je t'aime)
(1923) (uncredited)
Music by Harry Archer
Lyrics by Harlan Thompson
Played on a record and sung by Ross Bagdasarian
Played also as dance music
Sung a bit by Robert Strauss
See more »

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User Reviews

"Nobody has ever escaped from Stalag 17. Not alive, anyway."
17 February 2008 | by (Australia) – See all my reviews

Director Billy Wilder was certainly no stranger to the horrors of World War Two. He was born in Austria-Hungary {now Poland} in 1906, but moved to Berlin to begin a career in movies. However, following the rise of Adolf Hitler, Wilder – being Jewish – fled for Paris and then the United States. His mother, grandmother and stepfather died at the Auschwitz concentration camp. As such, I think it'd be safe to presume that Wilder housed a considerable hatred towards Nazis, which makes his POW-picture, 'Stalag 17 (1953),' all the more remarkable. Whereas the film might have developed into a bleak, depressing drama, the screenplay by Wilder and Edwin Blum {adapted from a play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski} effortlessly blends drama and comedy, clearing the path for other similarly-themed war-time films {David Lean's 'The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)' and John Sturges' 'The Great Escape (1963)'} and even TV series {'Hogan's Heroes (1965-1971)' clearly used Wilder's film as a template – including an identical Sgt. Schulz – despite a failed court case in which producers sued for infringement}.

The year is 1944, in the week before Christmas. Stalag 17, a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp, is situated somewhere along the Danube River, and hundreds of captured Allied sergeants have been imprisoned there. The Americans of Barrack 4 endure a dull, deprived lifestyle, with each day consisting of unwholesome meals, tedious labour and uncomfortable living conditions. Displaying that typical American cleverness and resourcefulness, many of the prisoners have banded together to ensure themselves a few added luxuries – such a makeshift radio to listen to the latest war news – and to build an effective escape tunnel beneath the camp. However, it soon becomes apparent that there is a Nazi spy within their midst. After two escaping prisoners are immediately shot down, and their escape passage is inexplicably discovered, the men turn their suspicions towards J.J. Sefton (William Holden), a selfish and arrogant prisoner with a dog-eat-dog mentality that sees him openly bribing the German guards for luxuries. An unsympathetic character, one who nonetheless exhibits a certain streak of integrity, Sefton decides to uncover the true traitor of Barrack 4.

Though he was reluctant to play such an unlikable character, Holden won the Best Actor Oscar for his powerful performance {via the second-shortest acceptance speech in Academy Awards history – a simple "thank you"}. The other actors in the film also create distinct and likable personalities, and I particularly enjoyed the big, oafish Animal (Robert Strauss) and Shapiro (Harvey Lembeck). Goodness knows what compelled the writers to make Sgt. Schulz (Sig Ruman), a loathsome tyrant in any other film, a jolly and hearty buffoon, but it works absolutely perfectly, his character's incompetence best highlighted in the sequence where he is distracted into playing volleyball, and enjoys the game so much that he hands his loaded weapon to the nearest POW. As Sefton attempts to uncover which fellow prisoner is leaving secret messages for their Nazis captors, Wilder intersperses the drama with an episodic flow of comedic situations, placing particularly emphasis on the means by which prisoners will alleviate their desire for the opposite sex. A hilarious sequence sees the drunken Animal mistaking his dressed-up bunk-mate for the cinema beauty Betty Grable, of whom he has an undying obsession.

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