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This is a great movie which much more historically accurate than it is
given credit for. So many who say otherwise are ill-informed and
don't know much about the actual history of that actual escape. The
depiction of what happened to the recaptured prisoners in the movie of
GREAT ESCAPE is reasonably accurate as detailed on the historyinfilm
site...specifically on the "Reprisal" page; along with being detailed in
various published accounts.
Hitler ultimately calmed down after being reasoned with by Goering, Feldmarschall Keitel, Maj-Gen Graevenitz and Maj-Gen Westhoff, and dictated that more than half the prisoners be shot and cremated. So, as depicted in the film, several of those recaptured were not executed and were indeed returned to confinement. In fact, even those executed were not "shot on the spot" for the most part, but were actually executed later after being turned over to the Gestapo; most being shot while being allowed to relieve themselves, under the guise of "trying to escape".
Furthermore, there are many accounts as to how much more humane the environment was within the camp (which even had a popular and very successful theatre, featuring prisoners who would later be name performers) than many other POW camps...and certainly nothing like the harsh conditions associated with the Concentration or Extermination camps.
To quote one source:
"It must be made clear that the German Luftwaffe [the German Air Force], who were responsible for Air Force prisoners of war, maintained a degree of professional respect for fellow flyers, and the general attitude of the camp security officers and guards should not be confused with the SS or Gestapo. The Luftwaffe treated the POWs well, despite an erratic and inconsistent supply of food.
Prisoners were handled quite fairly within the Geneva Convention, and the Kommandant, Oberst (Colonel) Friedrich-Wilhelm von Lindeiner-Wildau, was a professional and honourable soldier who won the respect of the senior prisoners."
Finally, virtually all the major engineering aspects in regards to the tunnels and the initial escape in the film are as they were actually acheived in the real escape.
It would behoove some to learn a little more actual history or do a little simple research before shooting from the hip with supposed "knowledge" of reality. THE GREAT ESCAPE certainly takes liberties in tone and character portrayal, but not in the key elements that are disparaged out of sneering ignorance.
BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI is also a great film, but took even greater liberties with the technical details of the events described than THE GREAT ESCAPE did....and offering up VON RYAN'S EXPRESS as a more realistic alternative is simply delusional and ridiculous.
I find it difficult to believe that some reviewers' negative reactions to
this film are based on their (misguided) beliefs that none of this could
possibly have happened. Comments like these make it crystal clear that what
some people don't know about history is appalling. If you are going to judge
a film based on historical fact, it helps if you know what it is.
It is well-documented what amazing technical feats the POW's were able to accomplish in the stalags. There was even an entire section of the British Secret Service dedicated to coming up with all sorts of clever ways to send these captured men the tools they needed to facilitate their escape attempts, i.e., sandwiching maps between the split sides of a record album (yes, the Germans allowed the prisoners to have records in the camps) or compasses in pens. At Colditz Castle, one of the more forbidding stalags, (actually an offlag since is was for officers only), many, many tunnels were dug and disguises created. One man actually created a German sergeant's uniform totally from scratch, donned a moustache and created an overall impersonation so realistic, it fooled two out of three sets of sentries. Some of the POW's built and concealed an entire glider that would have carried two men off the roof and over the wall! The only reason it didn't fly was because the prison was liberated before they got the chance! The Colditz experience is well documented. There are many books written about that particular prison complete with photographs, including one by a German officer confirming these amazing escapes and attempts. The reviewers who doubt what can be done when necessity is truly the mother of invention should look for them and learn something.
As for the prisoners not being in jumpsuits, as suggested by one reviewer as one reason to question the authenticity of the film? Ludicrous, POW's wore what they were captured in. The German military (different from the Gestapo and the SS) considered them soldiers and allowed them to keep their badges of rank.
As for the film itself, it is long, but absorbing. There are historical flaws (as there are in all movies), but several of the former POW's participated in the filming process, keeping it, for the most part, very authentic. As for the emphasis on Americans, it's true they were not among the escapees per se, but several did assist in the effort before they were transferred out, as mentioned by a previous reviewer. However, you must remember that the movie was made for an American audience in 1963, long before international distribution revenue became so important to a studio's bottom line. They needed American stars who would appeal to an American audience. Who knows, perhaps if they were to remake it today, the cast would be all British and German, but I doubt it (see "Hart's War" where not only the plot, but all the British and Canadian characters that were in the book, disappeared).
All in all, "The Great Escape" is an entertaining movie telling a fascinating story of what ordinary men can achieve in adverse circumstances. It's well worth the time.
This must be my favorite movie of all times. Having seen it for the first time,in I guess 1987,a BBC Christmas broadcast,I was captivated by this brilliant piece of work. In the years after,I probably have seen it a "million" times,owning it on VHS and DVD,and still watching,whenever it is broadcast,in the original language. Why is it so great? This is a movie that keeps you locked to the screen,because it has everything a great movie should have. A great story,a good length,tension,it is a WW2 movie and the actors give top performances.Not just Steve McQueen,although his performance is brilliant,but also James Garner,James Coburn,Richard Attenborough,Charles Bronson and in this film,one of the greatest roles Donald Pleasance,playing the forger. It isn't historically accurate,please read the book by Paul Brickhill,but that doesn't matter a bit. This film gives you an image of POW camp,the prisoners and their guards,the Germans are also played brilliantly by German actors. I will not repeat the story here,but I can tell you,this film will capture you,all the characters are portrayed brilliantly by the actors. There is excitement,humor,tension,drama and emotion. See it,you will not regret it.
During World War Two the Germans build a new prison camp, Stalag Luft
III, for the express purpose of housing many of their most troublesome
captured Allied airmen. However, all this serves to do is to pool the
resources of some of the most ingenious escape artists in captivity and fill
them with a resolve to engineer a mass breakout from the
Based largely on real events, this film has assumed classic status over the years and its easy to understand why. Quite simply, it excells in many departments. Director John Sturges was at the height of his creative powers and he keeps a firm grip on the proceedings. Although the film runs close to three hours it never feels sluggish, while at the same time winding up the tension gradually and developing the characters. The production design is first rate, to the point where Donald Pleasance (who had been a P.O.W.) felt quite intimidated by the vast set on his arrival. Daniel Fapp's beautiful photography shows this and the picturesque German locations off to full effect. Put these virtues together with a good script, inspired casting and a classic score by Elmer Bernstein, and you have an object lesson in how to create an intelligent and exciting big budget adventure film.
On the subject of the cast; Much is made of Steve McQueen's role. While I am a huge McQueen fan, I feel that some of the other performances are equal to, if not better than his. Richard Attenborough, James Garner, Donald Pleasance, Charles Bronson and Gordon Jackson are all excellent. Good too are James Coburn, James Donald, David McCallum and Hannes Messemer as the sympathetic Commandant.
This is one of those films that I can happily watch time and time again. In September of this year a new print was screened at the NFT in London as part of an 'Attenborough at 80' season. It was a pleasure to see this on the big screen at last. For the most part the print was in very good condition. The DVD was one of the first that I ever bought some three and a half years ago, and I watched its inevitable Christmas screening on BBC2 last night. I just never tire of it. In these days of brainless, poorly executed action fodder, its a joy to behold something that hits its targets so precisely.
The Great Escape is a classic war movie with plenty happening in it. It just so happens that it is my all time favourite having seen it 60 times since it first was released. Steve McQueen , as Hilts, was the driving force behind this movie. He seemed to tie everything together between the American and British prisoners especially in the scene where they were celebrating the 4th of July with the drums and good ole fashioned American moonshine. The Great Escape contains one of the most famous movie scenes of all times when McQueen has half of the German army chasing after him while riding his motorcycle trying to jump the barb wire fence to get to Switzerland. All in all, The Great Escape had a cast of actors that was so strong that it was a wonder they got this movie made in the first place with all of the egos involved. James Garner, Charles Bronson, Angus Lennie, James Coburn, etc.were absolutely awesome.
The Great Escape is THE prison escape movie. The film is rich with characters and the direction by John Sturges is great. Steve McQueen is the man and the rest of the cast are terrific. This movie is heroic and shows the bravery of men in the second world war. I escape into this movie whenever I feel really down, it's a great spirit lifter and one of the greatest films of all time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Great Escape tells the amazing story of a whole bunch of allied
prisoners who accomplish a mass breakout during World War II, some of
whom actually did make it to freedom and the allied armed forces once
again. The film is so good that you do not mind the fact that some
American players were tossed into the story as the real story was one
accomplished by the British.
To insure that the American movie public would be buying tickets, several American players got into The Great Escape. Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and a pair of American TV cowboys just breaking into big screen star status, James Garner and Steve McQueen were put in the film. Director John Sturges had worked with McQueen, Coburn, and Bronson in his last film The Magnificent Seven. Sturges does a grand job in never letting his audiences attention flag for one minute in this almost three hour length film.
What the Nazis have done in this film is to build a brand new prison camp and have put all the perennial escape artists in this one. Of course by doing so a whole lot of talented escape artists in one place.
And the organized effort is led by Richard Attenborough. Without going overboard into a whole lot of flag waving, Sturges and Attenborough give us the portrayal of a deeply patriotic man who if he can't back into the fight himself, is going to do what he can from a POW camp to bedevil the people making war on his country. He leads the mass escape attempt with an almost corporate efficiency.
The opposite of course is Steve McQueen. I've always thought of Captain Virgil Hills as the ultimate Steve McQueen role of individualism. He and flight officer Angus Lennie are going to get out, no matter what, on their own or with the group. Angus Lennie is the former jockey now RAF flight officer and his death amidst a Fourth of July party that McQueen, Garner, and Jud Taylor have is one of the most moving scenes ever put on film. McQueen decides to play for the team after that.
The Great Escape allowed McQueen to indulge in one of his hobbies of motorcycling. His race through the German country side on a stolen Nazi uniform and motorcycle is a spectacular one, aided and abetted by Elmer Bernstein's magnificent film score.
James Garner bonds with Donald Pleasance in the film. Garner is an American in the RAF Eagle Squadron, Americans who couldn't wait for their own country to get into the war who enlisted in the RAF. A lot of Garner's TV character of Bret Maverick is in his role as Hendley the scrounger/con artist.
Pleasance is his room mate, the shy bird watcher who does the work of forging documents for the escaping prisoners. He's going blind as it turns out, my guess would be from untreated glaucoma. It's nice to see Donald Pleasance for once as a nice guy on the screen. His death due in part to his incipient blindness is also a moving one.
Charles Bronson is also another foreign volunteer for the RAF, from Poland as befitting Bronson who is of Polish origin. He's the tunnel digger who suffers from claustrophobia and his scenes are primarily with British teen idol John Leyton. This was another of a long series of great character roles for Bronson on his way to stardom.
James Coburn shows that like Robert Mitchum, he too had a good ear for accents. His Aussie speech pattern is as good as Mitchum's was in The Sundowners.
The Germans here are also portrayed three dimensionally. Robert Graf is the not too bright corporal who isn't exactly happy to be at war, but is grateful he ain't serving in Russia. He gets unmercifully conned by Garner. Hannes Messemer is the commandant of the POW camp, an officer in the Luftwaffe. The prisoners are nearly all RAF officers and enlisted men and the Luftwaffe is in charge of the camp. Messemer is as fearful of the S.S. and the Gestapo as his prisoners are. He's also as very conscious of the atrocities those worthy organizations are capable of and my favorite scene in the film is him having to tell of one to the Senior British officer in the camp, James Donald. Messemer is conscious also of his failure to watch the basket of rotten eggs put in his charge very closely.
The Great Escape does the one essential thing for a movie to do, it moves. Even in just the scenes of planning and preparation you are aware of movement. I mentioned Elmer Bernstein's film score. It's one of Bernstein's best, maybe one of the best known of any film in cinema history.
The Great Escape is one of those films you can watch dozens of times and never tire of. It's a wonderful film, a real tribute to the best in mankind under some of the worst circumstances.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'The Great Escape' had the advantage of a fine source, and a fine
script... Each actor realizes his potential in a very detailed manner,
giving a feeling lost in the actual cinema...
Sturges is careful with the pace in the first half, allowing the escape plans develop slowly... Humor, excitement and human drama are wonderfully blended, and smartly underscored by Elmer Bernstein's memorable background music...
The film opens with several truckloads of Allied officers, mostly pilots, being transferred to a new German maximum-security prison camp at Sagan...
The Camp 'Kommandant', Von Luger (Hannes Messemer), tells Captain Ramsey (James Donald), 'We have, in effect, put all our rotten eggs in one basket, and we intend to watch this basket carefully.'
But since all the British and American officers in his charge are men who have made several attempts to escape from other prison camps, Von Luger knows his words are meaningless...
The master planner is 'Big X,' Roger Bartlett (Richard Attenborough), who has just endured three months of Gestapo/SS torture, and plans to strike back, getting as many men as possible out of the camp, in order to 'harass, confuse and confound the enemy' behind the lines...
He announces a terrific plan for a mass break-out of 250 men and schemes three simultaneous tunnels Tom, Dick, and Harry...
The plan, so precise, proceeds in an orderly fashion, with a great deal of attention placed on caution and ruse to deflect German attentions... The captives involve themselves in much surface activity, which masks the underground work...
Hilts (Steve McQuenn), the 'Cooler King,' leads the Germans on a memorable motorcycle chase through back roads and across the fields right up to the Swiss frontier...
Hendley (James Garner), the 'Scrounger' is a charming thief whose particular gift is the misappropriation of all the required supplies for an escape...
Blythe (Donald Pleasance) has the talents of a 'Forger', and makes visas and passports... He suggests in one scene: ' Tea without milk is so uncivilized.'
Danny Velinski (Charles Bronson) is the experienced Polish-American 'Tunnel-King.'
Louis Sedgwick (James Coburn) is the 'Manufacturer' of bellows-operated ventilation...
Ashley-Pitt (David McCallum) is the 'Dispersal' with his ingenious methods of getting rid of the dirt generated by the tunneling activities...
Andy McDonald (Gordon Jackson ) is 'Intelligence,' the officer who develops a fantastic security system to protect the compounds from the German "Ferrets."
Archibald Ives (Angus Lennie) is the 'Mole,' whose fragile mind has been taxed by several years in the camps, repeated failed escape attempts, and time in the cooler...
Dennis Cavendish (Nigel Stock) is the 'Surveyor' who miscalculates the distance to the trees...
Guard Werner (Robert Graf) is the 'Ferret' who affirms to Hendley: 'I could tell you stories about my teeth that would make your hair stand on end.'
'The Great Escape' is a pretty good motion picture where the toll of freedom is precious, and the movie's ending provokes deep and serious meditation... It graphically shows what enterprising men can accomplish under the most unusual circumstances... It has a great cast, and is beautifully made...
Credit should be given to the brilliant score by Elmer Bernstein. If you listen to it closely, it literally is a battle between the Allied Prisoners (flutes & woodwinds) and the Germans (tubas). The escape scenes with the little boat on the scenic german river is evocative of Wagner and his heroic Germanic Operas. The scenery of the German countryside and the Alps is breathtaking. I believe that the scriptwriters emphasized the heroism, humor, and character of the prisoners to make an uplifting statement of what is essentially a cruel and tragic story. As a child growing up in the seventies, our 7th grade glass was reading the Paul Brickhill book and we had the opportunity to meet a former (American) Stalag Luft III prisoner from that era. He had arrived at the camp after the Great Escape, but was placed on the monument detail for the 50 executed men. He said that few men seriously contemplated escape after this incident and the emphasis was on surviving the war and going home alive.
The Great Escape should be a movie every one has seen. It's the definitive
P.O.W. movie -- and all other films in the genre fail to compare. It should
be noted that this isn't just a Steve McQueen movie (although he is bound to
be everyone's favorite character), but this is an ensemble piece with great
performances by Richard Attenborough, James Garner, James Coburn, Donald
Pleasence, and Charles Bronson. Wonderful build-up, great middle, and a
terrific ending. This film is classic.
One of the best scores of all time.
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