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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.
I saw this movie for the first time as a nine year old boy on a big screen in the Bronx. I'm now in my 40's. I have seen it many times since but not on the big screen. It was meant for the big screen! It's on my top five list along with The Sand Pebbles. It's a great movie about hope and freedom and man's responsibility to his fellow man. These men are all near saints; James Garner insisting on Donald Plesence making the escape, Charles Bronson fighting his claustrophobia. Steve McQueen is the star among the stars, not merely because of his motorcycle skills but for his attempt to save a life and for bringing the game of "off the wall" to the masses. :-)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Films are like people in the respect that some are leaders but most followers. That's because most movies are not about life, but about previous movies. This film established not only a genre (I chose to resee it after `Chicken Run') but played a role in inventing a society. I'm of the belief that culture invents some art that in turn reinvents the culture. More about that in a minute.
What's so special about this is that it places the American rebel (with his motorcycle) in mainstream American society. Before, the beatnik or `bohemian' was unamerican, nonmainstream. This film invents memories of the war for the generation after the war -- it takes an essentially British story and uses it as background to establish a new vision of the American rebel. This rebel is centrally American, heroic even. Independent of sex.
There are four forces in this film. The evil Gestapo (with the majority of Germans, but the film glosses that); the two forces of the British and German Air Force stuck in a duel of gallantry from a prior generation; and then the McQueen force. All at once, we have the cockiness and independence of Brando and Dean transformed into a patriotic center, into something directed, seemingly casually, against intrinsic evil.
I saw an advance screening of this in most peculiar circumstances. I was a cadet in a midwestern military academy whose commandant was the senior American officer at the POW camp during the planning of the escape. (Americans were moved shortly before, and the reason is an interesting story in itself.) We 850 mostly sons of republicans mostly hawks, all white were given a vision of necessary disturbance, of a strange patriot that we couldn't internalize. Only a couple months later JFK was murdered. The Cooler King was one key image we used with our brethren nationwide to reinvent ourselves. Check it out. This contributed to a national identity that actually lived for a while. Never plan to win, just make your own statement.
Attenborough knows something about manipulating the British image for American consumption. His `Ghandi' is a masterpiece of posture. Talent. Sturges' camera is quiet, still, non-modern, so that you lose awareness that this is a film. This stance is dated -- wouldn't work today, and makes things feel as of a different era. Attenborough's camera sweeps (see his short episode -- the Indian sequence -- in `Close Encounters.') Attenborough's acting style here (indeed his role too) mirrors that. It is a fulcrum of everything, a subliminal sweep under Sturges' stillness.
Check out the score by Bernstein. If you take out just a little of the march tempo, you have Williams' copy for Indiana Jones. Indy echoed the tone for a by that time narcissistic notion of rebellion: mystical forces of evil accommodated by selfish acquisition and pathetic self-deprecation -- the Reagan American. Williams intended to quote Bernstein to make this point, I think.
If you haven't seen it yet, look for the Cooler guard. His hesitation at the end is priceless, indicating that every soul is malleable. It is why the film wasn't made for eight years, bombed when it came out, but is now in the IMDB top 100.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sometimes a big, cynical package entertainment off the generic production line transcends its origins and goes into orbit, as it were, growing ever larger in memory. "Casablanca" was the classic example; "The Poseidon Adventure" and "The Towering Inferno" are more recent ones. For Brits, "The Great Escape" has this status: even as I write, soccer fans at the World Cup are beating out Elmer Bernstein's brisk march theme while England labours to a draw.
Not a great hit when released, "The Great Escape" clicked through repeated TV showings. It goes on clicking, like "Casablanca" or "Gone with the Wind"- because it embodies truth to the spirit of its own times as well as to what was 20 years in the past when it was filmed. As several reviewers have said, it doesn't wear out, and this is why.
By 1963 audiences were becoming bored with endless relivings of heroic World War Two exploits: adolescent moviegoers were too young to remember it and were tired of seeing their dads' doings, which made their own lives feel smaller and duller. But "The Great Escape" depicted a failed breakout from an inglorious captivity; less sharp than Wilder's "Stalag 17", it nonetheless managed to combine the expected set pieces of tension and derring-do with an incipient Swinging Sixties individualism. These guys are collaborating to dig their way out, but then they're on their own for the home run. Few make it.
Nobody incarnated the new spirit more than Hilts the Cooler King, played by Steve McQueen. The film made him a solo star name above the title: he stands out amid an ensemble as he didn't, quite, in Sturges's "Magnificent Seven". McQueen's persona was set by ex-POW James Clavell's dialogue. He's not the boring, by-the-numbers rebel designed by hacks to make an authority figure such as a cop more palatable to a rebellious teen audience. He's an instinctive, can't-help-it individualist.
McQueen is not gratuitously insubordinate towards his own superiors in the camp. Neither does he set out to provoke the Germans, who aren't hateful. Hilts can't help wanting to be beyond the barbed wire, and that makes his brand of rebelliousness less neurotic, more sympathetic to adult viewers than a crybaby, James Deanish sort would be. McQueen, then and later (eg in "The Towering Inferno") has the authority of the man who does not define his values solely by reaction against the consensus. As such, in "The Great Escape" he personifies democracy pitted against dictatorship in total war. He's voluntarily under orders for the duration, but he fights to be free again, and for ever: free to leap the wire and leave all confinement behind, far and fast. Meantime, he's self-contained, happy to play baseball against a blank wall, in no danger of going mad for want of company like a dictator's slave.
McQueen's American cool counterpoints the laid-back qualities of the British. Donald, Attenborough and Pleasence are all quietly magnetic, assured presences. No scenery chewers wanted- this is war, too serious for show-offs. Lennie, the man driven mad, disposes of himself.
The Anglo-American collaboration in this production is among the smoothest ever. The British movie business was turning into Hollywood, England; here was a story where no fancy plot tricks were needed to bring Limeys and Yanks together, and the Yanks were the kind we admired most: those who hadn't waited till Pearl Harbor but hastened to the anti-Nazi colours as freelances. Another reason to admire McQueen's maverick stance, and James Garner's quirkier version of it. At the same time, the overall patina is recognisably British stiff-upper-lip, like "Albert RN" or "The Colditz Story". There is little psychologising and no silly love interest; these chaps have a task to perform and they get on with it. Sturges was an admirer of the British martial spirit like his fellow he-man, Hemingway. It shows.
The script conflates incidents from several WW2 situations: a literal account of the March 1944 breakout at Sagan masterminded by Roger Bushell/Bartlett would have courted libel actions. Posters who criticise the portrayal of the camp have got it wrong. The men were in a Stalag, an officers' camp run by the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe, not the SS. They were under the Geneva Convention, inspected by the Red Cross. Prisoners were treated with the courtesy due to involuntary guests, though on their honour not to attempt escape as their duty to their own countries required. Even at Colditz, the castle where incorrigible fugitives were immured, the amenities of commissioned rank were respected.
Many camp administrators were career soldiers who despised the Nazis; others had been transferred after being wounded in action, and had a fellow-feeling for enemies who had been captured. Inmates were encouraged to follow hobbies to take the itch out of their feet. The spirit was akin to that of von Stroheim's World War One schloss in "La Grande Illusion".
The scene where a "Hitler greeting" has to be dragged out of Luger is true to life: many senior Wehrmacht officers forbade their subordinates to "heil" in the mess. The massacre after recapture was perpetrated not by soldiers but by the Gestapo at Hitler's command, over protests from Goering and Keitel. The phrase "shot while trying to escape" became common currency as a euphemism for murder.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Exciting, funny, tragic, with a massive cast who all perform brilliantly, providing many memorable moments, The Great Escape as everyone knows tells the story of the attempted escape of allied troops from German imprisonment. The characters are all well drawn, both Allies and Nazis, and each has a distinct personality, though McQueen's stands out. Even though only a few escape this is still a story of hope to rival The Shawshank Redemption. Memorable scenes are obvious: Steve's biking, Pleasance's tragic end, the celebrations which end in death, the 'get out and stretch your legs' scene, and the train station scene. With beautiful cinematography and a rousing score, this is a favourite for many people-it's shown here every Christmas. Interesting in that this is one of the few films i can think of which has no female character of note. 9 out of 10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I imagine it was the lengthy running time that kept me for so many
years from seeing The Great Escape, although that doesn't explain why I
haven't seen hordes of other movies. But I've been going back and
watching all the old classics and The Great Escape is one of the best
ones I've seen so far. The movie is not only wildly entertaining
throughout it's nearly three hour duration, but shows some actors who
went on to become famous for other roles in decades and generations to
come. Granted, I am speaking from the perspective of a different
generation of moviegoers, which is why I know Charles Bronson more from
Death Wish than this film, or James Coburn from films like Payback and
Affliction, Donald Pleasance as Dr. Sam Loomis and Richard Attenborough
as John Hammond from the Jurassic Park films.
I think the thing I loved the most about the movie was how open everyone was about their plans to escape. Not that they tried to escape out in the open, but they made no effort to hide the fact that they were analyzing their surroundings, trying to find a way to get out. As we soon learn, it is their sworn duty as captured officers to consistently try to escape and, failing that, to make life as confusing and frustrating as humanly possible for their captors.
The story involves a lot of British officers being held captive by the Germans, at a prison where all of the most consistent escapers have been compiled for special supervision. When the prisoners arrive at the beginning of the movie, many of them, including Virgil Hilts (Steve McQueen) walk into the gates and then immediately walk to the fences around the outsides of the compound, looking up and down the length of the fences, studying where the guard towers are, looking in broad daylight for ways to escape.
What follows is a brilliant competition between the proud British officers being held captive and the Germans guarding them, as the British make every attempt to escape and receive minimal punishment when they're caught. 20 days in the cooler for a failed escape attempt (doubled from only 10 for mouthing off) is pretty light compared to what I would have expected POWs to have suffered at the hands of the Nazis in World War II.
Because the escapes are only hidden during their preparations, there are portions of The Great Escape that play almost like a sports movie more than a war film, because of the atmosphere of competition and, among other things, there is so much comic relief, One of my favorite scenes is the one where they first begin digging under the floor in their bunker. Danny Velinski (Bronson) is under the floor digging away when the Germans march in for a surprise inspection, and he jumps out, they put the cover back on the hole and smear clay around it and then pour water into it, one guy starts mopping the floor, everyone else goes back to playing cards or milling about, and Velinski hops in the shower, and the suspicious officers come in and demand to know what they're each doing. The guy mopping explains that he's mopping, Velinski says he needed a wash, and Louis Sedgwick (Coburn), says about Velinski, "I'm watching him. I'm a lifeguard!"
It's also a great scene when Hilts (McQueen) tells Bartlett (Attenborough) and the other officer his plan for escape. Steve McQueen is the star of the movie but spends most of it pretty much out of the loop. He was in the cooler when the plans for the great escape were first hatched, so when he finally got out most of the camp was involved in planning this epic breakout, and Hilts comes up to Bartlett and one other officer and gleefully tells them about his and Ives' nutty plan to burrow three feet down and dig straight out, sticking metal tubes through the ground to the surface so they can breathe. Bartlett and the other officer leave both of them out of the plans for the time being, for reasons that are explained later in the film.
The movie is expertly written, with outstanding dialogue and even better performances and direction that I like to think is still inspiring filmmakers throughout the world. I learned from another reviewer on the IMDb that the music is almost competing within itself, with different instruments representing the British and the Germans, so I was watching for it when I watched the movie. Not only is the different music representative of the two opposing sides, but it does it within scenes and even within individual shots. Consider, for example, the scene where Hilts and Ives are first brought into the cooler. The music is almost reacting to what is going on on screen, like it's trying to describe where each character is within the frame. That is true film-making brilliance.
The movie ends with a massive setback, a tremendous downturn in tone, but does so without turning into a tragedy or overshadowing everything else that has gone on before that and, most importantly, while remaining true to the real life story. It displays the pride and determination of British military as well as was done in The Bridge on the River Kwai, and that is a major accomplishment.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Germans open their new POW camp and send the invites to every British and American escape artist out there. So while waiting for their garden to reap a harvest, they all decide to tunnel out of the place. The tunnel is discovered, but they still have two other ones they're working on so they continue on, even though there are the problems of the forger losing his sight, and one of the tunnel diggers being claustrophobic. They dig out but find themselves 30 feet short of the forest they were going to escape into and the Germans pick up their trail. 3 POW's make it out, 23 are captured and returned to the camp and the remaining 50 are executed. Based on a true story ( with some factual errors, and influenced by Jean Renoir's 1937 film, Grand Illusion ), this film moves very quickly with an adventureous pace and well acted roles, particularly Steve McQueen as the American motorcycling hotshot, Richard Attenbourough as the escape team head, and James Garner as the scrounger. Rating 10 out of 10.
"The Great Escape" is a rousing blend of suspense, action and ultimately
tragedy, bolstered by an all-star cast, terrific music and beautiful
European locations. A few fellow reviewers have cited the unbelievably
"pristine" prison conditions, but the German authorities did try to uphold
the Geneva Convention for Western Allied POWs. The characters in this film
left their well-run 'stalag' anyway, and many paid the ultimate price.
entertaining its viewers, "The Great Escape" effectively depicted the
"Wait a minute, you aren't seriously suggesting that if I get thru the
wire and case everything out there, and don't get picked up, to turn
myself in and get thrown in the cooler for a couple of months so you
can get the information you need"
Smart, witty and directed with adroit hands by John Sturges, The Great Escape is standing the test of time as a joyous multi cast family favourite. Based on the real accounts of allied soldiers escaping en mass from a German POW camp back in 1942, the film is involving from start to finish, due in the main to the wonderful array of characters on show. We follow them from the moment they arrive at the camp right thru to the stunning climax, and it is with great joy I say that none of the cast lets the side down, they all do great work for the astute and undervalued Sturges. A number of great set pieces allied with Elmer Bernstein's fabulous score never lets the blood settle, and in amongst the cute slices of humour is palpable tension to make this simply one of the best films of it's type, in fact one of the best films ever.
Sturges and his writers, James Clavell & W.R. Burnett, adapt from the book written by Paul Brickhill, someone who speaks from experience having been one of the prisoners of super POW camp Stalag Luft III, which of course is what The Great Escape is born from. Sturges was fascinated by the story and after trying without fail for over a decade to get it onto the screen, he finally succeeded. The success three years earlier of his star ensemble Western, The Magnificent Seven, enabled Sturges to realise his vision, the result of which is still enthralling new generations with each passing year.
The cast is made up of notable thespians and iconic heroes. Steve McQueen (enticing the American audience in one feels), Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Donald, Donald Pleasance, James Coburn, James Garner, David McCallum, John Leyton and Gordon Jackson. Which of course is a pretty tidy roll call, but it shouldn't be understated the input of Hannes Messemer as the Camp Commandant, Colonel Von Luger. His scenes have a humanistic quality that shows a softer side of Germany to the one ruled by a certain despot (the finale here offering up the counter opposite of the war), the writers smartly, and rightly, not tarring a nation with the same old brush.
A wonderful involving movie that puts characteristic heart in bed with its action and suspense laden plot. 10/10
This film does take a few libertys with facts, there were no Americans involved in the escape, though some helped plan it, and where transferred to another camp at the last moment.This film though is about heroes and the spirit of freedom.T he film belongs to McQueen who is just fantastic to watch the camera loved him and I believe one day he will jump that fence.The rest of the cast are particurlarly good, the scene where the forger is told he can't escape is moving especially when James Garner volunteers to look after him.The James Garner character is roll model for me I always try to scrounge things.Simply watch and enjoy a truly great movie you will laugh and then feel down. I give this movie 8/10
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