The Great Escape (1963) Poster



The motorcycle that Hilts uses in his escape attempt was a 1960s British Triumph 650.
During the escape, there is a brief shot of a bridge spanning a river. This bridge is very obviously a post-war construction.
Sedgwick is shown reading "Liberation", a newspaper not published during the German occupation of France.
Traffic signs are clearly post-war.
Hilts' watch is a Rolex Submariner not available in the 1940s.
The railway logo is incorrect.
As the rowboat escapees, the "Tunnel Kings," near the end of their journey in a harbor, what appear to be container cranes can be seen in the background as they approach the ship and clamber onto the gangway, on both sides of the large vessel. Containerization did not begin until the mid 1950's and containership cranes were unknown in the 1940's.

Audio/visual unsynchronised 

During the majority of the 4th of July scene the background soundtrack loops over and over. This goes on for nearly 10 minutes.
When the Americans are marching as "The Spirit of '76", they stop before the Senior Barracks Officer. The last fife note is heard after Hilts lowers the fife from his lips.

Character error 

When Hendley and Blythe are playing chess, the chessboard is set up with a black square in the bottom right corner, i.e. the board is positioned sideways.
In the opening scenes, Hilts and Ives are sentenced to 20 days each in the Cooler by the Commandant. When Hilts and Ives are to be released from the Cooler, Hilts counts the 14 day-marks on the wall and as he's counting the 15th day on his fingers, the door opens and they walk out.
Throughout the movie, British and German officers pronounce "lieutenant" as "lootenant" rather than "leftenant".


Soon after his initial arrival at the camp, Hilts puts his gear bag on the ground next to the hut. Taking his ball and mitt with him, he walks over to the wire, leaving the bag behind. While talking to another prisoner about the blind spot between the towers, a camera shot back toward the hut shows Hilt's bag is gone.
When Hilts and Ives are first put in the cooler, Ives is to the right as Hilts faces the door. As Hilts talks to Ives through the bars in the door, he faces the wrong direction.
In Bartlett"s briefing, he says the first tunnel ("Tom")will go out from 105, and then says it will go out from hut 104, and Harry from 105. Danny is then shown starting Tom in 104. However, by the July 4th celebrations, "Tom" is in hut 105 when Strachwitz discovers it (and "105" is painted on the hut when the guards surround it).
Motorcycles change in close-up shots.
In the tunnel, Colin's socks alternate between grey and white between shots.
When Hilts crashes his motorcycle into the barbed wire fence, he is clearly in front of the barbed wire. When they cut back for the close-up, he is entangled in the barbed wire.
When Hendley's stolen plane crashes the wings are clearly ripped completely off the fuselage. When the plane is next seen on fire the wings are still attached.
When Ives drops his cup and moves towards the fence, in the background Hilts turns and starts moving towards Ives. Camera cuts to Hilts and he turns and starts moving again.
While Hilts is contemplating throwing his baseball to the "blind spot" at the fence, he backs up to the shadows at the corner of one of the prisoner's huts. when the camera cuts back to the same spot at corner of the hut, the area is no longer in shadows.
In the scene in Hendley and Btlyhes room, when Bartlet is telling Blythe he can't go. During close ups or the view is from the door there is an ashtray hanging on the side of Hendley's bunk. When the scene is viewed from across the room the ashtray is not there.
During their initial escape attempt (walking out with the Russian workers) the two escapees are in different rows. In the next shot, during which one attempts to vouch for the other, they are in the same row.
When Danny prepares to dig the first tunnel, he marks the outline using blue chalk. The outline is round/oval, but during a close-up shot when he writes the number 17 in the corner, the outline is more of a square. In the next shot, the outline is once again oval and the number 17 looks different.
Near the beginning of the movie, after Hilts takes his baseball and glove out of his rather large tan satchel, he drops the satchel onto the ground. He then works his way to the warning wire, where a shot of him from the fence clearly shows where the satchel should be in the background, but it is no longer there.
On their first day in camp, Hilts throws his baseball to the wire to check the Germans' lines of sight. When he is finally stopped and the commandant comes over and Hilts is explaining what he was doing, the position of his hands change in differently angled shots.
Postion of the propeller crank when Hendley first hands it to Colin and when Colin begins to turn it
The steam engine of the passenger train with which the majority of the prisoners tries to escape is a German "Baureihe 78" (type 78) model. However, when arriving at its final destination where all passengers get off the train, the engine is a "Baureihe 64" (type 64) model (the engine of the freight train with which Sedgwick has escaped).
When Hilts turns and runs, in his attempt to stop Ives from climbing the fence, his vest is unbuttoned, buttoned, unbuttoned and buttoned again.
When Mac delivers some stolen goods to Hendley he has already walked past an open window in a separate hut through which Hendley is clearly visible.
Early on, Hilts leans against the corner of one of the huts and observes the guard towers for weak spots. Moments later, he pulls his baseball mitt and squints into the setting sun. A few seconds later he walks toward the fence, it is midday. In the next minute the sun shifts back and forth from late, midday and morning.

Crew or equipment visible 

On the left side of the screen in the closing scene, as Hilts walks to the cooler, the camera track is visible between the fence and the warning wire.
When Hilts is setting a trip line across the road the sun is screen left. As he reaches the near side of the road he's suddenly lit from screen right and has two opposing shadows. The light (probably a reflector) follows him causing the post in the foreground to reflect the light and then the post also gains a shadow facing the sun.
(at around 2h 35 mins) As Bartlett and Mac try to run from the police at the bus stop, a there is a spotlight on its mount on the left-hand side of the screen.
(at around 1h 23 mins) During the moonshine distribution scene, there is a crew member (wearing a red baseball cap) directing /moving the cast into position can be seen on the left-hand side of the screen.

Errors in geography 

There's no part in the German-Swiss border where you can see the Alps or any mountains like those in the film.
Immediately after Lt. Henley tells Colin that they are just one mountain ridge away from Switzerland, their plane flies past the famous castle of Neuschwanstein, which is on the Austrian border, about 60 miles (and some very high mountains) away from Switzerland.

Factual errors 

The film shows a large number of the escapees being shot in one common space at one time. In reality, the 50 were shot in many different places, sometimes alone and sometimes in small groups.
The film shows that the Germans discovered a tunnel located under a stove. The Germans actually did find one of the three tunnels, but it was located in a corner of hut 123. And in reality it was indeed the tunnel "Harry" located under a stove in hut 104 that was actually used by the airmen to escape.
The film shows the executions being carried out by uniformed German troops using a Spandau machine gun. In reality, the executions were done by Gestapo agents who used pistols at close range.
Group Captain Ramsey's bottom three service ribbons denote service during the first world war. (Correct order would be: 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal). However, these three ribbons are worn backwards on his uniform throughout the film (Victory Medal, British War Medal, 1914-15 Star).
The film shows almost everything happening in the summer months. In reality, the actual escape occurred in March, 1944 while there was still significant snow on the ground. Most of the escapees who were trying to walk across country were forced by the deep snow to leave the fields and go on to the roads and into the hands of the patrols.
At the Cafe Suzette, the father pours Pernod out of a tall green bottle which is correct. However the liquid seen in the glasses is amber/gray in color. Pernod is actually light green.
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When Ashley Pitt is in the tunnel, the topsoil is a sandy color and the tunnel soil is dark. In reality it was the other way around with the topsoil being gray and tunnel soil being yellow.

Incorrectly regarded as goofs 

Timbers are needed to hold back thousands of pounds of dirt from a tunnel collapse. The three feet long, 1/2 inch thick pieces taken from the bed frames shown used in the tunnel could not withstand the weight. However documentary interviews and excavation of the actual Stalag Luft 3 site, shows that the films depiction of the tunnel's construction was accurate. While the material used may not have been adequate for a professional tunnel or mine, they were apparently adequate for the task and some are still holding up the tunnel even now.
Hendley wears USA flashes on his uniform. This shows that he is an American serving in the RAF and is a member of the Famous "Eagle" squadrons, three squadrons composed of Americans who joined the RAF. This also means that Hendley was shot down before 1944, since the squadrons were re-absorbed by the USAAF at that time.
At least one escapee is dressed as a German guard. While this is against all standard protocols, and being caught in a uniform would be an act of spying punishable by execution after torture, the source book itself states that one of the escapees, Tobolski, did in fact escape disguised as a Luftwaffe Unteroffizer.
When Roger meets the SBO for the first time, Roger is told that the prisoners wanted to "bring out the Welcoming Committee". However, Roger was specially delivered to the camp by a Gestapo/SS detachment. The SBO and other prisoners would have had no prior knowledge that Roger was arriving. Earlier on, MacDonald notices Bartlett arriving at the camp, and goes off to pass the word onto the other soldiers. Between when Bartlett is brought into Von Luger's office, and the time he goes to see Ramsey, this would have been enough time for a small, impromptu welcoming committee to have been formed.

Plot holes 

When Ashley Pitt comes up with the idea to get rid of the tunnel dirt they show them depositing dirt in gardens the men are working on. They also show men marching with dirt coming out of their trousers. If they are marching and swinging their arms how can they pull the chords in their pockets?
At the start of the escape sequence Capt. Hilts, the "cooler king", is wearing a dark top and white trousers and can easily be seen against the background. It seems implausible to attempt to escape through tunnel dirt in the middle of the night dressed in white.
The scene were Hiltz meets with Barlett and McDonald to discuss his next escape attempt with Ives, he says he is going "in 17 days, 7th of July". Yet, between that event and later when they celebrate the 4th of July (3 days before they plan to escape), there is a scene in which the troops are singing "12 Days of Christmas".
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Revealing mistakes 

Flipped shot. After Hilts steals the motorcycle, he is hiding behind a building waiting for the German troops to go by. As they go by, the sidecar on the German motorcycle is on the wrong side of the bike.
In the tunnel scene where it is discussed that they will need to shore up the entire tunnel (after Willie is buried by a collapse), one of the supports of the base room is seen to move when hit by the trolley cart. Being thirty feet below ground, this support should be held firmly in place by the dirt overhead.
When Hilts is playing the fife on the Fourth of July, his hands are in the wrong position. Both are on the outside of the fife, while anyone actually playing the instrument would have the right hand on the other side.


The goof items below may give away important plot points.


In the very last scene, as Hilts is being returned to the camp, he has a bloody rip in his shirt, on the right shoulder. When he is marched directly to the cooler afterward in the last shot, the tear is gone.


Soon after MacDonald is captured, Bartlett tries to be nonchalant as he walks along a sidewalk. The German soldier, in the car, yells at Bartlett to stop and he does...on the sidewalk. Cut to a different angle and Bartlett is stopped...in the middle of the street.


After Ives is killed, Hilts escapes and is purposely captured so he can bring back information about the area around the camp. He had obviously been in water, but different angles as he's brought back into the camp show the water line higher or lower on his pants legs.

Crew or equipment visible 

The Region 1 widescreen DVD version is framed such that some unintended things are seen to the left of the screen. When Hilts is serving moonshine, for instance, a crewmember can be seen pushing the prisoners forwards (in the Region 2 version, only his hand is visible). When Hilts is first sent to the cooler, the left-hand edge of the set can be seen at one point, too, with crew and equipment visible beyond (completely out of shot in the Region 2 version). When the prisoners are assembled the morning after the escape, there are several huge studio lights on stands on the left side of the frame between the trip wire and the fence. More studio lights are visible on the left frame during the first appearance of German town where Roger Bartlett and Mac McDonald are captured. The Region 1 Special Edition DVD has been reframed, removing most of these instances.

Revealing mistakes 

After the plane crash Hendley's left leg is so badly injured he cannot stand on it. When he is returned to the POW camp he walks in normally.

See also

Trivia | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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