Stalag 17 (1953) Poster

(1953)

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  • Stalag 17 began life in 1951 as a Broadway play written by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski, both of whom were WWII POWs in Stalag 17B in Austria. American movie director Billy Wilder [1906-2002] and screenwriter Edwin Blum [1906-1995] adapted the play for the screen.

  • There is an implied reference to adultery, but the word "adultery" is not used. It occurs in the scene where a soldier receives a letter from his wife telling him that she found a baby on the doorstep and that the baby looks just like her. "Now honey, you won't believe it," she writes. His reply is "I believe it. I believe it." This scene has been interpreted several different ways by viewers. One is that she was unfaithful to him, hence the veiled reference to "adultery." Another is that he got her pregnant before he left and that this was her lighthearted way of telling him about the child. (However, it was said in the movie that he'd been in the stalag for over a year making this an unlikely situation.) A third explanation is based on the fact that camp authorities would sometimes withhold prisoners' mail, except for bills, bad news, and "Dear John" letters, in an attempt to make prisoners feel abandoned by their country and kin and perhaps more inclined to collaborate with their captors. The supposition is that his wife sent the news about the baby simply so that her letter would get through.

  • Because he knew it could have heavy ramifications for all of them. Listen to his logic when he talks to Cookie about it at the Xmas Party: if they out the traitor, he'll disappear immediately & resurface in another prison camp & continue his nefarious work. If they kill him, the commandant will have them punished, maybe even killed for murdering another prisoner. Sefton, being the crafty sort of man he is, waits until the most opportune moment to tell them & his plan works.

  • Indeed! The war broke out in Europe in September 1939 when Nazi German invaded Poland. There were German families in the United States that would have felt the need to remain loyal to their homeland. The traitor in this film is one of those people and, like Sefton says, he left the United States & returned to Germany, renouncing his American citizenship. Because he already spoke English and probably spoke German, he was an ideal candidate to be placed in an American POW camp and inform on the prisoners there. Such people were called Volksdeutsche. There's a brief scene in episode 2 of Band of Brothers that addresses this.

  • It does seem quite unlikely that Dunbar could hide there, especially during the day. It probably depends on the layout of the camp: that particular tower might not have been visible from any of the guard towers. Hoffy, being a pretty knowledgeable guy, would know that the tower, or at least the interior of it, would not be easily seen by the tower guards. The other towers in the camp might very have been. It also requires a bit of disbelief suspension: the Germans might have believed that no one would be crazy enough to stash someone in the water tower tank itself and risk their death due to frostbite & hypothermia: this story takes place in winter where it can get very cold in Germany. Dunbar only has to be in the tower for a few hours until that night when his rescuer can get him out. However, the German army was much more cunning and precise than the movie suggests: it's likely that in actual POW camps other prisoners might have taken this sort of chance and been discovered. There are documented stories of the Nazis actually standing the bodies of dead prisoners up with the living prisoners just to get the population count precise. It's very probably that Dunbar would have been discovered but in a movie like this one, the audience can accept the writers stretching believability.

  • The story takes place around Christmas of 1944, when the German army and the Allies were fighting what came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. When the POWs are listening to the radio radio broadcast, there's mention of Von Runstedt's army and Patton's tank divisions and Bastogne, a small village in Belgium where the fiercest fighting of the battle took place. The German Army made a surprise lighting strike near Bastogne, which had several major, strategic roads converging near it. The Allied forces, chiefly composed of US Army soldiers, formed a circle around Bastogne and held firm until reinforcements could arrive.

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