Based on a true story, a group of allied escape artist-type prisoners-of-war are all put in an "escape proof" camp. Their leader decides to try to take out several hundred all at once. The first half of the movie is played for comedy, as the prisoners mostly outwit their jailers to dig the escape tunnel. The second half is high adventure as they use planes, trains, and boats to get out of occupied Europe.Written by
John Vogel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
There are six different languages spoken or sung in the movie: English, German, French, Russian, and one word in Spanish, as well as two words of Latin "Lanius Nubicus" when Flight Lieutenant Blythe is describing the masked shrike or butcher bird in the forgery scene. There is also a song in a light Scots dialect where Ives and MacDonald are singing "Wha Hae the 42nd" in the fourth of July scene just before "Tom" is discovered. See more »
Throughout the film actors are seen wearing rings and watches. No allied POW would have been allowed to keep anything remotely this valuable, or useful, for themselves. And if they were, lower grade guards and administrators would have targeted them for abuse and/or theft. See more »
We have reason to believe this prisoner is the mastermind behind numerous criminal escape attempts.
Squadron Leader Bartlett has been three months in your care! And the Gestapo has only "reason to believe"!
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Some TV versions edit the scene in which Ives is shot and killed for trying to escape over the fence. See more »
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 camp.
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.
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