The Great Escape (1963)
Reviewed on 2007 August 21
This movie has everything — it’s a war flick with action, to keep the “guys who like movies” happy. It’s got an ingenious story, to keep us nerds happy. And it’s also based on a true story, for the history buffs out there. The opening screens says that time elements and characters were adapted but the actual details — the ingenious way the men pulled it off — are what happened.
A group of Allied prisoners of war who are notorious for escaping other Nazi camps are herded into the Stalag Luft III camp. This camp is a notoriously tough one to break from, with guarded gun towers, tons of barbed wire, and The Cooler. The Cooler is a brick solitary unit for holding the more difficult prisoners, and it is escape-proof, as discovered by ‘The Cooler King’ Captain Hilts (Steve McQueen). McQueen befriends Flying Officer Archibald Ives (Angus Lennie). Ives is a small, fearless Scotsman who refuses to be cowed, and he plans with Hilts to escape once they’re out of the cooler.
The men discover that their fellow prisoners are not only thinking the same thoughts, but dividing up tasks amongst themselves. And they’re pretty certain they’re going to get away with it. One man, Flight Lieutenant Colin ‘The Forger’ Blythe (Donald Pleasance), is put to work drafting papers for the after-escape festivities. When a tool is needed, it’s either appropriated by ‘The Scrounger’, Flight Lieutenant Hendley (James Garner) or jury-rigged by ‘The Manufacturer’, Flying Officer Louis Sedgwick (James Coburn). The planning is detailed, and brilliant, and that’s part of the problem: for this thing to work it can’t be rushed, and so the time it takes puts them at risk of being discovered.
The story takes 172 minutes to tell, and you owe it to yourself to watch this when you can absorb every detail and won’t be interrupted. The entire cast was phenomenal. Steve McQueen did a great job, but my eyes kept going to Charles Bronson. There was a scene where I was devastated for him. You’ll feel it too if you watch this.
Four chocolate morsels.
- The Great Escape: The Full Dramatic Story with Contributions from Survivors and Their Families, by Anton Gill
- The Great Escape from Stalag Luft III: The Full Story of How 76 Allied Officers Carried Out World War II’s Most Remarkable Mass Escape, by Tim Carroll
- Wooden Horse, by Eric Williams
- The Longest Tunnel: True Story Of World War II’s Great Escape, by Alan Burgess