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Great Escape, The (1963)

 

Great
Glory and greatness.  Why does it always mean so much blood?

Genre: Action War Adventure Drama

Starring: Steve McQueen (BullittThe Sand Pebbles), James Garner (The Notebook"The Rockford Files")

Directed By: John Sturges (The Magnificent SevenBad Day at Black Rock)

Overview: Based on the true story of the escape attempt made from the WWII German Air Force prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft III, we follow P.O.W.s as they build a tunnel to escape from a camp designed to be escape-proof.

Performance:

Well, it comes to no surprise that the man who directed Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn in The Magnificent Seven would also capture in those men the same mood of cool in The Great Escape. Rather than have characters who are people distinct in their outlook, it's more like each person is unique in their skills.  There's the scrounger, the tunnel engineer, the mole, the tailor, the forger. There are a couple characters who have a lot at stake and introduce some healthy drama, but generally, we're watching sly foxes and adventure-seekers.
Rating: 8

Cinematography:

The version I watched was one of those two-tape, richly saturated prints on VHS that look like it came right out of the 60s, which leaves me to wonder how many people will grow to miss that unique feel of early colour film with advent of the Digitally Remastered DVD... Anyway, as the visuals go, we have quite the plentiful moments of excitement. With several escape attempts, tunnel digging, engineering ingenuity, not to mention the vast panoramas of countryside and prison camp alike, The Great Escape is indeed a visual spectacle.
Rating: 9

Script:

Flag-wavey? Sometimes just a little, but in that appropriately patriotic soldierly way. There's quite a lot of comedy in this film, but the way that the Allies fool the Germans is really what draws you in, even if it is a little far fetched.  In one word, the script is witty. 
Rating: 8

Plot:

Simply framed, we have a new prison camp opened up specifically for Allied airmen who keep escaping. This 'escape-proof' prison featured such interesting difficulties as having the cabins on stilts to prevent tunnelling, as well as yellow soil that blended very poorly with any dirt thrown upon it.  Rather than waiting for them to get out, you might find yourself more intrigued by all the little ways they get there. It's engineering genius. For those not really into that, there's plenty of action and suspense in the chase scenes.
Rating: 8

Mood:

It's been a while since I've watched an epic film, and The Great Escape, sitting in at just under three hours, took a very interesting route to get to its dramatic conclusion. Rather than bogging us down with heavy scenes à la Shindler's List, we are instead introduced to these people while they're in good spirits and full of hope. A happy little tune plays merrily as we watch airmen zing one liners and outsmart their keepers at every turn. Ever so slowly this light and humorous tale of imprisonment becomes serious. Bit by bit the happy music fades and we're drawn more and more into the dramatic and even solemn moments that bring this out of the farcical and into the important.
Rating: 9

 Escape
"Are we out of the camp yet?" "Holy Jesus, why did I bring a BLIND GUY on a prison break!?"

Overall Rating: 84% (Takes You Away!)
Aftertaste:

I thought it was fantastic.  Some films on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list are chores, some are hidden gems or nice surprises, but more than anything, the reason I follow this book is to make sure I don't forget the classics you know are classics, the fun movies that are enjoyable and everyone knows it. It's when I hit one of these that that tome earns its worth. You know this is good. Make a Saturday matinee out of it.

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Wow... I'm amazed you hadn't seen this bad boy before... it's one of those flicks I remember watching as a kid with the old man on a Sunday afternoon, but I didn't appreciate the humour and such until later viewings. The whistling tune is uber-classic too, and love those WWII motorcycle scenes! Good times.


I just saw this again the other day.  I find it very entertaining, and after the showing of the film the network played an interview with one of the real great escapees...  fantastic.  A bunch of them were consultants during filming and he felt that 90% of the film was  "spot-on", including the leg sacks for dumping dirt and swapping food for goods with the Germans.   Good stuff.

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