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If you're going to critique the history, then know the history.
FABabe31 January 2003
I find it difficult to believe that some reviewers' negative reactions to this film are based on their (misguided) beliefs that none of this could possibly have happened. Comments like these make it crystal clear that what some people don't know about history is appalling. If you are going to judge a film based on historical fact, it helps if you know what it is.

It is well-documented what amazing technical feats the POW's were able to accomplish in the stalags. There was even an entire section of the British Secret Service dedicated to coming up with all sorts of clever ways to send these captured men the tools they needed to facilitate their escape attempts, i.e., sandwiching maps between the split sides of a record album (yes, the Germans allowed the prisoners to have records in the camps) or compasses in pens. At Colditz Castle, one of the more forbidding stalags, (actually an offlag since is was for officers only), many, many tunnels were dug and disguises created. One man actually created a German sergeant's uniform totally from scratch, donned a moustache and created an overall impersonation so realistic, it fooled two out of three sets of sentries. Some of the POW's built and concealed an entire glider that would have carried two men off the roof and over the wall! The only reason it didn't fly was because the prison was liberated before they got the chance! The Colditz experience is well documented. There are many books written about that particular prison complete with photographs, including one by a German officer confirming these amazing escapes and attempts. The reviewers who doubt what can be done when necessity is truly the mother of invention should look for them and learn something.

As for the prisoners not being in jumpsuits, as suggested by one reviewer as one reason to question the authenticity of the film? Ludicrous, POW's wore what they were captured in. The German military (different from the Gestapo and the SS) considered them soldiers and allowed them to keep their badges of rank.

As for the film itself, it is long, but absorbing. There are historical flaws (as there are in all movies), but several of the former POW's participated in the filming process, keeping it, for the most part, very authentic. As for the emphasis on Americans, it's true they were not among the escapees per se, but several did assist in the effort before they were transferred out, as mentioned by a previous reviewer. However, you must remember that the movie was made for an American audience in 1963, long before international distribution revenue became so important to a studio's bottom line. They needed American stars who would appeal to an American audience. Who knows, perhaps if they were to remake it today, the cast would be all British and German, but I doubt it (see "Hart's War" where not only the plot, but all the British and Canadian characters that were in the book, disappeared).

All in all, "The Great Escape" is an entertaining movie telling a fascinating story of what ordinary men can achieve in adverse circumstances. It's well worth the time.
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warrior_sarah11 January 2004
This is a great movie which much more historically accurate than it is often given credit for. So many who say otherwise are ill-informed and obviously don't know much about the actual history of that actual escape. The depiction of what happened to the recaptured prisoners in the movie of THE GREAT ESCAPE is reasonably accurate as detailed on the historyinfilm site...specifically on the "Reprisal" page; along with being detailed in the various published accounts.

Hitler ultimately calmed down after being reasoned with by Goering, Feldmarschall Keitel, Maj-Gen Graevenitz and Maj-Gen Westhoff, and dictated that more than half the prisoners be shot and cremated. So, as depicted in the film, several of those recaptured were not executed and were indeed returned to confinement. In fact, even those executed were not "shot on the spot" for the most part, but were actually executed later after being turned over to the Gestapo; most being shot while being allowed to relieve themselves, under the guise of "trying to escape".

Furthermore, there are many accounts as to how much more humane the environment was within the camp (which even had a popular and very successful theatre, featuring prisoners who would later be name performers) than many other POW camps...and certainly nothing like the harsh conditions associated with the Concentration or Extermination camps.

To quote one source:

"It must be made clear that the German Luftwaffe [the German Air Force], who were responsible for Air Force prisoners of war, maintained a degree of professional respect for fellow flyers, and the general attitude of the camp security officers and guards should not be confused with the SS or Gestapo. The Luftwaffe treated the POWs well, despite an erratic and inconsistent supply of food.

Prisoners were handled quite fairly within the Geneva Convention, and the Kommandant, Oberst (Colonel) Friedrich-Wilhelm von Lindeiner-Wildau, was a professional and honourable soldier who won the respect of the senior prisoners."

Finally, virtually all the major engineering aspects in regards to the tunnels and the initial escape in the film are as they were actually acheived in the real escape.

It would behoove some to learn a little more actual history or do a little simple research before shooting from the hip with supposed "knowledge" of reality. THE GREAT ESCAPE certainly takes liberties in tone and character portrayal, but not in the key elements that are disparaged out of sneering ignorance.

BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI is also a great film, but took even greater liberties with the technical details of the events described than THE GREAT ESCAPE did....and offering up VON RYAN'S EXPRESS as a more realistic alternative is simply delusional and ridiculous.
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Great Escape,Great movie
bas-2125 December 2005
This must be my favorite movie of all times. Having seen it for the first time,in I guess 1987,a BBC Christmas broadcast,I was captivated by this brilliant piece of work. In the years after,I probably have seen it a "million" times,owning it on VHS and DVD,and still watching,whenever it is broadcast,in the original language. Why is it so great? This is a movie that keeps you locked to the screen,because it has everything a great movie should have. A great story,a good length,tension,it is a WW2 movie and the actors give top performances.Not just Steve McQueen,although his performance is brilliant,but also James Garner,James Coburn,Richard Attenborough,Charles Bronson and in this film,one of the greatest roles Donald Pleasance,playing the forger. It isn't historically accurate,please read the book by Paul Brickhill,but that doesn't matter a bit. This film gives you an image of POW camp,the prisoners and their guards,the Germans are also played brilliantly by German actors. I will not repeat the story here,but I can tell you,this film will capture you,all the characters are portrayed brilliantly by the actors. There is excitement,humor,tension,drama and emotion. See it,you will not regret it.
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A genuine timeless classic.
KEVMC28 December 2003
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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A vast, multi-star war epic with great score by Elmer Bernstein...
Nazi_Fighter_David18 July 2001
Warning: Spoilers
'The Great Escape' had the advantage of a fine source, and a fine script... Each actor realizes his potential in a very detailed manner, giving a feeling lost in the actual cinema...

Sturges is careful with the pace in the first half, allowing the escape plans develop slowly... Humor, excitement and human drama are wonderfully blended, and smartly underscored by Elmer Bernstein's memorable background music...

The film opens with several truckloads of Allied officers, mostly pilots, being transferred to a new German maximum-security prison camp at Sagan...

The Camp 'Kommandant', Von Luger (Hannes Messemer), tells Captain Ramsey (James Donald), 'We have, in effect, put all our rotten eggs in one basket, and we intend to watch this basket carefully.'

But since all the British and American officers in his charge are men who have made several attempts to escape from other prison camps, Von Luger knows his words are meaningless...

The master planner is 'Big X,' Roger Bartlett (Richard Attenborough), who has just endured three months of Gestapo/SS torture, and plans to strike back, getting as many men as possible out of the camp, in order to 'harass, confuse and confound the enemy' behind the lines...

He announces a terrific plan for a mass break-out of 250 men and schemes three simultaneous tunnels Tom, Dick, and Harry...

The plan, so precise, proceeds in an orderly fashion, with a great deal of attention placed on caution and ruse to deflect German attentions... The captives involve themselves in much surface activity, which masks the underground work...

Hilts (Steve McQuenn), the 'Cooler King,' leads the Germans on a memorable motorcycle chase through back roads and across the fields right up to the Swiss frontier...

Hendley (James Garner), the 'Scrounger' is a charming thief whose particular gift is the misappropriation of all the required supplies for an escape...

Blythe (Donald Pleasance) has the talents of a 'Forger', and makes visas and passports... He suggests in one scene: ' Tea without milk is so uncivilized.'

Danny Velinski (Charles Bronson) is the experienced Polish-American 'Tunnel-King.'

Louis Sedgwick (James Coburn) is the 'Manufacturer' of bellows-operated ventilation...

Ashley-Pitt (David McCallum) is the 'Dispersal' with his ingenious methods of getting rid of the dirt generated by the tunneling activities...

Andy McDonald (Gordon Jackson ) is 'Intelligence,' the officer who develops a fantastic security system to protect the compounds from the German "Ferrets."

Archibald Ives (Angus Lennie) is the 'Mole,' whose fragile mind has been taxed by several years in the camps, repeated failed escape attempts, and time in the cooler...

Dennis Cavendish (Nigel Stock) is the 'Surveyor' who miscalculates the distance to the trees...

Guard Werner (Robert Graf) is the 'Ferret' who affirms to Hendley: 'I could tell you stories about my teeth that would make your hair stand on end.'

'The Great Escape' is a pretty good motion picture where the toll of freedom is precious, and the movie's ending provokes deep and serious meditation... It graphically shows what enterprising men can accomplish under the most unusual circumstances... It has a great cast, and is beautifully made...
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"We Intend To Watch This Basket Very Closely."
bkoganbing17 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The Great Escape tells the amazing story of a whole bunch of allied prisoners who accomplish a mass breakout during World War II, some of whom actually did make it to freedom and the allied armed forces once again. The film is so good that you do not mind the fact that some American players were tossed into the story as the real story was one accomplished by the British.

To insure that the American movie public would be buying tickets, several American players got into The Great Escape. Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and a pair of American TV cowboys just breaking into big screen star status, James Garner and Steve McQueen were put in the film. Director John Sturges had worked with McQueen, Coburn, and Bronson in his last film The Magnificent Seven. Sturges does a grand job in never letting his audiences attention flag for one minute in this almost three hour length film.

What the Nazis have done in this film is to build a brand new prison camp and have put all the perennial escape artists in this one. Of course by doing so a whole lot of talented escape artists in one place.

And the organized effort is led by Richard Attenborough. Without going overboard into a whole lot of flag waving, Sturges and Attenborough give us the portrayal of a deeply patriotic man who if he can't back into the fight himself, is going to do what he can from a POW camp to bedevil the people making war on his country. He leads the mass escape attempt with an almost corporate efficiency.

The opposite of course is Steve McQueen. I've always thought of Captain Virgil Hills as the ultimate Steve McQueen role of individualism. He and flight officer Angus Lennie are going to get out, no matter what, on their own or with the group. Angus Lennie is the former jockey now RAF flight officer and his death amidst a Fourth of July party that McQueen, Garner, and Jud Taylor have is one of the most moving scenes ever put on film. McQueen decides to play for the team after that.

The Great Escape allowed McQueen to indulge in one of his hobbies of motorcycling. His race through the German country side on a stolen Nazi uniform and motorcycle is a spectacular one, aided and abetted by Elmer Bernstein's magnificent film score.

James Garner bonds with Donald Pleasance in the film. Garner is an American in the RAF Eagle Squadron, Americans who couldn't wait for their own country to get into the war who enlisted in the RAF. A lot of Garner's TV character of Bret Maverick is in his role as Hendley the scrounger/con artist.

Pleasance is his room mate, the shy bird watcher who does the work of forging documents for the escaping prisoners. He's going blind as it turns out, my guess would be from untreated glaucoma. It's nice to see Donald Pleasance for once as a nice guy on the screen. His death due in part to his incipient blindness is also a moving one.

Charles Bronson is also another foreign volunteer for the RAF, from Poland as befitting Bronson who is of Polish origin. He's the tunnel digger who suffers from claustrophobia and his scenes are primarily with British teen idol John Leyton. This was another of a long series of great character roles for Bronson on his way to stardom.

James Coburn shows that like Robert Mitchum, he too had a good ear for accents. His Aussie speech pattern is as good as Mitchum's was in The Sundowners.

The Germans here are also portrayed three dimensionally. Robert Graf is the not too bright corporal who isn't exactly happy to be at war, but is grateful he ain't serving in Russia. He gets unmercifully conned by Garner. Hannes Messemer is the commandant of the POW camp, an officer in the Luftwaffe. The prisoners are nearly all RAF officers and enlisted men and the Luftwaffe is in charge of the camp. Messemer is as fearful of the S.S. and the Gestapo as his prisoners are. He's also as very conscious of the atrocities those worthy organizations are capable of and my favorite scene in the film is him having to tell of one to the Senior British officer in the camp, James Donald. Messemer is conscious also of his failure to watch the basket of rotten eggs put in his charge very closely.

The Great Escape does the one essential thing for a movie to do, it moves. Even in just the scenes of planning and preparation you are aware of movement. I mentioned Elmer Bernstein's film score. It's one of Bernstein's best, maybe one of the best known of any film in cinema history.

The Great Escape is one of those films you can watch dozens of times and never tire of. It's a wonderful film, a real tribute to the best in mankind under some of the worst circumstances.
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Absolutely Awesome!!!
aquaman-728 September 2004
The Great Escape is a classic war movie with plenty happening in it. It just so happens that it is my all time favourite having seen it 60 times since it first was released. Steve McQueen , as Hilts, was the driving force behind this movie. He seemed to tie everything together between the American and British prisoners especially in the scene where they were celebrating the 4th of July with the drums and good ole fashioned American moonshine. The Great Escape contains one of the most famous movie scenes of all times when McQueen has half of the German army chasing after him while riding his motorcycle trying to jump the barb wire fence to get to Switzerland. All in all, The Great Escape had a cast of actors that was so strong that it was a wonder they got this movie made in the first place with all of the egos involved. James Garner, Charles Bronson, Angus Lennie, James Coburn, etc.were absolutely awesome.
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Outstanding Entertainment
tdemos11 February 2004
Credit should be given to the brilliant score by Elmer Bernstein. If you listen to it closely, it literally is a battle between the Allied Prisoners (flutes & woodwinds) and the Germans (tubas). The escape scenes with the little boat on the scenic german river is evocative of Wagner and his heroic Germanic Operas. The scenery of the German countryside and the Alps is breathtaking. I believe that the scriptwriters emphasized the heroism, humor, and character of the prisoners to make an uplifting statement of what is essentially a cruel and tragic story. As a child growing up in the seventies, our 7th grade glass was reading the Paul Brickhill book and we had the opportunity to meet a former (American) Stalag Luft III prisoner from that era. He had arrived at the camp after the Great Escape, but was placed on the monument detail for the 50 executed men. He said that few men seriously contemplated escape after this incident and the emphasis was on surviving the war and going home alive.
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The greatest of escapes.
Peach-215 December 1998
The Great Escape is THE prison escape movie. The film is rich with characters and the direction by John Sturges is great. Steve McQueen is the man and the rest of the cast are terrific. This movie is heroic and shows the bravery of men in the second world war. I escape into this movie whenever I feel really down, it's a great spirit lifter and one of the greatest films of all time.
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Not just great, simply magnificent more like!
Spikeopath4 March 2008
"Wait a minute, you aren't seriously suggesting that if I get thru the wire and case everything out there, and don't get picked up, to turn myself in and get thrown in the cooler for a couple of months so you can get the information you need"

Smart, witty and directed with adroit hands by John Sturges, The Great Escape is standing the test of time as a joyous multi cast family favourite. Based on the real accounts of allied soldiers escaping en mass from a German POW camp back in 1942, the film is involving from start to finish, due in the main to the wonderful array of characters on show. We follow them from the moment they arrive at the camp right thru to the stunning climax, and it is with great joy I say that none of the cast lets the side down, they all do great work for the astute and undervalued Sturges. A number of great set pieces allied with Elmer Bernstein's fabulous score never lets the blood settle, and in amongst the cute slices of humour is palpable tension to make this simply one of the best films of it's type, in fact one of the best films ever.

Sturges and his writers, James Clavell & W.R. Burnett, adapt from the book written by Paul Brickhill, someone who speaks from experience having been one of the prisoners of super POW camp Stalag Luft III, which of course is what The Great Escape is born from. Sturges was fascinated by the story and after trying without fail for over a decade to get it onto the screen, he finally succeeded. The success three years earlier of his star ensemble Western, The Magnificent Seven, enabled Sturges to realise his vision, the result of which is still enthralling new generations with each passing year.

The cast is made up of notable thespians and iconic heroes. Steve McQueen (enticing the American audience in one feels), Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Donald, Donald Pleasance, James Coburn, James Garner, David McCallum, John Leyton and Gordon Jackson. Which of course is a pretty tidy roll call, but it shouldn't be understated the input of Hannes Messemer as the Camp Commandant, Colonel Von Luger. His scenes have a humanistic quality that shows a softer side of Germany to the one ruled by a certain despot (the finale here offering up the counter opposite of the war), the writers smartly, and rightly, not tarring a nation with the same old brush.

A wonderful involving movie that puts characteristic heart in bed with its action and suspense laden plot. 10/10
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A Great Escape
joel cohen27 June 2001
I saw this movie for the first time as a nine year old boy on a big screen in the Bronx. I'm now in my 40's. I have seen it many times since but not on the big screen. It was meant for the big screen! It's on my top five list along with The Sand Pebbles. It's a great movie about hope and freedom and man's responsibility to his fellow man. These men are all near saints; James Garner insisting on Donald Plesence making the escape, Charles Bronson fighting his claustrophobia. Steve McQueen is the star among the stars, not merely because of his motorcycle skills but for his attempt to save a life and for bringing the game of "off the wall" to the masses. :-)
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Steve McQueen plays Steve McQueen.
eaglejet9822 May 2002
Warning: Spoilers
There are only two things wrong with The Great Escape:

(1) There was no sequel.

(2) I have never figured out how to get my A-2 flight jacket to look as beat up as the one worn by Virgil Hilts.

McQueen personifies the American Air Force officer in WW2. He is a strong individualist, put off by Mickey Mouse discipline but has put up with it in order to fly. Yet when faced with a political and moral challenge- escaping from a POW camp, or harassing the enemy, both to maintain his dignity and continue the fight, he shows an inner discipline and strong team player mentality.

McQueen's own military experience shows though here and gives real depth and credibility to his character (despite his arrogance, Hilts addresses the German Commandant by ending each response with "Ya Voll, Herr Oberst" [Yes sir, My colonel]. As he passes the Senior British Officer [SBO] in the last scene, he nods and acknowledges his superior officer with a simple "...sir"). These are traits of an experienced soldier, not an actor reading lines. McQueen plays his role this way throughout the movie.

Like every other McQueen fan, I keep watching the film again and again, because I know if I do he will eventually jump the motorcycle over the barbed wire fence and head off to freedom.

(Note: The character Hilts was based upon was an OSS agent named Sage. Sage eventually did escape from another POW camp later in the war, so even though the bike jump wasn't successful, Hilts was. Somewhat of a consolation).

A beautiful Elmer Bernstein sound track is hauntingly choreographed with stunning German Bavarian scenery. John Sturges has assembled his cast of "usual suspects": McQueen, Coburn & Bronson from previous war and western flicks. Sir Richard Attenborough is superb as "Big X" the escape committee mastermind, and James Garner plays James Garner plays James Garner...as (Bret Maverick) the perennial wise cracking thief and scrounger.

Even after nearly 40 years, I still love watching the intro credits roll and the music start...Once the POWs jump down from the trucks I'm absorbed into the plot all over again.
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What a movie! 10/10
The_Wood16 March 2002
The Great Escape should be a movie every one has seen. It's the definitive P.O.W. movie -- and all other films in the genre fail to compare. It should be noted that this isn't just a Steve McQueen movie (although he is bound to be everyone's favorite character), but this is an ensemble piece with great performances by Richard Attenborough, James Garner, James Coburn, Donald Pleasence, and Charles Bronson. Wonderful build-up, great middle, and a terrific ending. This film is classic.

One of the best scores of all time.
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Quick Reviews!!
malkane31616 November 2004
Warning: Spoilers

Exciting, funny, tragic, with a massive cast who all perform brilliantly, providing many memorable moments, The Great Escape as everyone knows tells the story of the attempted escape of allied troops from German imprisonment. The characters are all well drawn, both Allies and Nazis, and each has a distinct personality, though McQueen's stands out. Even though only a few escape this is still a story of hope to rival The Shawshank Redemption. Memorable scenes are obvious: Steve's biking, Pleasance's tragic end, the celebrations which end in death, the 'get out and stretch your legs' scene, and the train station scene. With beautiful cinematography and a rousing score, this is a favourite for many people-it's shown here every Christmas. Interesting in that this is one of the few films i can think of which has no female character of note. 9 out of 10
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McQueen's breakout: Cooler King becomes King of Cool
Oct2 June 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Sometimes a big, cynical package entertainment off the generic production line transcends its origins and goes into orbit, as it were, growing ever larger in memory. "Casablanca" was the classic example; "The Poseidon Adventure" and "The Towering Inferno" are more recent ones. For Brits, "The Great Escape" has this status: even as I write, soccer fans at the World Cup are beating out Elmer Bernstein's brisk march theme while England labours to a draw.

Not a great hit when released, "The Great Escape" clicked through repeated TV showings. It goes on clicking, like "Casablanca" or "Gone with the Wind"- because it embodies truth to the spirit of its own times as well as to what was 20 years in the past when it was filmed. As several reviewers have said, it doesn't wear out, and this is why.

By 1963 audiences were becoming bored with endless relivings of heroic World War Two exploits: adolescent moviegoers were too young to remember it and were tired of seeing their dads' doings, which made their own lives feel smaller and duller. But "The Great Escape" depicted a failed breakout from an inglorious captivity; less sharp than Wilder's "Stalag 17", it nonetheless managed to combine the expected set pieces of tension and derring-do with an incipient Swinging Sixties individualism. These guys are collaborating to dig their way out, but then they're on their own for the home run. Few make it.

Nobody incarnated the new spirit more than Hilts the Cooler King, played by Steve McQueen. The film made him a solo star name above the title: he stands out amid an ensemble as he didn't, quite, in Sturges's "Magnificent Seven". McQueen's persona was set by ex-POW James Clavell's dialogue. He's not the boring, by-the-numbers rebel designed by hacks to make an authority figure such as a cop more palatable to a rebellious teen audience. He's an instinctive, can't-help-it individualist.

McQueen is not gratuitously insubordinate towards his own superiors in the camp. Neither does he set out to provoke the Germans, who aren't hateful. Hilts can't help wanting to be beyond the barbed wire, and that makes his brand of rebelliousness less neurotic, more sympathetic to adult viewers than a crybaby, James Deanish sort would be. McQueen, then and later (eg in "The Towering Inferno") has the authority of the man who does not define his values solely by reaction against the consensus. As such, in "The Great Escape" he personifies democracy pitted against dictatorship in total war. He's voluntarily under orders for the duration, but he fights to be free again, and for ever: free to leap the wire and leave all confinement behind, far and fast. Meantime, he's self-contained, happy to play baseball against a blank wall, in no danger of going mad for want of company like a dictator's slave.

McQueen's American cool counterpoints the laid-back qualities of the British. Donald, Attenborough and Pleasence are all quietly magnetic, assured presences. No scenery chewers wanted- this is war, too serious for show-offs. Lennie, the man driven mad, disposes of himself.

The Anglo-American collaboration in this production is among the smoothest ever. The British movie business was turning into Hollywood, England; here was a story where no fancy plot tricks were needed to bring Limeys and Yanks together, and the Yanks were the kind we admired most: those who hadn't waited till Pearl Harbor but hastened to the anti-Nazi colours as freelances. Another reason to admire McQueen's maverick stance, and James Garner's quirkier version of it. At the same time, the overall patina is recognisably British stiff-upper-lip, like "Albert RN" or "The Colditz Story". There is little psychologising and no silly love interest; these chaps have a task to perform and they get on with it. Sturges was an admirer of the British martial spirit like his fellow he-man, Hemingway. It shows.

The script conflates incidents from several WW2 situations: a literal account of the March 1944 breakout at Sagan masterminded by Roger Bushell/Bartlett would have courted libel actions. Posters who criticise the portrayal of the camp have got it wrong. The men were in a Stalag, an officers' camp run by the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe, not the SS. They were under the Geneva Convention, inspected by the Red Cross. Prisoners were treated with the courtesy due to involuntary guests, though on their honour not to attempt escape as their duty to their own countries required. Even at Colditz, the castle where incorrigible fugitives were immured, the amenities of commissioned rank were respected.

Many camp administrators were career soldiers who despised the Nazis; others had been transferred after being wounded in action, and had a fellow-feeling for enemies who had been captured. Inmates were encouraged to follow hobbies to take the itch out of their feet. The spirit was akin to that of von Stroheim's World War One schloss in "La Grande Illusion".

The scene where a "Hitler greeting" has to be dragged out of Luger is true to life: many senior Wehrmacht officers forbade their subordinates to "heil" in the mess. The massacre after recapture was perpetrated not by soldiers but by the Gestapo at Hitler's command, over protests from Goering and Keitel. The phrase "shot while trying to escape" became common currency as a euphemism for murder.
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Heroes underground.
Anonymous_Maxine24 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I imagine it was the lengthy running time that kept me for so many years from seeing The Great Escape, although that doesn't explain why I haven't seen hordes of other movies. But I've been going back and watching all the old classics and The Great Escape is one of the best ones I've seen so far. The movie is not only wildly entertaining throughout it's nearly three hour duration, but shows some actors who went on to become famous for other roles in decades and generations to come. Granted, I am speaking from the perspective of a different generation of moviegoers, which is why I know Charles Bronson more from Death Wish than this film, or James Coburn from films like Payback and Affliction, Donald Pleasance as Dr. Sam Loomis and Richard Attenborough as John Hammond from the Jurassic Park films.

I think the thing I loved the most about the movie was how open everyone was about their plans to escape. Not that they tried to escape out in the open, but they made no effort to hide the fact that they were analyzing their surroundings, trying to find a way to get out. As we soon learn, it is their sworn duty as captured officers to consistently try to escape and, failing that, to make life as confusing and frustrating as humanly possible for their captors.

The story involves a lot of British officers being held captive by the Germans, at a prison where all of the most consistent escapers have been compiled for special supervision. When the prisoners arrive at the beginning of the movie, many of them, including Virgil Hilts (Steve McQueen) walk into the gates and then immediately walk to the fences around the outsides of the compound, looking up and down the length of the fences, studying where the guard towers are, looking in broad daylight for ways to escape.

What follows is a brilliant competition between the proud British officers being held captive and the Germans guarding them, as the British make every attempt to escape and receive minimal punishment when they're caught. 20 days in the cooler for a failed escape attempt (doubled from only 10 for mouthing off) is pretty light compared to what I would have expected POWs to have suffered at the hands of the Nazis in World War II.

Because the escapes are only hidden during their preparations, there are portions of The Great Escape that play almost like a sports movie more than a war film, because of the atmosphere of competition and, among other things, there is so much comic relief, One of my favorite scenes is the one where they first begin digging under the floor in their bunker. Danny Velinski (Bronson) is under the floor digging away when the Germans march in for a surprise inspection, and he jumps out, they put the cover back on the hole and smear clay around it and then pour water into it, one guy starts mopping the floor, everyone else goes back to playing cards or milling about, and Velinski hops in the shower, and the suspicious officers come in and demand to know what they're each doing. The guy mopping explains that he's mopping, Velinski says he needed a wash, and Louis Sedgwick (Coburn), says about Velinski, "I'm watching him. I'm a lifeguard!"

It's also a great scene when Hilts (McQueen) tells Bartlett (Attenborough) and the other officer his plan for escape. Steve McQueen is the star of the movie but spends most of it pretty much out of the loop. He was in the cooler when the plans for the great escape were first hatched, so when he finally got out most of the camp was involved in planning this epic breakout, and Hilts comes up to Bartlett and one other officer and gleefully tells them about his and Ives' nutty plan to burrow three feet down and dig straight out, sticking metal tubes through the ground to the surface so they can breathe. Bartlett and the other officer leave both of them out of the plans for the time being, for reasons that are explained later in the film.

The movie is expertly written, with outstanding dialogue and even better performances and direction that I like to think is still inspiring filmmakers throughout the world. I learned from another reviewer on the IMDb that the music is almost competing within itself, with different instruments representing the British and the Germans, so I was watching for it when I watched the movie. Not only is the different music representative of the two opposing sides, but it does it within scenes and even within individual shots. Consider, for example, the scene where Hilts and Ives are first brought into the cooler. The music is almost reacting to what is going on on screen, like it's trying to describe where each character is within the frame. That is true film-making brilliance.

The movie ends with a massive setback, a tremendous downturn in tone, but does so without turning into a tragedy or overshadowing everything else that has gone on before that and, most importantly, while remaining true to the real life story. It displays the pride and determination of British military as well as was done in The Bridge on the River Kwai, and that is a major accomplishment.

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Great Movie
toonnnnn30 December 2003
This film does take a few libertys with facts, there were no Americans involved in the escape, though some helped plan it, and where transferred to another camp at the last moment.This film though is about heroes and the spirit of freedom.T he film belongs to McQueen who is just fantastic to watch the camera loved him and I believe one day he will jump that fence.The rest of the cast are particurlarly good, the scene where the forger is told he can't escape is moving especially when James Garner volunteers to look after him.The James Garner character is roll model for me I always try to scrounge things.Simply watch and enjoy a truly great movie you will laugh and then feel down. I give this movie 8/10
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We Choose the Cooler
tedg23 February 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

Films are like people in the respect that some are leaders but most followers. That's because most movies are not about life, but about previous movies. This film established not only a genre (I chose to resee it after `Chicken Run') but played a role in inventing a society. I'm of the belief that culture invents some art that in turn reinvents the culture. More about that in a minute.

What's so special about this is that it places the American rebel (with his motorcycle) in mainstream American society. Before, the beatnik or `bohemian' was unamerican, nonmainstream. This film invents memories of the war for the generation after the war -- it takes an essentially British story and uses it as background to establish a new vision of the American rebel. This rebel is centrally American, heroic even. Independent of sex.

There are four forces in this film. The evil Gestapo (with the majority of Germans, but the film glosses that); the two forces of the British and German Air Force stuck in a duel of gallantry from a prior generation; and then the McQueen force. All at once, we have the cockiness and independence of Brando and Dean transformed into a patriotic center, into something directed, seemingly casually, against intrinsic evil.

I saw an advance screening of this in most peculiar circumstances. I was a cadet in a midwestern military academy whose commandant was the senior American officer at the POW camp during the planning of the escape. (Americans were moved shortly before, and the reason is an interesting story in itself.) We 850 mostly sons of republicans mostly hawks, all white were given a vision of necessary disturbance, of a strange patriot that we couldn't internalize. Only a couple months later JFK was murdered. The Cooler King was one key image we used with our brethren nationwide to reinvent ourselves. Check it out. This contributed to a national identity that actually lived for a while. Never plan to win, just make your own statement.

Attenborough knows something about manipulating the British image for American consumption. His `Ghandi' is a masterpiece of posture. Talent. Sturges' camera is quiet, still, non-modern, so that you lose awareness that this is a film. This stance is dated -- wouldn't work today, and makes things feel as of a different era. Attenborough's camera sweeps (see his short episode -- the Indian sequence -- in `Close Encounters.') Attenborough's acting style here (indeed his role too) mirrors that. It is a fulcrum of everything, a subliminal sweep under Sturges' stillness.

Check out the score by Bernstein. If you take out just a little of the march tempo, you have Williams' copy for Indiana Jones. Indy echoed the tone for a by that time narcissistic notion of rebellion: mystical forces of evil accommodated by selfish acquisition and pathetic self-deprecation -- the Reagan American. Williams intended to quote Bernstein to make this point, I think.

If you haven't seen it yet, look for the Cooler guard. His hesitation at the end is priceless, indicating that every soul is malleable. It is why the film wasn't made for eight years, bombed when it came out, but is now in the IMDB top 100.
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Of action and tragedy
angilbas17 April 2000
"The Great Escape" is a rousing blend of suspense, action and ultimately tragedy, bolstered by an all-star cast, terrific music and beautiful European locations. A few fellow reviewers have cited the unbelievably "pristine" prison conditions, but the German authorities did try to uphold the Geneva Convention for Western Allied POWs. The characters in this film left their well-run 'stalag' anyway, and many paid the ultimate price. While entertaining its viewers, "The Great Escape" effectively depicted the tragic consequences.

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The Great Escape lacks emotion and intensity
LaowaiGuy13 October 2010
The Great Escape is the type of movie where people from different generations will have wide variation of opinions. People from the so-called "greatest generation" who lived through WWII and may have served in the "war to end all wars" like my grandfather, will probably enjoy this movie. It's good vs. evil in a world where that seemed so evident in life. Allied vs. Axis and the Nazis vs. freedom. This group of airmen will doing anything to escape the clutches of the evil Nazis who are holding them captive.

However, the major problem with the movie is that the Nazis don't seem so evil, cruel or stern. There is lack of fear or even concern for the characters because this group of Nazis are well…nice and well-mannered to a fault. You feel like it is a game to everyone involved. The airmen try to escape and they are playfully sent away to the "cooler" with a smile and mild scolding. The next attempts result in the same punishment this time without the smile. Nobody is threatened with a firing squad or sent away to hard labor. The Nazis seem to encourage escape attempts.

Having seen recent movies like Schindler's List, Max Manus and Sophie Scholl; the Nazis in these movies aren't so forgiving of war-time transgressions. It just rings false in this movie especially for someone in my generation (genX) or younger. This leads to a lack of intensity or involvement in the movie when you know the characters face little to no consequences for their actions.

It doesn't completely ruin the movie because the final third of the movie has some real reasons to finally become involved in the characters because bullets actually start to fly and some characters actually have to fight the enemy. Still the action is stilted and hollow because of the lack of film making expertise and technology, so you don't feel the emotion that you should based on the fatal incidents.

The Great Escape has some fun moments with good actors like a young Steve McQueen, James Garner and a less grizzled, almost gentle Charles Bronson. It was enjoyable to see them before they became really famous movie stars. However, this movie doesn't deserve the universal praise that it received from film critics and viewers. If you want to see Steve McQueen in a motorcycle chase this movie is for you. If you want to see an intense prison break during WWII—don't bother with this movie.
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Aptly Titled
Mike-76424 January 2001
Warning: Spoilers
The Germans open their new POW camp and send the invites to every British and American escape artist out there. So while waiting for their garden to reap a harvest, they all decide to tunnel out of the place. The tunnel is discovered, but they still have two other ones they're working on so they continue on, even though there are the problems of the forger losing his sight, and one of the tunnel diggers being claustrophobic. They dig out but find themselves 30 feet short of the forest they were going to escape into and the Germans pick up their trail. 3 POW's make it out, 23 are captured and returned to the camp and the remaining 50 are executed. Based on a true story ( with some factual errors, and influenced by Jean Renoir's 1937 film, Grand Illusion ), this film moves very quickly with an adventureous pace and well acted roles, particularly Steve McQueen as the American motorcycling hotshot, Richard Attenbourough as the escape team head, and James Garner as the scrounger. Rating 10 out of 10.
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Film Has Slowed With Age, But Still Merits Praise
ccthemovieman-117 June 2006
Although I still like this film - and proudly own it on disc - I have to admit it was a disappointment seeing it after a long period of time had elapsed between viewings. When I saw this in the theater in 1963, I thought it was spectacular. Later, when it came out on VHS, I thought thought it was good but the longer the years go by, the slower this film gets and it doesn't have the hold on me it once did. Part of that is that movies are faster- moving nowadays.

It just takes too long (two hours!) before the "great escape" finally takes place! I loved the last 50 minutes. That, still, was fascinating as much as it ever was, even though it's never been a happy one. It's still good stuff.

The first two hours of this 172-minute movie turn out to be more of characterizations that anything else, although it details what went into making the escape from this German prison camp possible. Some of that is interesting, such as Chales Bronson's claustrophobia and Donald Pleasance's eyesight deterioration, etc.

With stars like Steve McQueen, James Garner, James Coburn, Richard Attenborough, Bronson, Pleasance and James Donald you will get some characters you'll remember for a long time: especially, I found, McQueen's and Bronson's.

Now that it is out on a special two-disc DVD which gives it a decent picture (there was an earlier DVD that wasn't much better than the VHS) and some features, it should climb back up the ladder on my rating of it. Regardless, this will always be considered on the best of the World War II movies.
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What a great movie
hippiegal29 October 2001
Warning: Spoilers
I checked this out from the library video stacks. It had Steve McQueen in it, so I figured what the heck? To my surprise this is a great movie. What a cast! Richard Attenborough, Donald Pleasence, Steve McQueen,James Coburn,James Garner, Charles Brosan and David Mccallum. Most of these guys before they got famous as well. One could spent hours creating spy and western connections between the cast. The movie builds up suspense well. You really want them to escape from that camp. Unlike most war movies, this movie actually injects some humor into it.(the moonshine scene a good example)The European scenery is beautiful. It's quite heart wrenching with the escapees get killed or sent back to camp. I'm really glad Hollywood didn't sugar coat it with a happy ending. It would have destroyed the drama. But there's two things that bother me about this movie.

1. James Coburn's aussie accent. Auuggghhhh!

2. They make the POW camp seem almost like summer camp.They even study birds for pete's sake. At girl scout camp we had cabins that looked almost identical to the ones in the film. In fact some of the camps I went to looked amazingly like the POW camp in this movie. Hmmmmm I wonder. Anyway they make it seem like a POW camp isn't really that horrible a place to be.

Overall a few flaws, but a movie that is deserving of 'classic' status.
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Great movie!
garp1525 November 2002
This movie could easily make my top 15 of all time. From what I have read, it was QUITE realistic. Several of the British officers that were actually there went to the site in Germany when it was filmed. When something was wrong, they spoke up and got it fixed. (This has been on the History Channel several times.) There were almost no Americans, if any, at the time of escape. They had been moved to another camp only a couple of weeks prior to the escape. Many of the prime characters were based on actual people, most notably Attenborough. I also read the book (about 30 years ago) in high school pm which the movie was based. They had photos the Germans took of the tunnels. The movie was incredibly accurate. The tracks, the air pumps, lights, etc. It isn't the movie that was amazing, it was what the prisoners did. As far as how the prisoners were treated, for the most part, relatively well. The death rate in a German POW camp was about 1-2%. In a Japanese prison camp, about 35% of the Allied prisoners died, due to murder, torture, disease, starvation, etc. The Luftwaffe, headed by Fatso Goering, guarded Allied airman because Goering had a weird sense of camaraderie with fellow flyers. The Gestapo or SS are the ones who shot the 50 prisoners. These war criminals were later faced war crimes trials. This is one hell of a movie. But find the book yourself.
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Awesome warlike movie with memorable images and outstanding acting by well-known faces
ma-cortes1 November 2010
This is a splendid film about a daring breakout from inescapable Nazi concentration camp , Stalag Luft North , with all star cast and magnificently realized by John Sturges . It's partially based on facts adapted by James Clavell and W.R. Burnett from a bestselling written by Paul Brickhill . The continuous escapes have caused the Nazi staff ordered 'putting all the rotten eggs in one basket' as the prisoners are reunited into a special concentration camp . It deals with hard preparatives of a diverse group formed by rebel air officers and soldiers mounting a dangerous getaway from a barbed-wired and strongly controlled camp . The most part of the film concerns on the elaborated process of secretly digging an underground tunnel and the last one deals with spectacular breakout and effort the approx. 70 escaped prisoners throughout Germany trying to make their bid to freedom , including an impressive motorcycle pursuit in charge of iconic Steve McQueen for one of the best action sequences in years .

This exciting story contains thrills, intrigue, tension, excitement galore, entertainment and lots of fun . Suspenseful WWII epic packs exceptional plethora of prestigious actors incarnating the motley group of POWs , giving good acting and support , as a sensational Steve McQueen whose character , ¨The Cooler King¨ , remains today as attractive iconography ; Charles Bronson as digging expert but suffering claustrophobia ; Donald Pleasance as professional on forge documents but blind , James Coburn as roguish Australian and of course Richard Attenborough as Air Force Squadron leader who plans the massive breakout , furthermore , James Garner as American officer , the British Gordon Jackson and David McCallum, among others . Colorful, atmospheric cinematography shot in Bavaria,Germany, by Daniel Fapp and perfectly remastered . Excellent production design and art direction with evocative sets by Fernando Carrere. Rousing and lively soundtrack , nowadays a classic score, by Elmer Bernstein . This blockbuster is followed by inferior TV sequel with Christopher Reeve, Judd Hirsch , Ian McShane and directed Jud Taylor who played to Goff in the original version . The motion picture is magnificently directed By John Sturges , author of various classic Western as ¨Escape from Fort Bravo, Gunfight at the OK Corral, The law and Jake Wade, Magnificent seven¨ and also realized another nice wartime film as ¨ The eagle has landed ¨ . Rating : Two thumbs up , essential and indispensable watching , a real must see.
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