The Great Escape (1963)

the great escape 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tom, Dick and Harry

Based on a true story involving POW’s in an ‘escape proof’ German Prison camp who devise a way to get out by digging three tunnels, which will go under the barbed wire fence and allow them to get out under the cover of a nearby forest. They decide to build three tunnels and call them Tom, Dick and Harry, so if the German guards discover one of the tunnels they can simply continue to work on the other two.

The producers built a complete replica of Stalag Luft III were the actual events took place and used Wally Floody who was a prisoner of the camp and took part in the escape as an advisor. The movie moves at a polished pace grabbing in you immediately and keeping you involved all the way through. The characters share a great camaraderie and it’s a terrific testament to teamwork and how by everybody playing a little role can help make great things happen. Their resolve and ‘can-do’ spirit is infectious and one of the major reasons the film is so compelling. The bouncy, upbeat patriotic music is good although it gets played a lot and most viewers will most likely hear it playing in their head long after it is over.

I did feel that the depiction of the camp seemed a bit too cozy. The men are allowed to freely walk around and congregate in large meetings where they make their plans and it seemed to me that a heavily fortified prison camp wouldn’t allow for that, or at least be more on top of things. I wouldn’t say the German’s are portrayed on a ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ dumb level, but at times it gets close. For instance when the James Garner character lifts the wallet out of the pocket of one of the guards he does not become aware that it is missing for what seems like several days and then when he does he doesn’t suspect the Garner character and instead goes back to him and naively asks for his help in finding it. When the Germans find one of the tunnels there are no reprisals even though I and some of the others in my movie group who watched it with me felt that there should have been. Also, when the Steve McQueen character attacks one of the German guards when they shoot his friend who is trying to escape he is not sent to the cooler even though he had previously been sent there for far less infractions.

On the acting side it is all top-notch. McQueen is as cool as ever. I love his detached manner and rugged willing to take risks personality. His escape by motorcycle, which was added into the story by his request, is exciting and one of the most memorable moments in the film. Charles Bronson is good as one of the characters who are most instrumental at digging the tunnels however I felt that it seemed a bit far-fetched and like tacky Hollywood melodrama that he had spent so much time working inside the tunnels only to suddenly get claustrophobic about them just as they are trying to escape. David McCallum has very few words, but gets gunned down in exciting style at a train station. I normally love James Coburn and his character is appealing, but his attempt at an Australian accent is atrocious.

Spoiler Alert!

Despite its title the film really doesn’t seem like all that great of an escape. For one thing out of the predicted 250 that were supposed to escape through the tunnel only 76 made it out before the Germans caught onto it and closed it off. Of those 76 there are 50 who get caught, rounded up and shot at point blank range. 12 get returned to the camp and only 3 actually make it to safety. When the Steve McQueen character gets sent back to the cooler in the film’s final scene I felt a bit frustrated and depressed and that the big ballyhooed escape had really lead nowhere.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 4, 1963

Runtime: 2Hours 52Minutes

Not Rated

Director: John Sturges

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

6 responses to “The Great Escape (1963)

  1. I was a big fan of this one as well. But I’ll have to go back and look for some of the character inconsistencies you pointed out about the Germans. It makes me wonder if I just took their stupidity for granted? They’re the “bad guys,” and they are supposed to be stupid and unlikable. Good points, fun review. As always…

  2. I’d read many years back that McQueen was unable to perform the fence-bike jump due to some kind of ailment and that a stunt double had pulled it off for him. The most famous scene in the film wasn’t even performed by him. You mention that it was at his request. If what I’d read is accurate, then that really sucks.

    • Actually McQueen did do most of the motorcycle riding himself. Even doubled and did some of the motorcycle riding of the German’s who were chasing him, so in essence he was actually kind of chasing himself. However, the famous fence jump was done by his friend Bud Ekins. Apparently McQueen had attempted it, but was unable to do it, so Ekins agreed to give it a try.

  3. There you go! I met you half way!

    I knew that McQueen did his own stunts and that something fishy was going on there…

  4. Pingback: King Rat (1965) | Scopophilia

  5. Joseph Kearny

    Not much more authentic than Hogan’s Heroes. The POWs are a bit too surly, swaggering and arrogant. The film is too long and lacks real tension.

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