Wednesday, January 22, 2014

406. The Great Escape (1963)

Running Time: 172 minutes
Directed By: John Sturges
Written By: James Clavell, W.R. Burnett, from book by Paul Brickhill
Main Cast: Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, James Garner, James Donald, Charles Bronson
Click here to view the trailer


No, because the greatest escape in the history of cinema goes to "Le Trou", but this one is right up there in the top 5 greatest escape movies ever, with the likes of "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Escape from Alcatraz". This is another one that was originally intended to be saved until the grand finale, but a Netflix wait made me get it here a little sooner.

The film is set in Germany, during World War II and takes place at a POW camp, where many Allied soldiers are being held prisoner. The camp is pretty decked out when it comes to security, complete with barbed wire fencing and armed guards. We jump in just as the camp is getting a big batch of new arrivals, including Captain Virgil Hilts (McQueen), Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett (Attenborough), Lieutenant Robert Hendley (Garner) and Captain Ramsey (Donald). Of course, the main objective to all of the men is to escape, but thanks to that decked out security I spoke of, that's not going to be an easy task. Just ask Hilts, who takes every opportunity to get out and always gets nabbed and thrown in the cooler (solitary confinement). However, it is Bartlett who proposes the "great" scheme of the title, when he announces plans to sneak out upwards of 250 men, by digging three tunnels, nicknamed Tom, Dick and Harry. If the goons (what the prisoners call the guards) happen to spot one, they can pick right up with one of the two remaining, unidentified tunnels. That's basically the long & short of it and I don't want to say anymore and risk spoiling anything.


Did anyone else find it extremely odd that Charles Bronson's character was totally fine with digging the tunnel for the entire duration of the film and then all of a sudden he snaps and becomes an out of the closet claustrophobic? They make up some bullshit excuse, but I don't care because it really makes zero sense. But guess what, this films is so good that it gets a free pass on little nonsensical things like that. I mean, come on, who doesn't love an escape movie, let alone "The Great Escape". What's not to like? Okay, I'll admit that everything past the men actually escaping the camp is a little less entertaining than the escape itself, but it's still really good and it continues the suspense nicely. I'm a sucker for the ins and outs of what it takes to bust out of somewhere. If they ever send me to prison, I think I'll become the new "cooler king", because I'll be fascinated with escaping, but probably fail.

I mean, the cast is great, the plot is outstanding and the excitement & suspense haven't been this present in a BOOK movie in quite sometime. I LITERALLY jumped when the guys were escaping and the air raid horn began to sound. I felt like I was at the other end of Hilts' rope, waiting for my turn to play groundhog, peek my head out and run to freedom. The film clocks in at just under three hours, but it's the easiest three hours you'll ever spend watching a film, I guarantee it. I defy you to find someone who doesn't like this movie, because everything I'm looking at, has everyone singing it's praises. Favorite member of the cast? Either McQueen or Garner, I loved them both. In fact, Garner's character's little back and forth with the guard Vernor was ONE OF my favorite moments in the film, but as THE BOOK points out, almost every scene is a memorable one. Oh and I loved the theme song too!

RATING: 8.5/10  Can't go '10' because I've become an ultra picky son of a bitch, but it's damn good and quibbling over numbers is ridiculous anyway. By the way, I'll be in, probably tomorrow, for a little update post to talk about few things, so keep an eye out for that.


January 22, 2014  5:50pm


  1. This film is one of those that has a weird grip on the national consciousness, well certainly amoungst men.. here in the UK...and for all the wrong reasons. Therefor I feel a little cautious about it.

    As a boy, brought up in the late 50's/early 60's, the story - almost entirely from the book - was hugely influential. A tale of struggle, endevour, courage, inventiveness.. and huge tragedy, myself and all other boys lapped it up We knew every aspect of it and re-read the book again and again. It was an obvious book to turn into a film.
    The purists regard the film with suspicion. it modifies things a bit too much. (There were no Americans involved in the escape - they were in a separate compound, no-one stole an airplane, and certainly no-one tried to jump the border fence on a motorbike).
    All that said, there is no denying it makes a stirring story, It is hard to watch it, for the umpteenth time, and not still, think that.. this time, yes THIS time Steve McQueen will make it. Every time you sit there shouting at the screen to Gordon Jackson "shut up, don't say it" when the guard wishes him "Good luck" in English, and Gordon replies.. in English.

    Certain other bits have passed into semi-mythology.- get into a conversation involving not being able to see something, and someone will say "I can see perfectly, take me with you.. look, I can see that pin".....

    So.. we have here a perfectly reasonable jolly boys own romp, well made, well paced, well acted. Yes, it's a 'bloke film'.. but so what?
    (OK, well maybe for the same reason that a 'chick flick' is a pejorative term)

    So why the caution.. Well perhaps it is the adoption of humming the theme tune, by football fans, to taunt German fans at any England v Germany football match . Maybe it makes you examine the film a bit more closely and realise it appeals - a bit too much- to some less desirable instincts?
    I don't know.. I suspect that yet again (referring back to 'Dirty Harry', I'm reading too much into something.
    I will be interested to see what Amanda says about this. I suspect.. well, I won't say until she says things for herself.

    1. I get what you're saying about willing the characters to change in repeated viewings. This was only my second time seeing the movie, but I could see myself doing that on my third, fourth, fifth time, etc.

      Maybe it's a good thing that I'm such a history idiot, because I couldn't point out the things that were obviously wrong. Although, I was pretty sure on my own that no one rode a motorbike and no one successfully crash landed a plane.

    2. I had heard this film held a unique place in the British psyche, and it's good to hear you're perspective on it, Ray. I've seen it several times myself since it was one of my mom's favorites as I was growing up. Each time it becomes harder to watch knowing how things turn out in the end.

    3. +1 Thanks Ray for your thoughts and to William for adding more.


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