The Great Escape (film)
|The Great Escape|
Original poster by Frank McCarthy
|Directed by||John Sturges|
|Produced by||John Sturges|
|Screenplay by||James Clavell
W. R. Burnett
Walter Newman (uncredited)
|Based on||The Great Escape
by Paul Brickhill
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Cinematography||Daniel L. Fapp|
|Editing by||Ferris Webster|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Running time||165 minutes|
The Great Escape is a 1963 American film about an escape by Allied prisoners of war from a German POW camp during World War II, starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough. The film is based on the book of the same name by Paul Brickhill, a non-fiction account of the mass escape from Stalag Luft III in Sagan (now Żagań, Poland), in the province of Lower Silesia, Nazi Germany. The characters are composites of real men. The film was made by the Mirisch Company, released by United Artists, and produced and directed by John Sturges.
The film takes place in 1944.
Having expended enormous resources on recapturing escaped Allied prisoners of war (POWs), the Germans move the most determined to a new, high-security prisoner of war camp. The commandant, Luftwaffe Colonel von Luger, tells the senior British officer, Group captain Ramsey, "There will be no escapes from this camp." Ramsey replies that it is their duty to try to escape. After several failed escape attempts on the first day, the POWs settle into life at the prison camp.
Gestapo and SS agents bring RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett to the camp and deliver him to von Luger. Known as "Big X," Bartlett is the principal organizer of escapes and Gestapo agent Kuhn orders that he be kept under the most restrictive permanent security confinement, which Col. von Luger, disgusted by the Nazis and the SS, only makes a "note" of, treating the command with complete contempt. As Kuhn leaves, he warns Bartlett that if he escapes again, he will be shot. Bartlett is then placed with the rest of the POWs, rather than the restrictive holding that Gestapo agent Kuhn had demanded.
Locked up with "every escape artist in Germany", Bartlett immediately plans the greatest escape attempted—tunnels for breaking out 250 prisoners. The intent is to "confuse, confound and harass the enemy" to the point that as many troops and resources as possible will be wasted on finding POWs instead of being used on the front line.
Teams are organised to tunnel, make civilian clothing, forge documents, procure contraband materials, and prevent guards from discovering their work. Flight Lieutenant Robert Hendley, an American in the RAF, is "the scrounger" who finds what the others need, from a camera to clothes and identity cards. Australian Flying Officer Louis Sedgwick, "the manufacturer," makes tools such as picks for digging and bellows for pumping air into the tunnels. Flight Lieutenant Danny Velinski and William "Willie" Dickes are "the tunnel kings" in charge of making the tunnels. Lieutenant commander Eric Ashley-Pitt of the Royal Navy devises a method of hiding bags in the prisoners' trousers and spreading dirt from the tunnels over the camp, under the guards' noses. Forgery is handled by Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe, who becomes nearly blind due to progressive myopia caused by intricate work by candlelight. Hendley takes it upon himself to be Blythe's guide in the escape.
The prisoners work on three tunnels simultaneously, calling them "Tom," "Dick" and "Harry." Work on Harry and Dick is stopped so that more work can be performed on Tom. The work noise is covered by the prisoner choir led by Flt. Lt. Denis Cavendish, who is also the group's surveyor.
USAAF Captain Virgil Hilts, "The Cooler King," irritates guards with frequent escape attempts and irreverent behavior. His first attempt, conceived in the cooler, is a short tunnel with RAF Flying Officer Archibald Ives; they are caught and returned to the cooler.
While the British POWs enjoy a 4th of July celebration organized by the three Americans, the guards discover tunnel Tom. The mood drops to disappointment and hits Ives hardest. He is drawn to the barbed wire that surrounds the camp and climbs it in view of guards. Hilts runs to stop him but is too late, and Ives is machine-gunned dead near the top of the fence. The prisoners switch their efforts to Harry.
Hilts agrees to change his plan and reconnoiter outside the camp and allow himself to be recaptured. The information he brings back is used to create maps showing the nearest town and railway station.
The last part of the tunnel is completed on the night of the escape, but it proves to be 20 feet short of the woods, which are to provide cover. Danny nearly snaps from claustrophobia and delays those behind him, but is helped by Willie. Seventy-six escape.
After attempts to reach neutral Switzerland, Sweden, and Spain, almost all the POWs are recaptured or killed. Hendley and Blythe steal an airplane to fly over the Swiss border, but the engine fails and they crash-land. Soldiers arrive. Blythe, his eyesight damaged, stands and is shot. Hendley waves and shouts "don't shoot", and is captured as Blythe dies. Cavendish, having hitched a ride in a truck, is captured at a checkpoint, discovering another POW, Haynes, captured in his German soldier disguise.
Bartlett is recognized in a crowded railroad station by Gestapo agent Kuhn. Eric Ashley-Pitt sacrifices himself when he kills Kuhn with Kuhn's own gun, and soldiers then shoot and kill him. In the commotion, Bartlett and MacDonald slip away but they are caught while boarding a bus after MacDonald blunders by replying in English to a suspicious Gestapo agent who wishes them "Good luck". Hilts steals a motorcycle, is pursued by German soldiers, jumps a first line barbed wire fence at the German-Swiss border, drives on the Neutral Zone, but becomes entangled in the second line of the barbed fence right on the Swiss-Border and is captured, he escapes execution as a spy by showing them the captain's bars on the inside of his shirt.
Three truckloads of recaptured POWs go down a country road and split off in three directions. One truck, containing Bartlett, MacDonald, Cavendish, Haynes and others, stops in a field and the POWs are told to get out and "stretch their legs." They are shot dead. Fifty escapees are murdered. Hendley and nine others are returned to the camp. Von Luger is relieved of command of the prison camp and is driven away by the SS for failing to prevent the breakout.
Only three make it to safety. Danny and Willie steal a rowboat and proceed downriver to the Baltic coast, where they board a Swedish merchant ship. Sedgwick steals a bicycle, then rides hidden in a freight train boxcar to France, where he is guided by the Resistance to Spain. Hilts is returned to the camp alone and taken back to the cooler. Lieutenant Goff, one of the Americans, gets Hilts's baseball and glove and throws it to him when Hilts and his guards pass by. The guard locks him in his cell and walks away, but momentarily pauses when he hears the familiar sound of Hilts optimistically bouncing his baseball against a cell wall. The film ends with the caption "This picture is dedicated to the fifty."
- Steve McQueen as Captain Virgil Hilts USAAF, "The Cooler King"
- James Garner as Flight Lieutenant Bob Hendley DFC RAF, "The Scrounger"
- Richard Attenborough as Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett DFC RAF, "Big X"
- James Donald as Group Captain Ramsey DSO MC RAF, "The SBO [Senior British Officer]"
- Charles Bronson as Flight Lieutenant Danny Velinski DSC DFC RAF, a "tunnel king"
- Donald Pleasence as Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe RAF, "The Forger"
- James Coburn as Flying Officer Louis Sedgwick RAAF, "The Manufacturer"
- Hannes Messemer as Oberst von Luger, "The Kommandant"
- David McCallum as Lieutenant-Commander Eric Ashley-Pitt DSC RN, "Dispersal"
- Gordon Jackson as Flight Lieutenant Andy 'Mac' MacDonald RAF, "Intelligence"
- John Leyton as Flight Lieutenant William 'Willie' Dickes RAF, a "tunnel king"
- Angus Lennie as Flying Officer Archibald 'Archie' Ives RAF, "The Mole"
- Nigel Stock as Flight Lieutenant Denis Cavendish RAF, "The Surveyor"
- Robert Graf as Werner, "The Ferret"
- Jud Taylor as First Lieutenant Goff USAAF
- Harry Riebauer as Hauptfeldwebel Strachwitz, "The Security Sergeant"
- William Russell as Flight Lieutenant Sorren RAF, "Security"
- Robert Freitag as Hauptmann Posen, "The Adjutant"
- Ulrich Beiger as Preissen, Gestapo
- George Mikell as SS-Obersturmführer Dietrich
- Lawrence Montaigne as Flying Officer Haynes RCAF, "Diversions"
- Robert Desmond as Flying Officer 'Griff' Griffith RAF, "The Tailor"
- Til Kiwe as Frick, "The Ferret"
- Heinz Weiss as Kramer, "The Ferret"
- Tom Adams as Flight Lieutenant 'Dai' Nimmo RAF, "Diversions"
- Karl-Otto Alberty as SS-Untersturmführer Steinach
The film was to some extent a work of fiction, based on the real events but with compromises made for purposes of commercial appeal, serving as a vehicle for its box-office stars. While many of its characters were fictitious, most were amalgams of several real characters and many were based on real people. There were no escapes by motorcycle, or aircraft. The screenwriters increased the importance of the roles of American POWs; the real escape was by British and Empire personnel, none being American. While Americans in the POW camp initially helped build the tunnels and worked on the early escape plans, they were moved to their own compound seven months before the tunnels were completed. Hilts' dash for the border by motorcycle was added by request of McQueen, who did the stunt riding himself except for the final jump (done by Bud Ekins).
Ex-POWs asked filmmakers to exclude details about the help they received from their home countries, such as maps, papers, and tools hidden in gift packages, lest it jeopardize future POW escapes. The filmmakers complied.
In reality Canadians played a prominent role in the construction of the tunnels and the escape itself. Of the 1,800 or so POWs in the compound, 600 were involved in preparations for the escape; 150 of these were Canadian. Wally Floody, an RCAF pilot and mining engineer who was the real-life "tunnel king", was engaged as a technical advisor for the film.
Steve McQueen, in a role based on a man named David Muggett Jones,  has been credited with the most significant performance. Critic Leonard Maltin wrote that "the large, international cast is superb, but the standout is McQueen; it's easy to see why this cemented his status as a superstar."
Richard Attenborough was cast as Sqn Ldr Roger Bartlett RAF ("Big X"), a character based on Roger Bushell, the South African-born British POW who was the mastermind of the real Great Escape. This was the film that first brought Attenborough to wide popular attention in the United States.
Flt Lt Colin Blythe RAF ("The Forger") was based on Tim Walenn and played by Donald Pleasence. Pleasence himself had served in the Royal Air Force during World War II. He was shot down and spent a year in German prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft I.
The film is accurate in showing that only three escapees made home runs, although the people who made them differed from those in the film. The escape of Danny and Willie in the film is based on two Norwegians who escaped by boat to Sweden, Per Bergsland and Jens Müller. The successful escape of Coburn's Australian character via Spain was based on Dutchman Bram van der Stok.
Location and set design 
The film was made at the Bavaria Film Studio in the Munich suburb of Geiselgasteig in rural Bavaria where sets for the barrack interiors and tunnels were constructed. The camp was constructed in a clearing in the forest near the studio. The German town near the prison camp, called Neustadt in the film, was really Sagan (now Żagań), Poland. Many scenes were filmed in and around the town of Füssen in Bavaria, including its railway station. The nearby district of Pfronten with its distinctive St.Nikolaus Church and scenic background also features often in the film.
The film depicts the tunnel codenamed Tom as having its entrance under a stove and Harry's as in a drain sump in a washroom. In reality, Dick's entrance was the drain sump, Harry's was under the stove, and Tom's was in a darkened corner next to a stove chimney. The motorcycle chase scenes culminating in the jumping of the barbed wire were shot on meadows outside Füssen, and the "barbed wire" that Hilts crashed into before being recaptured was actually strips of rubber tied around barbless wire, constructed by the cast and crew in their spare time. The jump scene was performed by stuntman Bud Ekins in place of Steve McQueen. Other parts of the chase scene were done by McQueen playing both Hilts and the soldiers chasing him because of McQueen's ability on a motorcycle.
Intrada Records Album 
Disc One 
|Original Motion Picture Soundtrack|
|2.||"At First Glance"||3:07|
|4.||"If At Once"||2:31|
|8.||""X"/Tonight We Dig"||1:30|
|12.||"The Plan/The Sad Ives"||1:43|
|14.||"Hilts And Ives"||0:38|
Disc Two 
|Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Cont'd)|
|5.||"Released Again/Escape Time"||5:25|
|6.||"20 Feet Short"||3:06|
|8.||"At The Station"||1:33|
|9.||"On The Road"||3:27|
|10.||"The Chase/First Casualty"||6:49|
|12.||"More Action/Hilts Captured"||6:07|
|15.||"Three Gone/Home Again"||3:13|
Disc Three 
|Original 1963 United Artists Score Album|
|3.||"Cooler And Mole"||2:26|
|7.||"On The Road"||2:54|
The Great Escape grossed $11,744,471 at the box office, after a budget of $4 million. It became one of the highest grossing films of 1963, despite heavy competition and, in the years since its release, its audience has only broadened, cementing its status as a cinema classic. It was entered into the 3rd Moscow International Film Festival where McQueen won the Silver Prize for Best Actor.
Critical and public response was mostly enthusiastic, with a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes In 1963 New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote: "But for much longer than is artful or essential, The Great Escape grinds out its tormenting story without a peek beneath the surface of any man, without a real sense of human involvement. It's a strictly mechanical adventure with make-believe men." British film critic Leslie Halliwell described it as "pretty good but overlong POW adventure with a tragic ending". In Time magazine 1963: "The use of color photography is unnecessary and jarring, but little else is wrong with this film. With accurate casting, a swift screenplay, and authentic German settings, Producer-Director John Sturges has created classic cinema of action. There is no sermonizing, no soul probing, no sex. The Great Escape is simply great escapism".
In a 2006 poll in the United Kingdom, regarding the family film that television viewers would most want to see on Christmas Day, The Great Escape came in third, and was first among the choices of male viewers.
In 2009, seven POWs returned to Stalag Luft III for the 65th anniversary of the escape and watched the film. According to the veterans, many details of the first half depicting life in the camp were authentic, e.g. the machine-gunning of Ives, who snaps and tries to scale the fence, and the actual digging of the tunnels.
Popular culture references 
References to scenes and motifs from the film, as well as Elmer Bernstein's theme, have appeared in other films, television series, and video games.
In "Escape From Stalag Luft 112B," an episode of Ripping Yarns, Maj. Errol Phipps (played by Michael Palin) is depicted as being the only prisoner of war never to escape from the camp of the title.
Bernstein's Great Escape theme tune has been taken up by the Pukka Pies England Band, a small brass band who have played in the crowd at England football team matches since 1996. They released an arrangement of the theme as a single for the 1998 FIFA World Cup and a newer version for UEFA Euro 2000.
Video game 
A stealth action video game based on the film was released for the Playstation 2 and Xbox consoles, as well as the Pc, in July 23, 2003. It was developed by Pivotal Games and published by Gotham Games and SCi games.
- Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company The Changed the Film Industry, Uni of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p 174
- Wolter, Tim (2001). POW baseball in World War II. McFarland. pp. 24–5. ISBN 978-0-7864-1186-3.
- Craig, Phil (October 24, 2009) He shot the hero of the Great Escape in cold blood. But was this one Nazi who DIDN'T deserve to hang? Daily Mail Retrieved January 10, 2011
- "Steve McQueen 40 Summers Ago". July 14, 2005. Retrieved October 14, 2010.
- The Great Escape: Heroes Underground documentary, available on The Great Escape DVD Special Edition.
- Canadians and the Great Escape Accessed=January 7, 2012
- Maltin, Leonard (1999). Leonard Maltin's Family Film Guide. New York: Signet. p. 225. ISBN 0-451-19714-3.
- Whalley, Kirsty (November 10, 2008). "Escape artist’s inspiring exploits". This is Local London (Newsquest Media Group / A Gannett Company). Retrieved September 25, 2009.
- "Now sporting a huge, bushy moustache ... he set to work arranging the operations of the forgery department" (Vance 2003, p. 44)
- DVD extra
- Carroll, Tim (2004). The Great Escapers. Mainstream Publishing. ISBN 1-84018-904-5.
- Hall, Allan (March 24, 2009). "British veterans mark Great Escape anniversary". The Daily Telegraph (Telegraph Media Group Limited). Retrieved October 26, 2009. Archived version October 26, 2009
- The Great Escape Locations Site Don J Whistance. Retrieved November 2011
- (Vance 2003, pp. 116–118)
- Rufford, Nick (February 13, 2009). "Video: The Great Escape, re-enacted". The Times (Times Newspapers Ltd). Retrieved October 20, 2009. See 4th paragraph. Archived version October 20, 2009
- Stone, Matt (2007). McQueen's Machines: The Cars and Bikes of a Hollywood Icon. Minneapolis, Minnesota: MBI Publishing Company. pp. 77–78. ISBN 978-0-7603-38957. "There's a chase sequence in there where the Germans were after [McQueen], and he was so much a better rider than they were, that he just ran away from them. And you weren't going to slow him down. So they put a German uniform on him, and he chased himself!"
- Box Office Information for The Great Escape. The Numbers. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Glenn Lovell, Escape Artist: The Life and Films of John Sturges, University of Wisconsin Press, 2008 p224
- Eder, Bruce (2009). "allmovie – Review: The Great Escape". AllMovie. Macrovision Corporation. Retrieved October 14, 2009.
- "3rd Moscow International Film Festival (1963)". MIFF. Retrieved 2012-11-25.
- Bosley Crowther (August 8, 1963). "P.O.W.'s in 'Great Escape':Inmates of Nazi Camp Are Stereotypical – Steve McQueen Leads Snarling Tunnelers". The New York Times. Retrieved November 3, 2008.
- Walker, John (1997). Halliwell's film and Video Guide. London: HarperCollins. p. 311. ISSN 1098-206X.
- "Cinema: The Getaway". Time. Time Inc. July 19, 1963. Retrieved October 12, 2009.
- "TV classics are recipe for Christmas Day delight". Freeview. December 11, 2006. Retrieved September 5, 2009. Archived version September 5, 2009
- "Veterans of the Great Escape visit old stalag" article at The Independent website
- Nixon, Rob (2008). "Pop Culture 101: The Great Escape". Turner Classic Movies. Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc. Retrieved November 2, 2011.
- Walters, Mike. "Exclusive interview with The Pukka Pie England Band –". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 2012-06-16.
- "ChartArchive – England Supporters' Band". Chartstats.com. Retrieved 2012-06-16.
- The Great Escape, Paul Brickhill.
- The Tunnel King, The True Story of Wally Floody & the Great Escape, Barbara Hehner. Publ.: Harper Trophy Canada 2004.
- The Longest Tunnel, Alan Burgess.
- Tre kom tilbake (Three returned), the Norwegian book by surviving escapee Jens Müller. Publ.: Gyldendal 1946.
- Exemplary Justice, Allen Andrews. Details the manhunt by the Royal Air Force's special investigations unit after the war to find and bring to trial the perpetrators of the "Sagan murders".
- 'Wings' Day, Sydney Smith, story of Wing Commander Harry "Wings" Day Pan Books 1968 ISBN 0-330-02494-9
- Dennis Hevesi, "Alex Cassie of 'Great Escape' Dies at 95," The New York Times. April 22, 2012, p. 20.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: The Great Escape (film)|
- The Great Escape at the Internet Movie Database
- The Great Escape at the TCM Movie Database
- The Great Escape at AllRovi
- James Garner Interview on the Charlie Rose Show (See 30:23–34:47 of video.)
- Photos of the filming
- The Great Escape locations
- The Great Escape at Rotten Tomatoes