The Great Escape (film)

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The Great Escape
The Great Escape (film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Frank McCarthy
Directed byJohn Sturges
Screenplay by
Based onThe book by Paul Brickhill
Produced byJohn Sturges
Starring
CinematographyDaniel L. Fapp
Edited byFerris Webster
Music byElmer Bernstein
Production
company
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release dates
  • June 20, 1963 (1963-06-20) (London)
  • July 4, 1963 (1963-07-04) (United States)
Running time
172 minutes
CountryUnited States
Languages
  • English
  • German
  • French
Budget$3.8 million[1]
Box office$11.7 million

The Great Escape is a 1963 American war film, with elements of adventure and suspense, starring Steve McQueen, James Garner and Richard Attenborough and featuring James Donald, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence, James Coburn, Hannes Messemer, David McCallum, Karl-Otto Alberty, Gordon Jackson, John Leyton and Angus Lennie. It was filmed in Panavision.

The film is based on Paul Brickhill's 1950 non-fiction book of the same name, a firsthand account of the mass escape by British Commonwealth prisoners of war from German POW camp Stalag Luft III in Sagan (now Żagań, Poland), in the Nazi Germany province of Lower Silesia. The film depicts a heavily fictionalized version of the escape, with numerous compromises for its commercial appeal, such as focusing more on American involvement in the escape.

The Great Escape was made by The Mirisch Company, released by United Artists, and produced and directed by John Sturges. The film had its Royal World Premiere at the Odeon Leicester Square in London's West End on 20 June 1963.[2] The Great Escape emerged as one of the highest-grossing films of the year, winning McQueen the award for Best Actor at the Moscow International Film Festival,[3] and is now considered a classic.[4] The Great Escape is also noted for its motorcycle chase and jump scene, which is considered one of the best stunts ever performed.[5][6][7]

Plot[edit]

In late 1942, having expended enormous resources on recapturing escaped Allied POWs, the Nazi German armed forces move the most determined to Stalag Luft III, a new, max-security prisoner-of-war camp supervised by Luftwaffe Colonel von Luger. The prisoners' escape committee, the "X" Organization, led by "Big X", RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett, a former prisoner of the Gestapo, and with the support of senior British officer Group Captain Ramsey, mount an audacious plan to tunnel out of the camp and break out 250 men – not just to escape, but so that German manpower will be wasted on finding POWs. The men organize into teams, simultaneously working on three tunnels, "Tom", "Dick", and "Harry". American Flight Lieutenant Bob Hendley finds anything from a camera to identity cards. Australian Flying Officer Sedgwick makes tools like picks and bellows for pumping air into the tunnels. Flight Lieutenants Danny Velinski and Willie Dickes are in charge of digging the tunnels. Flight Lieutenant Andy MacDonald, Bartlett's second-in-command, gathers and provides intelligence. Lieutenant Commander Eric Ashley-Pitt of the Royal Navy devises a method of hiding dirt from the tunnels under the guards' noses. Flight Lieutenant Griffith creates civilian outfits from scavenged cloth for the POWs to wear after the escape. Dai Nimmo and Haynes are in charge of diverting the guards' attention to other things in the camp in order to pull off the more risky parts of the operation unnoticed. Sorren is in charge of security. Forging papers to get to freedom is handled by Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe. The work noise is covered by the prisoner choir led by Flight Lieutenant Dennis Cavendish, who also does surveys to measure the tunnel.

On June 20 1943, Bartlett asks USAAF Captain Virgil Hilts, who is attempting escapes with Scottish Flying Officer Archie Ives RAF but being constantly imprisoned in solitary confinement in the "cooler",[8] to help in the escape by getting out through the barbed wire, scouting out the area, and then allowing himself to be recaptured; Hilts refuses. Bartlett orders "Dick" and "Harry" sealed off, as "Tom" is closest to completion. After hoarding potatoes, Hilts, Hendley and American Second Lieutenant Goff concoct moonshine from a home made still and celebrate the Fourth of July with the entire camp. In the midst of the celebration, the guards discover "Tom". As the POWs react with dismay, a despondent Ives frantically climbs the barbed wire fence and is shot dead. Hilts volunteers to provide reconnaissance from outside the camp and Bartlett switches the prisoners' efforts to "Harry", after the information Hilts brings back is used to create maps to guide the escapers. After experiencing a tunnel collapse, a claustrophobic Danny tries to break out through the fence but agrees to try the tunnel when Willie promises his support. Blythe discovers that he is going blind due to progressive myopia;[note 1] Hendley takes it upon himself to be Blythe's guide in the escape. The last part of the tunnel is completed on the scheduled night, March 24, 1944, and despite some mishaps, such as the tunnel being 20 feet (6 m) short, 76 prisoners, including Bartlett, MacDonald, Hendley, Blythe, Hilts, Ashley-Pitt, Danny, Willie, Sedgwick, Cavendish, Nimmo and Haynes, escape out the tunnel, aided by Hilts using a 30 feet of rope as a signal, and an air-raid blackout. Cavendish slips and falls after exiting the tunnel, which leads to him drawing a guard's attention and nearly being caught. However, the escape attempts ultimately end when an impatient Griffith exits the tunnel in view of a guard, and is captured immediately.

The 76 POWs flee through the Third Reich. Cavendish hitch hikes in a truck but is delivered to the authorities where he finds Haynes, disguised as a German soldier, captured. Hendley and Blythe steal a plane to fly over the Swiss border, but the engine fails, and they crash-land; Blythe is shot and dies, while Hendley is recaptured. Hilts steals a motorcycle at a crossroads, heading for the German-Swiss border to escape pursuing German soldiers. He begins jumping barbed-wire fences but soldiers shoot out the bike's tire, and he is recaptured. Ashley-Pitt is shot and killed at a railway station when he causes a distraction to save MacDonald and Bartlett but they are recaptured after a Gestapo officer tricks them into speaking English. On the orders of Adolf Hitler, the Gestapo murder 48 of the prisoners, including Bartlett, MacDonald, Cavendish and Haynes, on the pretext that they were trying to escape, bringing the total dead to 50. Only 3 POWs escape, Danny and Willie steal a rowing boat and proceed downstream to a port, where they board a merchant ship bound for Sweden. Sedgwick steals a bicycle, then rides on a train to France, where the French Resistance assists him in reaching Spain.

Hendley, Nimmo and nine others are returned to the camp. When informed of the dead, Hendley wonders if the cost was worth it, and Ramsey tells him it depends on his point of view. Von Luger is relieved of command as Hilts returns and is sent to the cooler, where he plans another escape.

Cast[edit]

  • Steve McQueen as Captain Virgil Hilts 'The Cooler King': one of three Americans in the camp, Hilts irritates guards with frequent escape attempts and an irreverent attitude, to the point that he is regularly confined in isolation in the cooler. He has a habit of bouncing a baseball against the cooler cell wall to entertain himself, as he plans an escape attempt. Hilts was based on at least three pilots, David M. Jones, John Dortch Lewis,[9] and Bill Ash.[10][11][12]
  • James Garner as Flight Lieutenant Bob Hendley 'The Scrounger': an American serving in an RAF Eagle Squadron. He is responsible for finding materials that will be necessary for the POWs during the escape attempt and on the outside.
  • Richard Attenborough as Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett 'Big X': an ambitious RAF officer, who has developed an intense hatred for the Nazis following his stay with the Gestapo. Bartlett, a veteran escaper, is the ringleader, 'Big X', of the camp escape committee, the "X" Organization and declares his intention to organize a massive breakout of 250 men; it is their duty to harass, confound and confuse the enemy.
  • James Donald as Group Captain Ramsey 'The SBO': the Senior British Officer and de facto commanding officer of the prisoners. He serves as an intermediary between the POWs and the Germans. Ramsey is taken aback at Bartlett's plan but supports it.
  • Charles Bronson as Flight Lieutenant Danny Welinski 'Tunnel King': a Polish emigré who escaped Nazi-held Poland and went to England to continue the fight against the Nazis. He suffers from claustrophobia and is fearful of tunnel collapses, primarily coming from his experience of having dug 17 escape tunnels.
  • Donald Pleasence as Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe 'The Forger': a mild-mannered and good-natured master forger with a love of bird-watching who requires paper, inks, a camera, and current travel documents to copy.
  • James Coburn as Flying Officer Louis Sedgwick 'The Manufacturer': an Australian officer who constructs objects necessary to implement the escape.[note 2]
  • Hannes Messemer as Oberst von Luger 'The Kommandant': the Commandant of the camp and a senior Luftwaffe officer, von Luger is very civil with the POWs, and is openly anti-Nazi, especially embittered with the SS and Gestapo. When the Gestapo orders that Bartlett receive strict confinement, von Luger makes a passing note of it and instead shows sympathy for Bartlett.
  • David McCallum as Lieutenant-Commander Eric Ashley-Pitt 'Dispersal': a Fleet Air Arm officer who finds an ingenious way to get rid of the dirt being brought up from the tunnels.
  • Gordon Jackson as Flight Lieutenant Andy MacDonald 'Intelligence': Bartlett's second-in-command in planning the escape.
  • John Leyton as Flight Lieutenant Willie Dickes 'Tunnel King': Danny's best friend, who seeks to encourage Danny during his struggles with claustrophobia.
  • Angus Lennie as Flying Officer Archie Ives 'The Mole': a Scottish airman who has an intense desire to escape, leading him to the precipice of paranoia.
  • Nigel Stock as Flight Lieutenant Dennis Cavendish 'The Surveyor': a Flight Lieutenant who has an important duty for the building of the tunnel.
  • Robert Graf as Werner 'The Ferret': a young, naive guard, with whom Hendley forms a friendship, which he exploits as a means of obtaining travel documents and other needed items.
  • Jud Taylor as Second Lieutenant Goff: the third American in the camp.
  • Hans Reiser as Kuhn: a Gestapo officer who had Bartlett as a prisoner. An ardent Nazi, he orders von Luger that Bartlett be kept under the most restrictive permanent security confinement, which von Luger only makes a note of. He is critical of the Luftwaffe's fair treatment of the prisoners, and believes the camp should be brought under the jurisdiction of the Gestapo and SS. Kuhn warns Bartlett that if he escapes again, he will be shot on his next capture.
  • Harry Riebauer as Stabsfeldwebel Strachwitz, the senior NCO amongst the German guards.
  • William Russell as Sorren 'Security', a British officer.
  • Robert Freitag as Hauptmann Posen, von Luger's adjutant.
  • Ulrich Beiger as Preissen: a high-ranking Gestapo official, and an ardent Nazi. He has a condescending attitude and had Bartlett as a prisoner.
  • George Mikell as SD Hauptsturmführer Dietrich: one of the SS officers who had Bartlett as a prisoner.
  • Lawrence Montaigne as Haynes 'Diversions', a Canadian officer.
  • Robert Desmond as Griffith 'Tailor', a British officer responsible for supplying clothes for the POWs for the escape.
  • Til Kiwe as Frick
  • Heinz Weiss as Kramer
  • Tom Adams as Dai Nimmo 'Diversions', a Welsh officer.
  • Karl-Otto Alberty as SD Untersturmführer Steinach: one of the SS officers who had Bartlett as a prisoner.

Production[edit]

Writing[edit]

In 1963, the Mirisch brothers worked with United Artists to adapt Paul Brickhill's 1950 book The Great Escape. Brickhill had been a very minor member of the X Organisation at Stalag Luft III, who acted as one of the "stooges" who monitored German movements in the camp. The story had been adapted as a live TV production, screened by NBC as an episode of The Philco Television Playhouse on January 27, 1951.[13] The live broadcast was praised for engineering an ingenious set design for the live broadcast, including creating the illusion of tunnels.[14] The film's screenplay was adapted by James Clavell, W. R. Burnett, and Walter Newman.

Casting[edit]

Steve McQueen (left) with Wally Floody, a former Canadian POW who was part of the real Great Escape and acted as a technical advisor in production of the film

Steve McQueen 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".[15] This film established his box-office clout.

Richard Attenborough's Sqn Ldr Roger Bartlett RAF, "Big X", was based on Roger Bushell, the South African-born British POW who was the mastermind of the real Great Escape.[16] This was the film that first brought Attenborough to common notice in the United States. During World War II, Attenborough served in the Royal Air Force. He volunteered to fly with the Film Unit and after further training (where he sustained permanent ear damage) he qualified as a sergeant. He flew on several missions over Europe, filming from the rear gunner's position to record the outcome of Bomber Command sorties. (Richard Harris was originally announced for the role.)[17]

Group Captain Ramsey RAF, "the SBO" (Senior British Officer), was based on Group Captain Herbert Massey, a World War I veteran who had volunteered in World War II. Massey walked with a limp, and in the movie Ramsey walks with a cane. Massey had suffered severe wounds to the same leg in both wars. There would be no escape for him, but as SBO he had to know what was going on. Group Captain Massey was a veteran escaper himself and had been in trouble with the Gestapo. His experience allowed him to offer sound advice to the X-Organisation.[18] Another officer who is likely to have inspired the character of Ramsey was Wing Commander Harry Day.

Flt Lt Colin Blythe RAF, "The Forger", was based on Tim Walenn and played by Donald Pleasence.[19] 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.

Charles Bronson had been a gunner in the USAAF and had been wounded, but never shot down. Like his character, Danny Valinski, he suffered from claustrophobia because of his childhood work in a mine.

James Garner had been a soldier in the Korean War and was twice wounded. He was a scrounger during that time, as is his character.[20]

Hannes Messemer's Commandant, "Colonel von Luger", was based on Oberst Friedrich Wilhelm von Lindeiner-Wildau.[21] He had been a POW in Russia during World War II and had escaped by walking hundreds of miles to the German border.[22] He was wounded by Russian fire, but was not captured by the Russians. He surrendered to British forces and then spent two years in a POW facility in London known as the London Cage.

Angus Lennie's Flying Officer Archibald Ives, "The Mole", was based on Jimmy Kiddel, who was shot dead while trying to scale the fence.[23]

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 James Coburn's Australian character, Sedgwick ("the Manufacturer"), via Spain was based on Dutchman Bram van der Stok. Coburn, an American, was cast in the role of Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Flying Officer Louis Sedgwick who was an amalgamation of Flt Lt Albert Hake, an Australian serving in the RAF, the camp's compass maker, and Johnny Travis, the real manufacturer.

Tilman 'Til Kiwe' Kiver played the German guard "Frick", who discovers the escape. Kiwe had been a German paratrooper officer who was captured and held prisoner at a POW camp in Colorado. He made several escape attempts, dyeing his uniform and carrying forged papers. He was captured in the St. Louis train station during one escape attempt. He won the Knight's Cross before his capture and was the cast member who had actually performed many of the exploits shown in the film.

Filming[edit]

The film was made on location in Germany 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 built in a clearing of the Perlacher Forst (Perlacher Forest) near the studio.[24][25] The German town near the real camp was Sagan (now Żagań, Poland); it was renamed Neustadt in the film.[25] Many scenes were filmed in and around the town of Füssen in Bavaria, including its railway station. The nearby district of Pfronten,[26] with its distinctive St. Nikolaus Church and scenic background, also appears often in the film.[25] The first scenes involving the railway were filmed on the Munich–Holzkirchen line at Großhesselohe station ("Neustadt" station in the movie) and near Deisenhofen. Hendley and Blythe's escape from the train was shot on the Munich–Mühldorf railway east of Markt Schwaben. The station where Bartlett, MacDonald and Ashley-Pitt arrive is Füssen station, whereas the scene of Sedgwick (whose theft of a bike was shot in Markt Schwaben) boarding a train was created in Pfronten-Ried station on the Ausserfern Railway.[27][28] The castle Hendley and Blythe fly by while attempting to escape is Neuschwanstein Castle.[29]

Replica of the motorcycle used by McQueen and Ekins.

The motorcycle chase scenes with the barbed wire fences were shot on meadows outside Füssen, and the "barbed wire" that Hilts crashes into before being recaptured was simulated by strips of rubber tied around barbless wire, constructed by the cast and crew in their spare time.[30] Insurance concerns prevented McQueen from performing the film's notable motorcycle leap, which was done by his friend and fellow cycle enthusiast Bud Ekins, who resembled McQueen from a distance.[31] When Johnny Carson later tried to congratulate McQueen for the jump during a broadcast of The Tonight Show, McQueen said, "It wasn't me. That was Bud Ekins." However, McQueen and Australian Motocross champion Tim Gibbes both performed the stunt on camera for fun, and according to second unit director Robert Relyea, the stunt in the final cut of the movie could have been performed by any of the three men.[32] Other parts of the chase were done by McQueen, playing both Hilts and the soldiers chasing him, because of his skill on a motorcycle.[33] The motorcycle was a Triumph TR6 Trophy which was painted to look like a German machine. The restored machine is currently on display at Triumph's factory at Hinckley, England.[34]

Soundtrack[edit]

The film's iconic music was composed by Elmer Bernstein, who gave each major character their own musical motif based on the Great Escape's main theme.[35] Its enduring popularity helped Bernstein live off the score's royalties for the rest of his life.[36] Critics have said the film score succeeds because it uses rousing militaristic motifs with interludes of warmer softer themes that humanizes the prisoners and endears them to audiences; the music also captures the bravery and defiance of the POWs.[37] The main title's patriotic march has since become popular in Britain, particularly with sports such as fans of the England national football team.[38] However, in 2016, the sons of Elmer Bernstein openly criticized the use of the Great Escape theme by the Vote Leave campaign in the UK Brexit referendum, saying "Our father would never have allowed UKIP to use his music" because he would have strongly opposed the party.[39]

Intrada Records (release)

In 2011 Intrada, a company specializing in film soundtracks, released a digitized re-mastered version of the full film score based on the original 1/4" two-track stereo sessions and original 1/2" three-channel stereo masters.[40]

Disc one[edit]

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
No.TitleLength
1."Main Title"2:30
2."At First Glance"3:07
3."Premature Plans"2:28
4."If At Once"2:31
5."Forked"1:28
6."Cooler"1:59
7."Mole"1:28
8.""X"/Tonight We Dig"1:30
9."The Scrounger/Blythe"3:50
10."Water Faucet"1:23
11."Interruptus"1:33
12."The Plan/The Sad Ives"1:43
13."Green Thumbs"2:28
14."Hilts And Ives"0:38
15."Cave In"2:01
16."Restless Men"1:56
17."Booze"1:47
18.""Yankee Doodle""0:55
19."Discovery"3:40
Total length:57:35

Disc two[edit]

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Continued)
No.TitleLength
1."Various Troubles"3:52
2."Panic"2:05
3."Pin Trick"0:59
4."Hendley’s Risk"1:43
5."Released Again/Escape Time"5:25
6."20 Feet Short"3:06
7."Foul Up"2:37
8."At The Station"1:33
9."On The Road"3:27
10."The Chase/First Casualty"6:49
11."Flight Plan"2:09
12."More Action/Hilts Captured"6:07
13."Road’s End"2:06
14."Betrayal"2:20
15."Three Gone/Home Again"3:13
16."Finale/The Cast"2:47
Total length:1:18:58

Disc three[edit]

Original 1963 United Artists Score Album
No.TitleLength
1."Main Title"2:07
2."Premature Plans"2:08
3."Cooler And Mole"2:26
4."Blythe"2:13
5."Discovery"2:54
6."Various Troubles"2:40
7."On The Road"2:54
8."Betrayal"2:05
9."Hendley’s Risk"2:24
10."Road’s End"2:00
11."More Action"1:57
12."The Chase"2:49
13."Finale"3:14
Total length:49:11

Historical accuracy[edit]

Model of the set used to film The Great Escape. It depicts a smaller version of a single compound in Stalag Luft III. The model is now at the museum near where the prison camp was located.
End of the real "Harry" tunnel (on the other side of the road) showing how it does not reach the cover of the trees

The film was largely fictional, with changes made to increase its drama and appeal to an American audience, and to serve as vehicle for its box-office stars. Many details of the actual escape attempt were changed for the film, including the roles of American personnel in both the planning and the escape. While the characters are fictitious, they are based on real men, in most cases being composites of several people. The screenwriters significantly increased the involvement of American POWs; a few American officers in the camp initially helped dig the tunnels and worked on the early plans. However, they were moved away seven months before the escape, which ended their involvement.[41][42] The real escape was by largely British and other Allied personnel, with the exception of American Johnnie Dodge, who was a British officer.[29]

The film omits the crucial role that Canadians played in building the tunnels and in the escape itself. Of the 1,800 or so POWs, 600 were involved in preparations: 150 of those were Canadian. Wally Floody, an RCAF pilot and former miner who was the real-life "tunnel king", was engaged as a technical advisor for the film.[43]

When Ramsey first meets Von Luger, Luger warns him that although the newly arriving prisoners are well-known for wreaking havoc throughout the Reich with their constant camp breakouts, they will have no success at the new camp. Undaunted, Ramsey tells Von Luger that it is the sworn duty of every officer to attempt escape. In reality, there was no requirement in the King's Regulations, or in any form of international convention.[44]

The film shows the tunnel codenamed Tom with its entrance under a stove and Harry's 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.[45]

Ex-POWs asked film-makers to exclude details about the help they received from their home countries, such as maps, papers, and tools hidden in gift packages, lest it jeopardise future POW escapes. The film-makers complied.[46]

The film omits any mention that many Germans willingly helped in the escape itself. The film suggests that the forgers were able to make near-exact replicas of just about any pass that was used in Nazi Germany. In reality, the forgers received a great deal of assistance from Germans who lived many hundreds of miles away on the other side of the country. Several German guards, who were openly anti-Nazi, also willingly gave the prisoners items and assistance of any kind to aid their escape.[44]

The need for such accuracy produced much eyestrain, but unlike in the film, there were no cases of blindness. Some, such as Frank Knight, gave up forging because of the strain, but he certainly did not suffer the same ocular fate as the character of Colin Blythe in the film.[44] In fact, no one in the film says that Colin Blythe's blindness is the result of eyestrain. He identifies his problem as "progressive myopia", suggesting that he has not only heard of the condition but has also been diagnosed.

The film depicts the escape taking place in ideal weather conditions, whereas at the time much was done in freezing temperatures, and snow lay thick on the ground.[44] In reality there were no escapes by aircraft or motorcycle: McQueen requested the motorcycle sequence, which shows off his skills as a keen motorcyclist. He did the stunt riding himself (except for the final jump, done by Bud Ekins).[47]

In the film, Hilts incapacitates, or otherwise kills, a German soldier for his motorcycle, Ashley-Pitt kills Kuhn, a Gestapo officer, when he recognizes Bartlett waiting to pass through a Gestapo checkpoint at a railway station and Hendley knocks out a German guard at the airfield. No German personnel were killed or injured by the escapees.

The movie shows three truckloads of recaptured POWs splitting off in three directions. One truck contains 20 of the prisoners who are invited to stretch their legs in a field, whereupon they are all machine gunned in a single massacre, with the implication that the other two have the same manner; in reality, the POWs were shot individually or in pairs. The majority of the POWs were killed by pistol shots taken by Gestapo officers; however, at least ten of them were killed in a manner like that portrayed in the film: Dutchy Swain, Chaz Hall, Brian Evans, Wally Valenta, George McGill, Pat Langford, Edgar Humphreys, Adam Kolanowski, Bob Stewart and Henry "Hank" Birkland.[48][49][50][51][52][53][44]

In addition, the film depicts the three prisoners who escape to freedom as British, Polish, and Australian; in reality, they were Norwegian (Jens Müller and Per Bergsland) and Dutch (Bram van der Stok).[54]

In 2009, seven POWs returned to Stalag Luft III for the 65th anniversary of the escape[55] and watched the film. According to the veterans, many details of the first half depicting life in the camp were authentic, e.g. the death of Ives, who tries to scale the fence, and the actual digging of the tunnels.

The film has kept the memory of the 50 executed airmen alive for decades and has made their story known worldwide, if in a distorted form.[29] British author Guy Walters notes that a pivotal scene in the film where MacDonald blunders by replying in English to a suspicious Gestapo officer saying, "Good luck", is now so strongly imprinted that historians have accepted it as a real event, and that it was Bushell's partner Bernard Scheidhauer who made the error. However, Walters points out that an historical account says that one of the two men said "yes" in English in response to a Kripo man's questions without any mention of "good luck" and notes that as Scheidhauser was French, and Bushell's first language was English, it seems likely that if a slip did take place, it was made by Bushell himself, and says the "good luck" scene should be regarded as fiction, and furthermore, a slur upon the Frenchman.[44]

Release[edit]

The Great Escape grossed $11.7 million at the box office,[56] after a budget of $4 million.[57] It became one of the highest-grossing films of 1963, despite heavy competition. In the years since its release, its audience has broadened, cementing its status as a cinema classic.[4] It was entered into the 3rd Moscow International Film Festival, where McQueen won the Silver Prize for Best Actor.[58]

Reception[edit]

Critics[edit]

Critical and public response has mostly been enthusiastic, with a "Certified Fresh" 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[59] In 1963, The 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."[60] British film critic Leslie Halliwell described it as "pretty good but overlong POW adventure with a tragic ending".[61] The Time magazine reviewer wrote in 1963: "The use of colour 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".[62]

Modern appraisals[edit]

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.[63]

In an article for the British Film Institute, “10 great prisoner of war films,” updated in August 2018, Samuel Wigley wrote that watching films like The Great Escape and the 1955 British film The Colditz Story, “for all their moments of terror and tragedy, is to delight in captivity in times of war as a wonderful game for boys, an endless Houdini challenge to slip through the enemy’s fingers. Often based on true stories of escape, they have the viewer marvelling at the ingenuity and seemingly unbreakable spirit of imprisoned soldiers.” He described The Great Escape as “the epitome of the war-is-fun action film,” which became “a fixture of family TV viewing...”.[64]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Legacy[edit]

On 24 March 2014, the 70th anniversary of the escape, the RAF staged a commemoration of the escape attempt, with 50 serving personnel each carrying a photograph of one of the shot men.[65]

On 24 March 2019, the RAF held another event for the 75th anniversary of the escape. There was a screening of the film at London's Eventim Hammersmith Apollo, hosted by Dan Snow. The film was simulcast with other cinemas throughout the UK.[66]

Sequel[edit]

A fictional, made-for-television sequel, The Great Escape II: The Untold Story, was released in 1988, with different actors including Christopher Reeve in the leading role, and directed by Jud Taylor (who played 2nd Lt. Goff in the 1963 film).[67] The film is not a true sequel, as it dramatizes the escape itself just as the original film does, although mostly using the real names of the individuals involved (whereas the original film fictionalized them and used composite characters). It depicts the search for the culprits responsible for the murder of the 50 Allied officers. Donald Pleasence appears in a supporting role as a member of the SS.[68]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Progressive (High) Myopia". American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology & Strabismus. Archived from the original on September 28, 2020. Retrieved January 8, 2020. "Progressive myopia," also known as degenerative myopia, is a condition that often begins in childhood.
  2. ^ In the film, while asking for an air pump, Bartlett refers to Sedgwick as "Bluey". "Bluey" is an affectionate term for a person with red hair, found in Australian slang in the first half of the twentieth century. The consequence of Bartlett's use of the term, though made in support of the character, was too subtle for wider audiences, and the credit of "Louis" is translated in the subtitles for DVD and appears for Sedgwick on many lists.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Balio, Tino (1987). United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 174. ISBN 978-0-299-11440-4.
  2. ^ "The Great Escape, premiere". The Times. London. June 20, 1963. p. 2.
  3. ^ "1963 year". Moscow International Film Festival. Archived from the original on December 3, 2017. Retrieved December 3, 2017.
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Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]