The Great Escape (1963)
Imprisoned during World War II in a German POW camp, a group of Allied soldiers are intent on breaking out, not only to escape but also to draw Nazi forces away from battle to search for fugitives. Among the prisoners determined to escape are American Captain Virgil Hilts (Steve McQueen) and British Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett (Richard Attenborough). Outwitting their captors by digging a tunnel out of the prison grounds, the soldiers find the stakes much higher when escape becomes a reality.
– from Google
The Great Escape is a timeless film. It’s a story of courage and perseverance, and of the indomitable will of the human spirit. Fighting a war far from home, captured by the enemy, and brought together in the single cause of escaping and getting home, the men and their story featured in this film should inspire even the most cynical watcher.
I first learned of The Great Escape on a Sunday afternoon in the early 1990s. I walked into our living room, and my Dad was watching it. The movie was over halfway at the point I came across it, and the fact that it looked like an old movie meant I didn’t stick around to see the rest of it. But I caught enough of it that it had me intrigued. A month or so later, I saw it listed in the TV Guide. The movie seemed to be a staple on TBS in those days, and I thought I would give it a shot. I actually set the timer on my VCR to record it so I could watch it later. I’m so glad I did, as it has gone on to become one of my favorite movies of all time.
The cast is filled with legendary actors, all turning in classic performances. It reads like a “who’s who” of the iconic actors of the era. Here are some of the casting highlights:
Steve McQueen as Hilts the Cooler King
James Garner as Hendley the Scrounger
Richard Attenborough as Bartlett, aka Big X
Charles Bronson as Danny the Tunnel King
Donald Pleasance as Blythe the Forger
James Coburn as Sedwick the Manufacturer
David McCallum as Ashley-Pitt the Dispersal Man
Hannes Messemer as Von Luger the Kommandant
The story of the film, the prisoners of war tunnel their way out of the prisoner of war camp and attempt to free 250 men at one time, seems too far fetched to work. But the kicker is, this movie is based on a true story. Not like a lot of movies today where they are “loosely” based on a true story either. No, this story is real. These men actually worked day and night building what could be described as an elaborate tunnel for what they had to work with. For more on the real story of the escape, you can watch The Great Escape documentary for all of the actual details.
But the actual digging of the tunnel, for as hard as that would be, was only part of the work needed to pull it off. They also had to manufacture air ducts and a system of supplying air to the men down in the tunnel. They had to find ways to get disperse tons of dirt they were pulling out of the tunnel. They had to make new, civilian looking clothes to wear once they escaped, and since they were in the heart of Nazi Germany, they had to produce authentic-looking travel papers for when they were stopped on the roads and at checkpoints after the escape. The movie does a really good job of showing you how all of these feats were accomplished, and the actors do a wonderful job of conveying how difficult all of this could be at times.
The Great Escape is loaded with both action and drama. You get sucked into the story quite quickly and stay attentive the whole way through as you watch these men fight through so many obstacles on their way to freedom. And once the escape attempt actually takes place, you find yourself on a downhill ride of exciting action as you see each one try to finish their escape, and what they go through once they are out of the tunnel.
For most of my life, I’ve been enamored with all things centered around World War II. That fascination started when I first watched The Great Escape.