May 27, 2020

Movie Review: The Great Escape (1963)

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.

Question and Answer

Who Was the MVP of the Movie?

For me, the obvious answer is Steve McQueen as Hilts.  Throughout the movie, he is positioned as the “main character”.  Well, as much as someone can be the main character in an ensemble cast like The Great Escape featured.  But his sense of humor while in the camp, and then his daring escape attempt on a motorcycle that highlights the action after the actual escape from the camp, solidifies him as the man leading the charge in this movie.

Who Had the Best Minor Role in This Movie?

In an ensemble like this, no one really has a “minor” role, but to answer the question for this review, I’m going with James Garner as Hendley the Scrounger.  Watching him work Vernor the guard for all he’s worth and getting the needed supplies for the escape attempt was so much fun.  Not only that, but he was always cool and collected throughout the film.  The scene that seals it for me though, is when he stands up to Big X for Blythe, declaring that Blythe will indeed be going out through the tunnel.  It’s somewhat of a pivotal scene that sets the stage for another great scene later in the movie when Hendley and Blythe attempt to fly their way to freedom.

What is the Best Scene in This Movie?

There are a lot of great individual scenes in The Great Escape, but the easy choice for me is Steve McQueen’s motorcycle chase through the countryside of Germany being chased by scores of German soldiers.  And a fun tidbit, Steve McQueen not only rode the motorcycle as his character, but also played one of the German soldiers on a motorcycle chasing him.  You can watch the whole scene below:

Would I Take Anything Out of This Movie?

Well, since this is based on a true story and not a fiction movie, then no, I wouldn’t it.  Add to that the fact that everything in this movie is so well done, there is nothing to cut out.

What Would I Add to This Movie?

Again, since this is a true story, what could I add?  Nothing to the story, but I wish for even more of it!  It was already a long movie, but it was so enjoyable, another few minutes would be fine with me.

Would This Movie Work as a Netflix Series?

The Great Escape would most certainly work as a Netflix series.  This could easily be adapted as a ten-episode series with each episode bringing its own challenge for the prisoners to overcome before the final few episodes become a downhill ride looking at each man’s escape attempt after getting out of the tunnel.  The final episode would be a somber one though as you see what happens to the men who didn’t make it.

Does This Movie Hold Up Today?

This movie is timeless.  Even though the score to this film sounds a little old fashioned at times, it still perfectly fits the movie.  But stories like this featuring the incredible will of men in the toughest of times never go out of date.

What Do I Rate This Movie?

This movie gets the full monty…5 out of 5 stars.  Everything about it is spot on.  The story is incredible, the cast is loaded with the best actors of the time, and the drama and action built into it are so well done, you can’t turn away.  I can’t praise this movie enough, and it should be on the watch list of every serious film fan, as well as on lists of the best films ever made.

You can pick up a copy of The Great Escape on Blu-Ray from Amazon for $19.99.

This post is part of The Great JAMES GARNER Blogathon hosted by RealWeegieMidget Reviews






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