The Great Escape (1963)
May 22, 2016 9:46 AM - Subscribe

Allied P.O.W.s plan for several hundred of their number to escape from a German camp during World War II.

New Yorker: The solitude of Steve McQueen, once straightforwardly cool, now looks dogged and willful, like a borderline compulsion, and Richard Attenborough, too, edges nearer to the manic than the stoic. (The prize for relaxation goes to James Garner, the camp’s chief scrounger.) Still, how happy most of them seem, these victims of conflict—fed, scrubbed, and larky, under shining skies. No wonder the director, John Sturges, tamped down the real-life reprisals that followed the mass breakout. This is a Boys’ Own Tale, and, as boys, we wanted it, cleansed of horrors, for ourselves.

NYTimes: 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.

Empire: It could be argued that given their leniency in embracing the production of a film that dealt with such recent history, the German characters were appropriately mellowed. But this worked in the film's favour. Ironically, for a film about the Allies' escape methodology, The Great Escape often finds its heart in the performance of Hannes Messemer, the newly-appointed camp Commandant, Colonel Von Luger. His comment to flier Hilts (McQueen) that, "We are both grounded for the duration of the war," plus his reluctance to return the "Heil Hitler" salute to the SS served to humanise a country that less than 20 years before had been pilloried for the actions of a rather short and deeply horrendous tyrant. No mean feat for a patriotic all star action movie.


Steve McQueen on the motorcycle

The Making of the Great Escape: [1] [2] [3] [4]

Return to The Great Escape: [1] [2] [3]

History Channel Documentary on the actual escape
posted by MoonOrb (7 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm of two minds about this movie. First, I unabashedly love it. That is an amazing cast, top to bottom, and there are some really terrific moments in the film. It plays like a great heist film in a lot of ways.

On the other hand, it trivializes what the men endured, what they risked, and even their fates. To say nothing of how many roles were Americanized. And how the Germans were Hogan's Heroes-ed.

I guess that's what we do. We acknowledge the things that we love might have problems. But we still love them.

Is it true that England plays the theme to "The Great Escape" at home football games vs Germany? That is a sick burn 50 years running.
posted by aureliobuendia at 10:44 AM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

The predictable stuck in the past twats play it at every England game. There's an actual supporter's band and they mention the tune on their home page.
posted by biffa at 11:03 AM on May 22, 2016

I'm not a supporter of the team, and so I haven't gotten tired of hearing it every. single. match. But I love musical wit, and that is funny.

Maybe the Germans could have a fight song to the tune of "Yankee Doodle Dandy"?
posted by aureliobuendia at 11:12 AM on May 22, 2016

Fucking catchiest theme song ever.

It's stuck in my head right now. Because of this thread. So thanks for that.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:14 PM on May 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

aurelio: I wish it was, but really its just one more aspect of England fans trawling for WW2 references, you're seeing it out of context. The context is that the England national squad's fans are unable to relate to Germany or to German people except through some Pavlovian reaction which goes straight to a war that most of them are too young too remember, and whose parents are also too young to remember. Five decades of shouting 'two world wars and one world cup', the theme to whichever war film was easiest to know out on a bugle, banal newspaper headlines with a vaguely WW2 pun, 'Ten German bombers',
posted by biffa at 1:23 PM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

While I recognize that it's considered a bit of a classic, there are niggling bits that keep me from sharing the love.

For one, James Coburn delivers the absolutely, undeniably worst, most embrassingly bad Australian (or Kiwi?) accent any American actor has ever delivered. It's so bad it slaps me right out of the film whenever he opens his mouth. Why anyone allowed it to make it into the movie is beyond me.

The other thing that bugs me is McQueen's wardrobe. Gray athletic sweatshirt and chinos? I think he's even wearing tennis shoes of some sort. Everyone else is garbed in remnants of the military uniforms they were wearing when they were captured. McQueen looks like he drove over from his place in Malibu that morning to do his scenes.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:53 PM on May 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

if anything, I'm surprised McQueen didn't talk the Germans into inventing Ray-Bans for him. Because he's just that awesome.
posted by Zonker at 5:31 PM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

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