The Great Escape (John Sturges, 1963)

What's it about? Splutter! What's it about!? It's only the best, most famous prison breakout film, like, ever! Based on the true story of the famous prison break in 1944 from the supposedly inescapable Stalag Luft III by Allied soldiers during WWII, as you should well know. Yes, it's even better than bloody Prison Break! 


Is it any good? Splutter! Is it any good!? Of course it bloody well is! It may not be the most serious movie about WWII and it has the dubious honour of being labelled a 'Bank Holiday' movie, but they put it on then because they know everyone gets sucked in when they start watching it. It's a gloriously old-fashioned Boys Own adventure, full of excitement, humour and tragedy. As with the best prison breakout movies, all the staple ingredients of the daring escape are present and correct; plans are hatched, guards are bribed, tunnels are dug, papers are forged, mistakes are made, fences are jumped. It’s been seen a thousand times in a thousand escape movies, but the thrill, as always, is in seeing the ingenious details of the plan unfold and how unexpected obstacles are overcome.

Here, the fun is further enhanced by the all-star cast who create a terrific array of memorable characters and moments. Personally, it's Gordon Jackson getting caught out by his own trick that never fails to make me wince, but Richard Attenborough, Donald Pleasance, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, James Garner and many others all get their moments to shine. And then of course, there's Steve McQueen, the Cooler King, who (as Eddie Izzard noted) is so cool he doesn't even need a disguise like the others when he breaks out. Even when he finally gets one from a German soldier, he soon discards it because he is too American. Although the motorbike escape was entirely fictional, only inserted on the insistence of motorbike-mad McQueen (and doubled by stunt rider Bud Ekins), the thrilling jump over the barbed wire fence has become one of the defining moments of the movie and is an enduring image in cinema.

And last, but certainly not least, keeping the whole thing ticking along is ElmerBernstein's infectious theme tune – even the adoption of the theme by English football fans hasn’t lessened its brilliance. Now that is a true testament to endurance. Tally-ho!

Anything else I should know? This review has been prompted by the recent 70th anniversary celebrations of the real-life escape, which has spawned a number of articles about the real-life characters and details involved. Here's the account of one real-life POW in the camp and here's a link to a number of homages inspired by the film, including ones by The Simpsons, Monty Python and Red Dwarf.


What does the Fonz think? Great by name, great by nature. All together! 
Doo, doo, do-doo, do-do-doo, doo, doo, do-doo, do-doo, do-do-doo.

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