THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963)

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Elizabeth (spoilers!)

After The Magnificent Seven, I was ready for The Great Escape. Like The Magnificent SevenThe Great Escape was a movie I hadn’t seen because it looked long and boring. But both films were directed by John Sturges and star Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn. So things started to look up for The Great Escape.

I was dying to see Richard Attenborough in this because my only image of him is from the Jurassic Park/Miracle on 34th Street era. Chris and I tried to spot him, first thinking he was a different British actor, but when Attenborough came on screen it was unmistakably him. It was kind of amazing to watch him so young and to have the same voice, eyes, and mouth as he always did under that white beard. And it’s always nice to see James Garner from this time period, in all of his masculine sexiness. And the more Chris talked about it, the better it sounded. Sexy dudes banding together? Check. Allies fighting and defeating Nazis? Check. That plus knowing the movie wasn’t about actual battles (therefore not being super bloody and sad) really convinced me.

But you want to know something about The Great Escape? There is no great escape. Before you argue, I will counter by asking how great can an escape actually be if you’re murdered immediately after? By Nazis? How about: NOT THAT GREAT.

We spend about 2 hours learning about our characters, American and British soldiers being held in a Nazi POW camp. This particular camp is kind of a camp of misfits; the Nazis seemed to have dumped every POW that’s made an escape attempt into this camp. The Nazi Kommandant in charge of the camp is surprisingly likeable; he’s a career soldier who’s really ready for the war to be over. He thinks he and the POWs shouldn’t have a problem peacefully living among one another while they all wait out the war. Like The Magnificent Seven, all of the POWs we meet are charming and tough. They come up with an elaborate escape plan using tunnels they dig underground, including the necessary documentation to get them out of Nazi territory once they’re on the other side of the fence. They even build 3 tunnels simultaneously in case the Nazis discover one.

When the night of escape finally arrives, the Nazis have already discovered one tunnel. The POWs realize, a little late, that the tunnel they’re using isn’t long enough to safely get them past their Nazi guards. They figure out, using signals to each other, how to escape one by one without getting caught. After a whopping 76 POWs escape successfully, one of the POWs makes noise to alert the Nazis and the escape is cut short. As insanely stressful and tense as the escape was, I was shocked to learn that 76 had escaped because it was kind of hard to keep track on screen. It was awesome! As a viewer, you feel like celebrating. Fuck you, Nazis! Go USA! But what’s strange is there’s almost a full hour of the movie left at this point. But that’s surely to track some of the main POWs in their escape out of Nazi territory. Right?

Ha, ha! Gotcha! After we watch the 76 POWs escape we are fortunate enough to watch 50 of them get murdered by Nazis. And a bunch more get re-captured and sent back to the Nazi camp. Literally only three POWs actually escape. It was one thing when four of the magnificent seven were killed because A.) I mean, you kind of expect it and B.) they died on their own terms, trying to save the village. Both The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape have the same number of good guy survivors. Not. Cool.

I wouldn’t say this movie is bad, per se. Those amazing actors are still amazing in it. And it’s a harrowing true story for sure. I just kind of wanted to curl up and die after watching it.

Christopher

Another John Sturges movie I’ve seen well over ten times. I loved this movie when I was younger and I really wanted Elizabeth to watch and enjoy it as much as I did.
While I still enjoy the film quite a lot, it wasn’t quite how I remembered it. I wish they had taken more time explaining some of the escape routes and showing us all the tunnels. I wish we had a better understanding of how many people did escape. And I really wish there was more Steve McQueen! I totally forgot how much of an outsider he is in this film.
I think the highlight of this film is the scene where the Americans make moonshine on the Fourth of July. Besides celebrating it in front of British troops it’s an exciting scene.
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