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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THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)

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Christopher

I’ve seen this movie so many times now but it’s never become dull or uninteresting. The story in this film seems very textbook but I think that’s part of what makes it so great. We become acquainted with the main villain in the first scene of the film. We get to meet our main character in an exciting carriage ride which has us rooting for him from the very beginning. We meet our team and what makes them above average. And finally we get to see the battle unfold and who does and doesn’t make it to the end.
My favorite of the seven is hands down James Coburn’s character, Britt. To me he has the greatest setup of the seven.  He comes off cool when people he works with argue that he can’t do what he says he can: draw quicker with a knife than a pen. Once this is put to the test a man is dead and we know exactly who’s the perfect fit for the team!
I saw this many years before I saw Seven Samurai but finding that connection in high school was my first real exposure to Kurosawa. If that hadn’t happened I don’t know what I would of done if I didn’t have Ikiru to watch a hundred times.
I doubt I would enjoy the remake anywhere close to this but I hope we watch it at some point.

Elizabeth (spoilers!)

There wasn’t one main thing about westerns that made me dismiss them when I was younger. In fact, I remember watching Stagecoach sometime in elementary school and liking it. But I hated John Wayne. When I first knew he existed I didn’t know why he was famous; when I found out he was an actor I felt like I got the joke – ohhhh right, that guy’s a HORRIBLE actor, ha ha! The fact that John Wayne seemed to be the epitome of a western actor did not bode well to me. Then I saw The Searchers in a summer camp film class the summer after 9th grade and my fears were confirmed: westerns are long, westerns are boring, women are property in westerns, and John Wayne sucks. That was the last time I wasted time on a western for a while.

In my defense, it would have helped to see cool westerns with cool guys like For A Few Dollars More or The Magnificent Seven. And in fact, The Magnificent Seven combines a lot of movie tropes that I’ve always loved: a good guy posse, male friendships, meeting each member of the posse individually, an unexpectedly bad bad guy, and sexy cowboys.

I admit I sort of laughed when I found out Eli Wallach was the bad guy. Eli Wallach? Of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly AND Keeping the Faith? Right, okay. He even acts jolly! Until he murders a man in front of his whole town for no reason. With that he enters different bad guy territory: an unexpectedly bad bad guy, the scariest kind. Wallach and his posse are terrorizing a Mexican village, pillaging it whenever they need supplies. The men of the town decide to hire guns to defend themselves. Then they meet Chris (Yul Brynner), a very casually sexy cowboy who tells them their money will go further if they hire gunmen instead of buy guns. Chris looks around at the villagers, sees their level of attractiveness, and realizes he must be the one to recruit the gunmen.

It doesn’t happen exactly like that but because of one of my favorite parts of the movie, he may as well have. Along with the main 7 and the bad guys, there are villages and posses full of extras throughout the movie. In any of these larger scenes with lots of characters, any of the 7 stick out like a sore thumb. Why? Because they are gorgeous and no one else is. It’s not even a case of the extras being made to look dirty or grimy; it’s straight up attractiveness. The 7 all look like movie stars, and even though there are ranks of attractiveness within the 7, all of the extras just look like normal people. The contrast was so stark I made up a subplot that included sexy radar that all of the 7 must have had in order to find each other.

Chris, who looks like this:

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picks up Vin, played by Steve McQueen, who looks like this:

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Together they gather Harry Luck (Brad Dexter), who looks like this:

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Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson), who, no joke, looks like THIS:

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Britt (James Coburn), who looks like this (cute butt added for good measure):

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And Lee (Robert Vaughn), who looks like this:

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The six men start to get followed around by Chico, a local villager played by the hilariously German-named Horst Buchholz, and they have no choice but to take him along because he looks like this:

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Anyway, each of the 7 has a niche skill that they bring to the good guy posse. I expected there to be one big, final showdown between the 7 and Wallach and his posse, which the 7 would win, which made me think I sort of knew how the whole thing was going to end. There is a big showdown, which the 7 win, but it doesn’t end there. Chico infiltrates the bad posse and finds out that they’re coming back, and soon, because they’re out of food. The 7 ride out to meet the posse and deal with them there, but find the camp abandoned. When they come back to the village they find it overtaken by the bad posse. Knowing they’ve won, the bad posse lets the 7 go, figuring the 7 have just found out that this village isn’t worth dying for. After the bad posse leads the 7 out of the village and gives them back their guns, Britt is immediately ready to go back, pissed off that they were bested. Everyone but Harry agrees to go back and fight; Harry rides off on his own just to come back to the village in the nick of time to save Chris from being shot. In the end, Chris shoots Wallach and all but he, Vin, and Chico of the 7 are killed trying to save the village. The 7 technically win, but as Chris says in the last lines, “We lost. We’ll always lose.”

So, The Magnificent Seven was not only not boring but it was actually cool and full of eye candy in tight jeans. I’m annoyed with myself for not watching this sooner, but I also just blame John Wayne. If this dude was instead the ultimate face in cowboy badassery:

31257629_1300x1733 instead of the lumbering, eternally-an-old-man-who-can’t-act John Wayne, I probably would have wanted to watch this a lot sooner.