The Great Escape (1963) – John Sturges

The next stop in the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book sees me back in the war genre, watching one of my all-time favourite WWII films, The Great Escape. Based loosely on actual events there is a lot to love in this film, not only in the movie itself, but for the nostalgia factor in my own life.

A stupendous score by Elmer Bernstein, the film boasts an unequaled cast; Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, James Garner, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance, and James Coburn. The cast play a multi-national collection if Allies who are P.O.W.s in the latest Nazi prison camp – putting all the rotten eggs in one basket, in their words.

Of course, that just means they’ve got the best planners, the best escape artists, the best forgers, and best scroungers in one place – escape attempts seemed inevitable.

McQueen’s American Hilts is a bit of a wild card as tbe rest of the camp is quite happy to plan attempts under Bartlett (Attenborough) aka Big X. He keeps trying to get out abd finds himself the King of the Cooler, solitary prison. But as he gets to know and develop friendships with others in the camp, he dedicates himself to the task of helping to organise one of the biggest escapes ever. X wants to get 250 people out, and it’s so incredible, it just might work.

The characters test their foes, slowly working to oursmart them, as the logistics of their plan come to fruition, and happily the story takes it time doing it. Over the course of three hours we get to know these characters, root for them, laugh and cheer with them.

Enjoyably paced and delightfully scripted, this first found its way into my list of faves in the early 80s when my parents rented it on video one weekend. I loved the theme, thought Hilts was the best, and loved our heroes get one over on the Nazis.


It stuck with me until I started working in a video store, and I would throw it on to get me through the day. It’s a movie I know well, and everytime I watch it, I simply delight in settling in for the ride. 
Then, there are cool things about the making of the film that I love, the best of which is that in the climax of Hiltz’s motorcycle chase, McQueen is not only playing his character on a motorbike, but also one of the Nazi soldiers in pursuit. He is literally chasing himself! I love stuff like that.

After Hilts, Garner’s character, Hendley, is my favourite, watching how he does what he does is wonderfully entertaining, and his relationship with Pleasance’s Blythe is fantastic as it develops. 

Speaking of reationships, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mentiin Hilts friendship with Ives (Angus Lennie) which proves to be his motivation to help the big breakout.

They really don’t make movies like this anymore, giant casts, epic storytelling, and just a joy in filmmaking. This one tends to get regular viewing by yours truly and it has stood the test of time wonderfully.

I love it!

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