The Great Escape (1963)

The Great Escape
Directed by John Sturges
Written by James Clavell and W.R. Burnett from a book by Paul Brickhill
The Mirisch Company
Repeat viewing/Netflixrental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Hilts: I haven’t seen Berlin yet, from the ground or from the air, and I plan on doing both before the war is over.

I’ve loved this movie since I was a kid.

The German Luftwaffe gets the brilliant idea of putting all Allied POW escape artists into a single camp.  The theory is that they can be watched over better.  In practice, the officers are equipped to execute an audacious plan.  An RAF mastermind called “The Big X” (Richard Attenborough) is in charge.  The goal is to be able to tunnel 250 prisoners out of the camp.  The scheme relies on team work, with everyone assigned to a specialty. American Air Force Captain Virgil Hilts (Steve McQueen) isn’t playing.  His many solo escape attempts  earn him lots of time in solitary confinement and the title “The Cooler King.”

The first two acts of the story concentrate on the planning and details of tunnel construction.  The last part is the daring escape attempt itself when little goes as planned. With James Garner as a Scrounger, Charles Bronson as a Tunnel King, James Coburn as an Australian (!), Donald Pleasance as a Forger, and many other fine British character actors.  There are no female roles.

The film is almost three hours long but I’ve never felt it dragged at all.  POW and heist movies are a favorite of mind – I think because I enjoy learning the mechanics of complicated schemes. This was my introduction to McQueen, Coburn, and Bronson long before I knew they were super-cool.  I just liked them.  The whole thing works beautifully. The adventure is given the perfect underpinning with the iconic Elmer Bernstein score.

The Great Escape was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Film Editing.

6 thoughts on “The Great Escape (1963)

  1. Such a great movie. This was a boyhood favorite of mine–everyone in this movie is so damn cool.

    While I contend that Steve McQueen was possibly the coolest human being to ever live, in this movie James Garner is an amazingly smooth operator and tends to be my favorite character for so many reasons.

  2. Definitely a top movie….even with the Fake American presence (& McQueen is excellent even so).

    Even to the end it is pretty historically accurate….and no Damned CGI…yay

    One movie you couldn’t imagine being remade and thoroughly deserving a place on the 1001 list..for that small few that might not.have, simply, watch this one.

    Along the same theme and damn good also – The Wooden Horse (1950)

    • How about James Coburn as an Australian? First he sounds like he is trying to do a Cockney accent and then he gives up altogether! I’ll have to give The Wooden Horse a try some time.

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