Directed by: Billy Wilder
Produced by: Billy Wilder
Written by: Billy Wilder and Edwin Blum
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cinematography by: Ernest Laszlo
Rating: not rated (TV-PG)
Color: Black and White
Aspect Ratio: 1.37 : 1
Running Time: 120 Minutes
The text below is part of a series of articles originally published May 25th – June 6, 1999.
Stalag 17 is one of the first, and best, prisoner of war movies to come out of Hollywood following World War II. Billed as a comedy, it comes across as more of a dark comedy with very brief moments of slapstick. The subject is bleak, but is often uplifted by the brevity of the soldiers just trying to make it to their next day and a hopeful conclusion to the war.
Originally penned for the stage, director Billy Wilder (with Edwin Blum) adapted the hit play for the silver screen, successfully turning a somber topic into an entertaining film viewing experience. William Holden portrays the self absorbed and cynical POW Sefton thrown in among a group of social and military misfits. But inside the spartan barracks of Stalag 17 (the name of the prison camp) lurks a Nazi informant. A stool pigeon bent on monitoring the actions of the Allied POWs. Due to Sefton’s aloof behavior, the other POWs suspect that he is their hidden stoolie. The absent minded and oafish sergeant of the barracks (Sgt. Schulz played by Sig Ruman) sides with the misfits in blaming Sefton . . . because he’s party to the truth. Holden’s character must find a way to deal with the matter and bring some vigilante punishment to the true informant before the barrack populace decide to impose final judgement on him. In the end Sefton is triumphant and redeems himself in the eyes of his fellow POWs. But due to his inherent nature, unchanged by the ordeal, he will not accept their apologies or gratitude.
By now you may have guessed that this movie seems a little (okay, a LOT) like Hogan’s Heroes. You would be right. But, it is a far cry from the television series it spawned in the late ’60s. Where that television series (which took place at Stalag 13) was pure off-the-cuff humor, silliness, and slapstick, Stalag 17 at its heart is a very serious movie.
William Holden’s portrayal of Sefton won him a Best Actor Oscar in 1954. Billy Wilder was nominate for Best Director, but lost out to Fred Zinnemann, director of From Here to Eternity.
Stalag 17 had a great amount of influence on Hollywood, from television to dark war comedies in both film and fiction. It’s a great WWII POW flick . . . but not the greatest (hint)!
Note: I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant. These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.