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The Great Escape

The Great Escape poster#2 – The Great Escape (1963) – Top 10 Favorite War Films

Directed By: John Sturgis
Produced by:  John Sturges
Written By: Paul Brickhill and James Clavell
Music by:  Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography by:  Daniel L. Fapp
Rating: PG
Aspect Ratio:  2.30 : 1
Running Time: 169 Minutes

Cast: As: a.k.a.:
Steve McQueen Capt. Virgil Hilts “The Cooler King”
James Garner Hendley “The Scrounge”
Richard Attenborough Bartlett “Big X”
James Donald Ramsey “The SBO”
Charles Bronson Danny Velinski “Tunnel King”
Donald Pleasence Colin Blythe “The Forger”
James Coburn Sedgwick “Manufacturer”
Hannes Messemer Von Luger “The Kommandant”
David McCallum Ashley-Pitt “Dispersal”
Robert Graf Werner “The Ferret”

The text below is part of a series of articles originally published May 25th – June 6, 1999.

I’m going to start #2 off with a little rant.  In a few of these mini-reviews I’ve linked back to the American Film Institute’s website when one of the movies on this list was ranked in their top 100 of all time.  Sadly (and actually quite pathetic), The Great Escape didn’t even make their top 100 list! . . . but that’s not the pathetic part.  Not only did it no crack their top 100, which boasts the likes of Tootsie, Fargo, and Annie Hall . . . it’s not even listed in their list of 400 movies you can vote on!  This is a complete travesty! This movie deserves much better than that!  But I’m over it . . . sort of.

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Moving on.  One of the most classic scenes in American movie history is portrayed in The Great Escape.  I’m sure you’ve all seen it, whether you’ve seen the movie or not: Steve McQueen astride a captured German motorcycle tearing across the fields trying to escape to Switzerland, and his last ditch attempt to jump the fence!   Very cool . . . back to the cooler for him!  All WW II escape movies that came out after The Great Escape were essentially rip-offs (or homage), especially those that dealt with tunneling out.  Even the recent animated movie Chicken Run borrows heavily from The Great Escape.

In this movie, 76 P.O.W.s attempt to tunnel out of their camp right under the noses of their Nazi captors.  Each one takes on a new identity, has forged papers, and learns German, all within the walls of the prison camp.  In the end the escape goes off, but not without significant problems and adventures.

For 1963 this has an all-star cast.  If it were to be filmed today with equivalent modern day star power, the actor salaries would sure break the bank and it would never see production.  The actors develop their characters in a very detailed manner, giving each one a unique three dimensional feel . . . a feeling lost in the cinema of the ’90s.  The tone of the movie is decidedly light, unlike many P.O.W. movies that have come out.  Deep inside you are behind these guys, you want them to succeed and get out because you genuinely care about them.

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The Great Escape was only nominated for one Academy Award: Best Film Editing.  Regardless, it stands out as one of the coolest and most fun WW II movies to ever come out of Hollywood.  A true classic!!  Heck with the AFI, it’s #2 on my list!

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.

About Neal Ulen

Neal Ulen
Editor/Webmaster - Neal is a writer and recovering engineer who likes pizza, the insidious power of sarcasm (and pizza), and debating science fiction (and pizza). You can also find his writing on Omni, Geeks, and other media platforms.
  • TrilacD

    a movie often imitated, but never surpassed when it comes to prison escapes in any war era. The cast is second to none. though I’m young I remember watching this movie on bluray a few years ago, I fell in love with it instantly, I got so caught up in it.