When playing tag-related games like capture-the-flag, it was just as important to remember to leave someone to guard the prisoners from the rival team as it was to advance on the rival team. If you didn’t watch the base, your prisoners might escape. This is essentially the same principal as was held by prisoners-of-war during WWII; the more efforts for escape meant more German soldiers needed to guard the prisoners. This was why the Germans decided to create Stalag Luft III, a maximum security prisoner-of-war camp meant to hold the most notorious escape artists. This was the
Alcatraz of war
camps, but the culmination of so many crafty minds resulted in the largest
prison breakout ever attempted.
The Great Escape is exactly what it advertises itself as, a prison escape film from beginning to end. There is no extraneous material about the soldiers leading up to their initial capture, and no footage of previous prison camps. All the film’s narrative is concerned with is the prison escape based on actual historical events, and we are told in the beginning by text that the details of the actual escape are kept accurate in the telling of the film. Despite the directness of the film’s narrative, The Great Escape still has a running time of 172 minutes. This is due to the ensemble cast full of lively and eclectic characters, a method of storytelling not unfamiliar to director John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven).
This cast includes the memorable performance by Steve McQueen as the baseball-loving, motorcycle riding American with seventeen escape attempts under his belt before even arriving at the new camp. Each of the different men have tasks or special abilities that they perform in the aid of the escape. Hilts (McQueen) is especially skilled at spending an inordinate amount of time in the cooler, due to his excessive escape attempts. Hendley (James Garner) is skilled at finding items, giving him the title as the gang’s scrounger, while his bunkmate (Donald Pleasance) is a skilled forger given the task of making fake documents for the prisoners escaping. There are also tunnel diggers (Charles Bronson, John Leyton), a man in charge of dispersing the dirt from the tunnel (David McCallum), and at least half-a-dozen other jobs. The star-studded cast also includes Richard Attenborough, James Coburn, Gordon Jackson and James Donald.
The Blu-ray release is an appropriately polished presentation of this 1963 classic, complete with a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack for Elmer Bernstein’s unforgettable soundtrack. This must be one of the top movie soundtracks to be whistled. In fact, I’m certain more people know the score’s main tune than have actually seen the film. The special features on the disc include an audio commentary by director Sturges with various cast and crew members thrown in the mix. The real bonus is the myriad of making-of featurettes. There are a total of eight, with various topics that include the true story the film was based upon.
Entertainment Value: 9/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 9/10
Historical Significance: 9/10
Disc Features: 8/10