The Great Escape (1963)

















This review contains SPOILERS!
For a movie known for its title, its big named actors, and its catchy tune; it's amazing how little actually happens in "The Great Escape".
Taking a page from David Lean type pictures ("epics", if you must confine them to a genre), "The Great Escape" loves the two sides to every confrontation. There's the prisoners versus the jailers, the Americans versus the British, and (at the very center) Steve McQueen versus Richard Attenborough.
First of all, "The Great Escape" is one of the cheeriest movies about WWII that you can find besides a comedy. It's not too heavy, the actually power of the movie is lost through the jaunty one-liners and the stiff-uppers lips.
A prison camp in Germany has become the housing for several flight risk prisoners. The man in charge here is positive that his lenient approach will make the prisoners feel more at home, therefore not try to escape as much; but one of the British officers assures him that this is not a possibility. These men have taken a vow to try to escape as many times as possible and if that is unattainable, to distract as much of the enemy's forces as they can.
The men are organized, like the prisoners from "The Bridge on the River Kwai". They follow strict orders and they are incredibly militant in their escape attempts. They are headed by Bartlett (Richard Attenborough), a suave man of intellect who will do whatever he must to escape.
He is opposed (though not in a combatant sense) by Hilts (Steve McQueen), the American who would love to escape and tries as many times as he can. He keeps getting sent to solitary confinement, which the Germans cheerily refer to as "The Cooler". Time after time, he runs out and gets brought back.
Bartlett and his men have decided that they should dig three tunnels—with the code names Tom, Dick, and Harry—in an orderly fashion. If one is discovered, the other two can be used.
So the men pretend to be happy in the prison camp and their ingenuity is shown here—the viewer's mind recalls the beginning statement, which told us that "The Great Escape" is based on a true story. Simple tasks demand much respect, like gathering wood or dumping dirt in the yard.
The problem with "The Great Escape" is that it's way too long. Much of the time is eaten up with scenes that reinforce the idea that it's really hard to get out of the camp. The men are smart, smarter than the Germans. Yet, in this respect, the film is also immature. It lets the head German officer be borderline anti-Hitler, a pragmatist who doesn't see the worth in killing innocents. It's hard to not dislike the guy, so the film also doesn't have a villain.
It's vwey stylish and filled with good performances; but there is nothing incredibly special here.
Steve McQueen, who gets top billing in the movie, is not the main character; the movie drags; and it's not an action film...so on every count, the movie is misleading.
What I do give the movie credit for, is the severity it carries. People's lives are actually treated with respect, and the final moments of the film may surprise you.
Yet, as the film comes to a close, I am left with two thoughts: "The Great Escape" is neither an escape, nor a great film.






Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

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