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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 13.04%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 2.9%
Total Crap: 8.7%

1 review, 63 user ratings

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Great Escape, The
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by MP Bartley

"Yes, it's Great. And that's the only time I'll make that pun."
5 stars

After what seems an eternity of soul-searching, earnest, war-is-hell flicks (Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down, We Were Soldiers etc), it would seem insulting to war veterans to make a Boys Own adventure film that makes war out to be as thrilling as 'The Great Escape' does. But it manages to do what is seemingly the impossible: make a thrilling WW2 film that also brings home the horrible, futile cost of war.

John Sturges is a director that seems to be forgotten in the annals of history. But every single director who's picked up a mega-phone to make an action film owes him an enormous debt of thanks. For his work in showing how to combine action and the characters is practically unsurpassable. You thought he had great cast in 'The Magnificent Seven'? Well look at this puppy.

There's Steve McQueen as 'Cooler King' Virgil Hilts, James Garner as 'Scrounger' Hendley, Richard Attenborough as 'Big X' Bartlett, James Coburn as 'Manufacturer' Sedgewick, Charles Bronson as 'Tunnel King' Danny Velinski and Donald Pleaseance as 'Forger' Blythe. Even the lesser known faces achieved a certain degree of stardom. David MaCallum, Gordon Jackson, Nigel Stock etc. This was the absolute cream of Hollywood cool combined with British reserve. And amazingly it works perfectly.

The above are all crammed into the same POW camp in Germany under the watchful eye of Von Luger (Hannes Messemer) who just wants time to pass as uneventfully as possible. (For the 60's this was an astonishingly brave and humane portrayal of a German. He wants to get along with the Allies and is extremely reluctant to give the 'Heil Hitler' salute).

However Allied leader Ramsey (James Donald) and Bartlett have other plans. By digging three seperate tunnels they plan to release 250 prisoners over Germany and get them back to the Allied forces. This brings everyone together even if Hilts is planning his own escape with his Scottish friend Ives (Angus Lennie).

For a film about 2 and a half hours long it's perhaps unsurprising that the action doesn't really kick in until the last hour. Previous to that the attention is devoted to the meticulous planning of the escape and filling in the characters of the prisoners. And it's completely enthralling. Whether it's marvelling at the ingenius planning of the escape under the constant threat of discovery or the nicely played character strokes, there's never a dull moment. Sturges keeps the film ticking along nicely by drip feeding in incident after incident, while building up to the main breakout.

It's a film that has one of those 'name-your-favourite-bit' myths, as set-piece after set-piece rolls out. Whether it be Ives desperate lunge at the wire fence after the first tunnel is discovered to the dispersal of the dirt they're digging up, or to Hendley's very funny blackmailing of camp guard Werner to the irony of Blythe going blind, it constantly throws up moments that make you go "Shit, yeah!". It has more highlights in it's first hour and a half than a a summerful of Bruckheimer blockbusters.

The lengthy running time also gives plenty of space to characters and make no mistake, McQueen is the Daddy here. From his very strut as he riles Von Luger into giving him 20 days solitary to his nonchalant way of banging his baseball off his cell wall to pass the time, he's the essence of stubborn resistance.

Garner runs him a close second as the charming, light fingered scrounger who forms a touching friendship with the hopelessly out of place Blythe. His defiant defence of his blindness to make sure he goes into the escape tunnel is a special moment.

Coburn and Bronson are also excellent (Bronson's last minute claustrophobia another one of those classic bits that everyone remembers), but it's a shame that the British actors get the more cliched roles. They're very much a public schoolboy set who stand around smoking pipes and tending gardens, while the Americans brew up illegal licqour and play baseball. It's a cliche that was prevalent in every war film up until then, and it's a shame it doesn't try to play against these stereotypes. It re-inforces the Boys Own feel to the piece, but ultimately it doesn't detract from it.

The Brits give fine displays also, although Attenborough is given a lot of hard work to do. His Bartlett is undoubtedly intelligent and brave, but also unlikeable and arrogant. Attenborough is also given some of the worst dialogue. Standing around surrounded by guards, he declares that he's never been happier. So being under constant threat of death and being imprisoned is his ideal form of happiness is it? As Dr.Evil would say, "Rigggght...". Makes you wonder what his childhood was like.

Despite this niggling flaw however, the rest of the cast fill out the roles excellently giving a heart and sadness to the piece when some inevitably bite the bullet.

So if the first hour and a half is merely excellent, then the remaining is what undoubtedly raises it into classic status, and also reiterates the cost of war. Sturges unleashes action upon action as the prisoners make their break (although typically as the Americans escape by stealing motorbikes and planes, how do the British escape? They catch a train).

This of course all leads up to the bit that everyone remembers: Steve McQueens legendary motorbike jump as he makes his last desperate bid for freedom into Switzerland. Admittedly with CGI and legions of stunt teams, it may not seem so impressive now but with the story and the character behind it, it still rates as one my greatest ever movie moments. But for all this excitement and showboating, it's largely to unavail as the tragic end looms into view. It's a brave move to end what has been a terrifically entertaining yarn with a sobering end, but this is based on a true story and this is what happened. This is what happens in war.

'The Great Escape' is one of those movies that you've probably seen a hundred times, but can't stop watching every time it's on to watch all your favourite bits roll out again. And each time you foolishly hope against hope that everyone is going to make it out this time. They won't, but that magical last scene and the superb theme tune from Elmer Bernstein, is testament to their defiance and courage. And that's what 'The Great Escape' is all about.

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originally posted: 07/30/02 00:15:14
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User Comments

11/01/15 Anne very special 4 stars
2/27/15 stanley welles it's overlong it's uneven and it looks phoney 2 stars
5/25/12 Ed Totleben Jr A classic film of human perserverance 5 stars
8/15/11 bshdfjkbh not as gay as you 1 stars
4/30/10 imagLeek watched this movie for a history class and it turned out to be one of my altime faves!!! 5 stars
4/30/09 Jessica Hurst This movie really sucked 1 stars
9/24/08 xdanny couldn't make it through the first 15 min; phony feel and smarmy acting 1 stars
9/22/08 Jeyanisha worth seeing!! Adventurous!! 4 stars
7/07/08 mary boone very good 5 stars
5/28/08 jordan keith ive seen this movie so many times but i still enjoy. my favourite war mobie of all time. 5 stars
4/22/08 mb Good 4 stars
3/31/08 biohazzard it was gay 1 stars
11/24/07 Thomas Semesky McQueen, Sturges and Bernstein at their best. 5 stars
6/20/07 George Chabot Brilliant in all respects. Arguably the best film score in any film. 5 stars
2/01/07 R.W.Welch Aptly titled, and virtually flawless. 5 stars
12/31/05 Theoacme Attenborough 3rd in credits, but most essential - film understates the real escape (how?!) 5 stars
11/05/05 Peter Colford My all-time Favorite! A Classic Film; A+ 5 stars
8/18/05 ES I can watch it over and over again, I love it 5 stars
8/12/05 Kelly Best escape movie ever!enjoyed it from begging to end 5 stars
7/11/05 Mike cast, plot,music,Mcqueen's chase sceen, this is one great flic 5 stars
12/15/04 Peter A classic that I enjoyed as a kid and again in my 40's - now my 13-year old son raves about 4 stars
6/15/04 Paul Quite simply the most enjoyable film of all time 5 stars
6/08/04 vincent tchen a great film done by a great cast 5 stars
5/31/04 Nobody One of the best ww2 movies in existance 5 stars
5/27/04 Dan Richardson GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
5/18/04 JoeManco Mindblowingly good. The actual "escape" is the greatest sequence in the history of cinema. 5 stars
4/10/04 IP Freeley A great movie...anyone who says this is bad has down syndrome 5 stars
3/25/04 john good adventure film with a simply phenomenal cast 4 stars
12/28/03 Gordon Eden Brilliant, I showed it in RAF Germany in the early sixties 5 stars
12/25/03 Sugarfoot Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson (2 of the coolest actors ever) what's not to like? 5 stars
8/10/03 Hammer What the? 2 stars
5/25/03 Demeter It's always a pleasure 5 stars
2/22/03 steve finan I've seen it 200 times easy.Bravery,courage&defiance at its'best. 5 stars
1/07/03 Michael Mains I think the Germans should have been more cruel. 4 stars
1/06/03 Jason We watched this film in motion picture class and I really liked the cast. 5 stars
12/15/02 hazem greatest wold war two movie as it have it all good actors good direction just great 5 stars
12/13/02 shelby watched it for "wars and peace in film" (a class) it was the only film i enjoyed all year 5 stars
11/03/02 ashleigh sprouting the best film ever ever! i love steve mcqueen! 5 stars
10/24/02 Interrog8 The best escape movie ever. 5 stars
10/17/02 Charles Tatum The don't put casts like this in action flicks anymore 5 stars
10/13/02 Bryce Padovan This film is just a classic. a must see 5 stars
10/10/02 Bryce Padovan best movie ever duuuuude 5 stars
9/24/02 CVJ Brilliant the best war movie ever 5 stars
9/12/02 Jeff Nelson A classic like they will never make again! 5 stars
8/30/02 stepnek A good movie to watch 4 stars
8/13/02 shifter xx My favorite movie, NO QUESTIONS ASKED! Anyone who dosnt like this does not know a good film 5 stars
8/09/02 Bradley Melloy One of my all time favorites 5 stars
8/09/02 Justin The best fucking World War II movie ever! Whoever hates this film is a total faggot! 5 stars
5/15/02 Andy Tarradath Great film... great editing! 5 stars
11/14/01 Cassie-Jo Johnston This movie is one of the best World War 2 movies that I've ever seen. I liked how they adde 5 stars
11/02/01 Seventeen without a Purpose or Direction I hate war movies. This was smart and basically violence free. Perfect in my eyes. 5 stars
9/04/01 Helen Plarke WORST THAN "BABE PIG IN THE CITY'!! and thats gotta be bad! 1 stars
7/21/01 viking The best war film ever ? 5 stars
4/05/01 Hawkeye One of my favorite movies of all time. Don't sit here reading, go see it! 5 stars
2/17/01 Michael Nicholls The classic bank holiday movie 5 stars
2/14/01 Crazy Scot this movie was a waste of time 1 stars
2/14/01 Lee Not the classic it's hyped to be but entertaining nonetheless 4 stars
2/13/01 moore my all time favorite-still 5 stars
11/18/00 salvo This is THE war film... Haven't seen it yet? What the f.are you waiting? 5 stars
8/18/99 Japtalian A must see prisoner of war epic 5 stars
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  04-Jul-1963 (NR)
  DVD: 25-May-2004

  02-Feb-1964 (PG)

  02-Feb-1964 (PG)

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