The Great Escape (1963)

Allied prisoners of war try to come up with a plan to escape a top security camp in Germany during World War II.

Director: John Sturges

Cast: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, James Donald, Charles Bronson, James Coburn

MPAA Rating: N/A

Fun Fact: Charles Bronson was a coal miner before being an actor. He told director John Sturges on how the dirt needed to be moved during the digging the tunnel scenes.

I have always been fascinated in history as long as I can remember. World War II history has always been the peak topic of choice. I remember the first time I saw The Great Escape was in 8th grade social studies class. My teacher had a game for the class. If we could guess right on who escaped, we would get extra credit or something like that. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it right. Once I saved up some allowance money, I bought the movie and have tried to watch it at least once a year. I’m surprised that it has taken me this long to review this.

Back in that era of Hollywood, epic filmmaking was one to the top genres around. At almost three hours this is truly an epic film. The premise is perfect, a group of Allied soldiers want to escape and rejoin the war effort against Nazi Germany. Based on a book from Paul Brickhill, who was a real prisoner in the real camp, it has exciting moments of action and suspense. Most of the real people are rolled into a few characters to have the audience connect with them. These characters are what drive the movie and the performances are outstanding. The ensemble cast brings their A-Game and you want to be around these people. The chemistry of the cast is off the charts and the scenes are so well directed and acted that it makes the film flow nicely. For a movie that’s almost three hours long you need scenes to flow nicely and keep your interest. Once the prisoners get out of the prison, that’s when the thrill ride begins. Steve McQueen’s journey on the motorcycle is a treat. It brings tension and suspense that the payoff is worth it. The scenes of digging the tunnel also had an effect on me. I had a couple of white-knuckle moments at certain parts. You want all the characters to succeed because of the well written characterizations and the buildup.

It’s hard for me to pick a favorite performance as I love them all. I’m also a fan of all of these actor’s as well. This is my favorite Steve McQueen performance and I’m a big Bullitt fan. He’s the wise cracking lead that you root for because it’s Steve McQueen. This is also my favorite Richard Attenborough film as well. He plays the man behind the escape and he shows the character’s leadership through his performance. I just can’t get enough of these performances because the whole cast is that good. I know I’m leaving many people out of the conversation, but I suggest you see the film to get the effect that I did from it.

Filmed in Germany, the film is beautiful looking. Most of the cinematography is at a wide shot and I thought the decision to fill it that way was a good decision. We get to see a lot of the scenery in the background. It brings the film to life as at some points of the movie I was focused on the locations they chose to film at. The cinematography really pays off when Steve McQueen is being chased by soldiers on his motorcycle. It makes his journey look impossible since we have a wide shot of the scenery and it looks bigger than it should. The camp set looked amazing as well. Wally Floody was a prisoner at the camp as well and he was called on as a technical advisor. He told the set designers on what everything looked like and it looks authentic.

Elmer Bernstein’s music is fantastic, and I can’t stop humming the theme song once and a while. It’s one of my favorite theme songs to a film. When scenes of tension are called on, the music brings it to the next level. Bernstein is one the greatest film composers of all time and it shows here.

Overall, The Great Escape is one of the definitions of epic filmmaking. It’s well paced and flows nicely. John Sturges’ direction and the writing of the script from it’s source material bring a great classic film that all must see. We get well directed scenes of acting that make you want to be around these characters. The acting chemistry is off the charts and I can’t get enough of it. When the third act gets rolling, we are in for a thrill ride that doesn’t let up. Like I stated before I try and watch this film once a year and I can’t get enough of it and there are plenty of reasons why.

Verdict: Hit

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