The Great Escape (1963)

great escape poster 1963 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Great looking, interesting story, good cast

Really long

Movie Info

Movie Name: The Great Escape

Studio:  The Mirisch Company

Genre(s): Action/Adventure/War

Release Date(s):  June 20, 1963 (Premiere)/July 4, 1963 (US)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

great escape richard attenborough

Big X is in the hole!

It is a soldier’s duty to try to escape, and in 1943, a group of soldiers in the Stalag Luft III prison camp plan to follow their duty.  When Roger “Big X” Bartlett (Richard Attenborough) arrives at the camp, he begins to negotiate the other prisoners to create a mass escape intent on causing havoc for the German side.  Everyone has their job, and there are some jobs that are key for the plan to work.  There is the scrounger Robert Hendley (James Garner), the forger Colin Blythe (Donald Pleasence), the tunnel kings Danny Velinski (Charles Bronson) and Willie Dickes (John Leyton), the manufacturer Louis Sedgwick (James Coburn), and the tailor Griffith (Robert Desmond).  Getting out of the prison camp might be the first step but getting to freedom could be a whole lot harder.

great escape steve mcqueen tunnel

Well…this could be a problem

Directed by John Sturges, The Great Escape is a war action-adventure drama.  The film is an adaptation of Paul Brickhill’s 1950 account of the escape from Stalag Luff III in 1944 in Sagan, Poland.  The film was a big hit and well received by critics.  The movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Film Editing.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the movie (Criterion #1027).

The Great Escape had the king of cool Steve McQueen riding a motorcycle and doing big jumps.  For a kid that was all you needed.  The movie is a long one and though memorable, I sometimes forget who lives and who dies in the end.  Despite being locked in as “history”, the movie still manages to be tense and surprising at points.

great escape james garner donald pleasence

It will be fun fly…trust me!

The movie takes tons of liberties with the stories and is more of a “spirit of the escape” type story.  Many of the basic concepts and ideas are true but it didn’t necessarily play out as it did in the film.  The nearly three hour movie can be divided into three parts with the first part of the movie being the assessment and decision making, the second part being the tunneling, and the third part with the escape and rounding up of the characters.  It takes a long time to get to the third part which has most of the action, but it is a good payoff with a realism of “this is war” and not a game coming into play in the third act since the tone of the movie isn’t always as dark as it could be.

The cast is great and though he’s booked as the star, Steve McQueen’s character feels almost second banana to James Garner, Richard Attenborough, and Donald Pleasence who feel more involved in the title escape.  McQueen’s character increases in importance as the film goes on, but the other actors are already heavily established by the time McQueen really gets going.  The back-up cast including Charles Bronson and James Coburn all work well and even though the “big stars” got the real poster placement, it does feel like a strong ensemble.

great escape steve mcqueen motorcycle

Freedom is on the other side of the fence

The movie does a great job making the prison camp and the post-escape visuals.  The camp feels very functional and was built for the movie.  I also like how the tunneling scenes are shot to demonstrate the claustrophobic (and dangerous) nature of the diggers.  The lauded motorcycle chase not only has some great stunts but its location on the fields surrounded by mountains gives you that sense of hope that Hilts can make it…freedom is just in sight!

The Great Escape is a movie that you might know the ending to but you always hope it will end differently.  I always had a weird twinge about The Great Escape because I closely associate it with the goofy Hogan’s Heroes and keeping “Hogan’s” from creeping into my viewing of The Great Escape is always a struggle.  A 1988 made-for-TV “sequel” The Great Escape II:  The Untold Story recreates the escape and focuses on the hunt for the people responsible for the killing of the escapees.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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