Friday, March 15, 2013

Nazi Week: The Great Escape

Sie kommen hierher, jetzt!  Willkommen to Day 5 of Nazi Week and I felt we should end on a thriller/comedy/action film of great proportions.  A film of POWs confounding the enemy at every turn that more resources and manpower are wasted find prisoners of war versus the frontlines.  So grab your pickaxe, prep that candle and hope the guards don’t hear us.  This is The Great Escape.

Ve have vays to make you...right, who threw that?

Are all spoilers so ill-mannered? Yeah, about 99 percent.

Producer/director John Sturges (Bad Day at Black Rock, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, The Magnificent Seven and Ice Station Zebra) brought us a bit of a doozy with this film as it is to be depicted as Stalag Luft III, a high security POW compound has been created and the commandant, Luftwaffe Colonel Luger (Hannes Messmer of Il Generale della Rovere, The Devil Strikes at Night, The Odessa File andLangusten) informs the highest ranking British officer Group Captain Ramsey (James Donald of Lust for Life, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Five Million Years to Earth and David Copperfield) that there will be no escapes from this camp as Ramsey counters with its is their duty to try and escape.  Our first day is a series of failed attempts and the POWs grab their bunks and settle in at camp. 

Sipping whiskey...Kentucky style.

Later in the day Gestapo (Secret Police) and Sicherheitsdienst (Nazi Secret Service) arrive with one Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett RAF (Richard Attenborough of Breakout, The League of Gentlemen, The Flight of the Phoenix, Doctor Dolittle, Brannigan and Jurassic Park).  Bartlett is informed one more escape attempt and he will be shot dead to follow up that he is to be isolated from the rest of the prisoners.  The commandant of course simply places him in with the others.  USAF Captain Hilts (Steve McQueen of Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Thomas Crown Affair Bullitt, Papillon and The Towering Inferno) tests a theory that lands him in isolation for 20 days.  Colonel Klink is most annoyed with his brash behavior.   

 Bartlett pitches to the men a series of three tunnels 30 feet down and then across to confound the Jerries.  An escape of 250 men is to occur and by God they are going to risk it.  With every man working each of their field they stand a good chance.  Disaster with the tunnels as men are caught and punished but the men preserver on.  Will they be able to burrow out in time and if so which way to go that will lead them to freedom?

Tijuana holding cell after Day of the Dead...I guess.

And now comes the part where I have a few tidbits about the film.  Several of the cast were actually POWs during WWII including Donald Pleasence being held by the Germans, Hannes Messemer by The Russians and Hans Reiser by the Americans.    James Garner developed his scrounger character from his own personal stint in the military during the Korean War.  While Steve McQueen did all his own motorcycle riding, the famous 60 foot jump over a fence was done by Stuntman Bud Ekins and later doubled for McQueen more than a few times.  Apparently McQueen tried the jump and crashed so Bud stepped in and gave us that amazing shot.  This film is dark, clever, comical and tragic.  I would say it is the personification of war itself but what the hell does a civvie know?