Saturday Night at the Movies: The Great Escape (1963)

World War II movies are a great pastime for me, being the inveterate history buff (and former history major in college, too). Personally, I always preferred the action movies that involved the actually fighting (The Longest Day) or even fictional espionage stories (The Guns of Navarone).

But this one still holds a dear place in my heart, not the least because of some great dialogue. And dialogue is always a key attraction to me (which explains why a William Goldman scripted movie ranks higher in my ratings simply because that guy wrote it, even if the movie itself sucks.) This one was scripted by W. R. Burnett, himself no slouch, having also written The Asphalt Jungle and Hugh Sierra.

Steve McQueen is the headliner, along with a cast of others including (Sir) Richard Attenborough, James Garner, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and a host of other recognizable faces. The plot involves a Luftwaffe P.O.W. camp inside Germany which is attempting to construct a tunnel to escape 250 prisoners and thus put the German armed forces in a tizzy looking for them.

Along the way you get several little sidelines, including one of my favorites in which the three American POWs (McQueen, Garner, and Jud Taylor) help to celebrate the 4th of July (American Independence Day, for those of you outside the States)
by making a batch of good old American moonshine.

Despite the fact that, if you know your history, the escape was not as successful as the planners hoped, the movie still manages to come off as somewhat of a feel good patriotic movie. Do yourself a favor, however, and get the 2 disc version so you can see the excellent special features, including a four-part documentary on a comparison of how the movie portrayed the events to what actually transpired. (There were no Americans in the camp when the real escape was attempted, but as the documentary states, no one in America would have gone to see it if it were an all-British cast)

This one gets my highest honor of 5 stars.

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