The Great Escape

John Sturges's dramatization of the true story of a group of British, American, and Canadian POWs who executed a massive escape from Stalag Luft III in Upper Silesia in March 1944, arguably the best World War II adventure film ever made, stars Steve McQueen as the rebellious Virgil Hilts. The German high command has filtered out all the most talented escape artists of the Allies' and placed them in a POW camp specifically designed to foil any unwanted departures. Of course, as soon as they arrive, the prisoners begin work on a series of tunnels under the direction of Roger "Big X" Bartlett (Richard Attenborough). He assigns the POWs to jobs according to their specialties: Bob "Scrounger" Hendley (James Garner) steals necessary items, Eric "Dispersal" Ashley-Pitt (David McCallum) hides the soil being dug from the tunnels, and Danny "the Tunnel King" Willinski (Charles Bronson) and Colin "the Forger" Blythe (Donald Pleasence) have self-explanatory handles. For more than a year, 600 prisoners, most of whom won't be leaving, work toward an escape that will temporarily disrupt the operations of the German army. A host of big-name stars meshes beautifully in this meticulous re-creation of the legendary escape. Although this is a film about courage, Sturges wisely takes a low-key approach, leavened with humor, rather than allowing the cast to indulge in macho antics. However, McQueen's memorable motorcycle stunts could be said to fit in that category. THE GREAT ESCAPE, based on the book by Paul Brickhill, is quite simply one of the grandest war films ever made, featuring many key scenes (McQueen's motorcycle chase, McQueen tossing the baseball against the cell wall, Bronson sliding on his chest in the tunnel) that are unforgettable.


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