THE GREAT ESCAPE
MOVIE: **** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5)
Steve McQueen as HILTS “THE COOLER KING”
James Garner as HENDLEY “THE SCROUNGER”
Richard Attenborough as BARTLETT “BIG “
James Donald as RAMSEY “THE SBO”
Charles Bronson as DANNY “TUNNEL KING”
Donald Pleasence as BLYTHE “THE FORGER”
James Coburn as SEDGWICK “THE MANUFACTURER”
Directed by: John Sturges
BY KEVIN CARR
Though I had never seen “The Great Escape” before checking it out on Blu-ray, I had heard of the film. It’s a classic war picture that is often referenced. But more than the name recognition it carries, “The Great Escape” boasts one of the most impressive casts of its time. I’m not sure if audiences ever saw many of these actors on screen together elsewhere, but putting them in the mix in this film – and actually having them all interact to some degree – was an amazing feat.
“The Great Escape” tells the true story of a massive escape from a supposedly escape-proof German POW camp during World War II. The Nazis gathered all of the high-flight risk cases into one camp to keep an eye on all of them. In doing so, it allowed some of the greatest escape artists minds to work together and achieve an unprecedented escape numbering in the hundreds.
The cast includes Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence and James Coburn. It’s a cavalcade of tough guys from 1960, offering a fantastic ensemble. From the moment the movie starts, we see the British and American officers planning a way out of the camp.
Running three hours long, there’s plenty of ups and downs in “The Great Escape.” Like many films of its time, the movie features some clever, light-hearted moments, especially in the beginning as the team is testing the fences, so to speak. However, it does carry a heaviness to it, considering this is a true story and there were real lives on the line.
With a name like “The Great Escape,” you’re already prepped to watch them get beyond the fence, but that also serves as a sense of suspense leading up to the event. Unlike some recent classic war films I’ve seen (including “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “La Grande Illusion”), this is more contemporary and has a more modern American tongue-in-cheek feel to it. Similar to “Stalag 17,” “The Great Escape” features a punchy cast with the moxy you’d expect from a group of officers trying to buck the system.
Still, “The Great Escape” is a slow burn which allows you to watch wildly different characters work together and form a team in spite of their differences. It shows an inspiring level of cooperation and duty. You don’t just root for the guys to get out of the POW camp for patriotism, but rather because you want them to survive and succeed.
Even if you’re not into the older films, there’s plenty to enjoy that makes this one rise above the rest. There are great character interactions, led by an amazing cast. There’s also a nice dose of action that serves as inspiration for many films following it (including the motorcycle chase in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” among others).
The Blu-ray comes with an audio commentary by director John Sturges and his cast and crew. There’s also eight featurettes that delve into the real story and repercussions of the escape attempt. In particular, these featurettes are the most interesting parts because it reinforces the reason for the escape: not to actually find freedom (which would have been a positive side effect) but rather to distract up to a million German troops by sending them on a wild goose chase over the countryside.
The original theatrical trailer is also presented on the disc.