“The Great Escape” is mostly known these days for the iconic imagery of Steve McQueen riding his motorbike trying to escape the clutches of German soldiers. As a hardcore McQueen fan, I am all for giving him his due, but “The Great Escape” offers so much more than McQueen on a motorbike telling Nazis to fuck off as he desperately attempts escaping their forces. “The Great Escape” is a classic man film about a group of soldiers bonding to escape their prison, and garners an immense cast of acting heavyweights.
From Richard Attenborough, to Charles Bronson, and Donald Pleasance, the cast of incredible performers play POWS’s imprisoned in a German POW camp. Branded some of the best soldiers in the allied forces, the group of 250 soldiers decide to devise the great escape. The escape that their German rulers will not see coming. Led by Attenborough as Roger Bartlett, the man team to form a crafty and clever plan that will allow them to mine underground, ship dirt from the holes, and devise a path way all without their armed captors noticing their misdeeds. Much of “The Great Escape” is built around the soldiers biding their times and finding new ways to distract the officers from catching on to their master plans. With the tunnels codenamed “Tom,” “Dick,” and “Harry,” the soldiers begin figuring out new methods to build the tunnels underground while covering their work with their patented choir, and a July 4th celebration.
This isn’t only a diversion but an act of defiance against their German masters. McQueen is Hilts, the man known as “The Cooler King.” Since all soldiers go to “The Cooler” if they’re defiant or attempt escape, Hilts is known for being a common presence in the Cooler since he’s insistent on escaping frequently. Hilts is recruited to help in the escape plans, and is the crucial player in retrieving escapees and helping them span the prison grounds evading the guards. In one of the most teeth grinding moments, the men slowly drip out of the prison, and flee to their own respective routes that ensure they’re returning to American soil. “The Great Escape” is a long film, with an almost epic scale of narrative and a slew of characters to follow, but John Sturges makes it all worthwhile. The characters are often complex and unique in their own ways, while also attempting to claim freedom from the German camp.
There’s an almost respectable game that occurs, as the German officers almost always expect someone to escape, and the Americans whom are constantly thwarted accept defeat and begin starting a new plan. “The Great Escape” is a classic war film that really respects its audience enough to ask they invest in the enormous running time. All for a finale that features the various soldiers attempting to flee from Germany, all with varied results. Many of the moments of planning, and the final great escape are magnificent with moments that will leave many viewers smacking their heads and hoping for some resolution that benefits our heroes. Director John Sturges’ war thriller is a true classic, and an absolute masterpiece. While it’s a definite classic in the Steve McQueen gallery, it’s also a masterpiece of the action genre and highly recommended.