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In 1943, the Germans thought they’d gotten wise
When they designed a camp to hold the most troublesome guys,
The prisoners who always tried escaping from their jail
And caused a lot of headaches for the Nazis on their trail.
But in their aspirations for a perfect prison dream,
In fact they put together the best liberation team.
The leader “X” was Roger, who was wanted far and wide,
And Danny was the “Tunnel King,” who dug three shafts outside.
The “Scrounger” was named Hendley, who finagled all supplies
And helped the “Forger” Colin Blythe, who lost sight in his eyes.
Then Sedgwick built all tools and had a big suitcase to carry,
And Hilts was called the “Cooler King,” who earned much solitary.
These men and more worked day and night to build three tunnels out
Named Tom and Dick and Harry, for there was no better route.
They masked their noise and hid the dirt in several clever ways
And tried to hide their plan below the Germans’ watchful gaze.
The Nazis still discovered Tom, which caused a suicide,
But all then worked on Harry to soon reach the woods outside.
The night arrived, and their whole plan discreetly took effect
As men began escaping through their passageway unchecked.
The hole came short of reaching woods but still they sneaked away,
Until the Germans heard a sound, to everyone’s dismay.
They stopped the flow but seventy-six escaped the camp in all,
Which launched a massive search for every man in this cabal.
Although they tried to blend right in, with forged passports and clothes,
Some chances and some poor mistakes and gaffes served to expose,
For all but three were seized again and fifty men were shot,
And Hilts marched calmly to his cooler when he too was caught.
Thus ended this escape attempt and their most brilliant plot.

As I said in my Memphis Belle review, most war movies have different focuses than just a battlefield. In The Great Escape, POWs get the spotlight, and there’s not a single battle scene. Instead, we get a true story with an incredibly clever and detailed plot to escape from a German war camp. It’s one of those classic manly men ensembles of the 1960s, but here everyone is entirely likable, unlike, say, The Dirty Dozen.While the mostly British officers could just as easily have sat out the war, they instead fulfilled their “duty” to escape, and, though the film drags on rather long, it’s an incredible thing to see their plan put into effect, provided you have enough popcorn to keep you awake.

The actors are all skilled thespians, but sadly not all of them stick out, perhaps because they no longer have the star power they held in 1963. I recognized monikers like Ashley-Pitt, MacDonald, Sedgwick, and Cavendish, but I couldn’t tell who they were unless someone directly called them by name. Still, a number of the men make an impression, if only with their code names: Richard Attenborough as “Big X,” Donald Pleasence as the blind “Forger,” James Garner as the “Scrounger,” Charles Bronson as Danny, and of course Steve McQueen as Hilts, one of his most memorable roles. Interestingly, Bronson’s character of Danny is one of the few to reach freedom, just as he was one of the three who survived in The Dirty Dozen. I guess some guys are just lucky.

A number of elements of the film have been parodied to no end. The scenes involving the men wheeling down the narrow tunnel have found their way into several shows and movies like the similarly plotted Chicken Run, and the iconic score has also been imitated by shows ranging from Disney’s Recess to Hogan’s Heroes, which had a similar storyline involving POWs. And of course who can forget McQueen riding that motorcycle?

The actual escape is the tense highlight of the film, and it keeps the audience on their toes. Though it’s satisfying to see so many sneak away, the sad part is that most of them die. Considering the light-hearted tune in the score, it’s a rather dark ending, but one that is true to history. Overall, The Great Escape is an entertaining and clean war film that pays tribute to men who weren’t content to just sit around, men who harassed the enemy to the last and did their countries proud. To the fifty!

Best line: (Ramsey, having been told of the great resources used to guard the camp) “Well, it’s rather nice to know that you’re wanted.”

Artistry: 6
Characters/Actors: 7
Entertainment: 8
Visual effects: 6
Originality: 8
Watchability: 7
TOTAL: 42 out of 60

Next: #196 – Swiss Family Robinson

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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