“Boys don’t cry.”—The Cure
Moving forward through difficult situations is an instinct that we are born with. A majority of us, second guess our abilities due to the fear of the unknown. We are at times, our biggest critics and roadblocks to success. One must maintain great resiliency and a truckload of positivity, to face each day with the required tenacity to conquer all obstacles. This attitude to keep moving forward, no matter how dire the circumstance, is what our heroes faced in today’s feature, The Great Escape (1963).
The Third Reich, tired and embarrassed of being shown how weak they are, transfer Allied prisoners of war (POWs), who are determined escape artists and the most cunning of the Americans, Aussies, and Brits to a high-security prison camp. In an arrogant false sense of superiority, the Luftwaffe Kommandant, von Luger (not Lex), informs British officer and Allied POW group commander, Ramsey, James Donald of Five Million Years to Earth (1967), of the top notch security features of new, “unescapable” camp. An agreement between the enemies is discussed, and benefits rendered to POWS that dare not to escape (we know better than that). The first day at the camp, the opportunistic prisoners try their luck at escaping to no avail, and are stifled into accepting life as prisoners.
In the midst of the Germans keeping a tight rein on our Allies, Royal Air Force Squad Leader, Bartlett aka “Big X”, Richard Attenborough of Jurassic Park (1993), enters the camp. The Gestapo goons warn Bartlett that he will be shot the next time he tries to escape as he is a legend of sorts to the Allies and Axis Powers, known as a great organizer to such stealthy, calculating activity. Without skipping a beat, Bartlett immediately plans his next feat, the greatest escape ever attempted. This escape calls for three tunnels, “Tom, Dick & Harry,” to be burrowed from under their barracks exceeding the length of the camp beyond the perimeter fence line, in hopes of unleashing 250 prisoners back to the front lines to cause havoc against the Nazis. The Allies, at first leery at such a highly organized attempt, change their tune quickly as they all agree to take on specific duties to conquer the almost impossible endeavor. Like the real military, everyone has an important job and operates like a well-oiled machine.
Lieutenant Hendley “Scrounger,” James Garner of The Rockford Files (1974), is in charge of acquiring all needed materials that the mission calls for. Sedgwick aka “The Manufacturer,” James Coburn of Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), makes tools for digging and a hasty, but effective, ventilation system for the tunnels. Lieutenants aka “The Tunnel Kings,” Danny, the uber buff Charles Bronson of Death Wish (1974), and Willie, John Leyton of Von Ryan’s Express (1965), are the brawn in digging the tunnels. MacDonald aka “Intelligence,” Gordon Jackson of Upstairs, Downstairs (1971), gathers details of what is going on in and out of the camp while Ashley-Pitt aka “Dispersal,” David McCallum of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964), devises an innovative method of spreading dirt from the tunnels all over the camp by dropping it covertly from trousers a la Andy in The Shawshank Redemption (1994). Forgery is handled by the nearly blind, tea loving Blythe, Donald Pleasance of Halloween (1978).
Last but not least, American bad boy, Captain Hilts aka “The Cooler King,” legendary Steve McQueen of Bullitt (1968), drives the Germans crazy with his constant attempts to escape, insolence towards enemy ranks, and overly confident demeanor. Hilts main task is to keep getting caught by the enemy as he tries to escape, so he can pass the information back to his comrades on the geography of the camp and the procedures of the guards. Hilts is known through the camp by the above moniker as he spends long times of isolation in the “Cooler” with his trusty baseball glove, a ball, and great determination to plan his next move. Will the Allies escape or will they be POWs until the war concludes? You must watch to find out. That’s an order troop!
The Great Escape is an action packed military adventure directed by John Sturges of The Magnificent Seven (1960), with a screenplay by James Clavell of Shogun (1980), and W.R. Burnett of Ice Station Zebra (1968). The Great Escape was based on the real wartime occurrences of our Allies and the 1944 novel of the same title by WWII POW turned writer, Paul Brickhill. Escape has gone on to become a classic, a Veteran’s Day & July 4th favorite, and one of the most entertaining war flicks that has been released in the past 50 years. The success of Escape helped solidify McQueen as a big time film star, as his personae defined American swagger and what cool really stood for. McQueen signed on to Escape, only after producers agreed to write in motorcycle scenes so he could showcase his skills as he was an avid rider. If you have a keen eye in the motorcycle chase scene, McQueen actually plays dual parts as he also plays a Nazi biker too. In essence, McQueen is chasing himself in the famous scene though he did not complete the jump over the fence as originally reported. Escape has become such an iconic film, that it birthed a TV sequel, The Great Escape II: The Untold Story (1988), countless documentaries, and hundreds of nods in other features and television shows.
Overall, The Great Escape is a great film of 60s cinema that is highly enjoyable, action packed with the right amount of comedy, and peppered with great performances by legit actors that were all veterans or POWs from WWII. The performances are entertaining and one can feel the camaraderie shared by these men. The actors are all old school men’s men, which were famous for their toughness and charismatic bravado. A majority of male actors today, just don’t cut the mustard and lack the discipline or grit of what it means to be a man compared to the cast of The Great Escape.
So, keep tackling the day, no matter what the problem is in your life. Self-pity and defeat are psychological flaws—so MAN up. Face your challenges with testicular fortitude, gumption, and a hell of a lot of determination. If 250 men can escape a POW camp, then the little problems that you burden yourself with are petty. Remember troop, somebody else always has it worse than you.
- Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker, film/music historian, and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rick.baldwin.568
- Twitter Rick Baldwin@rickbaldwin79 and firstname.lastname@example.org