πŸŽ₯ Stalag 17 – 1953

The Story …

In a German prisoner-of-war camp named Stalag 17, one of its compounds holds 630 American airmen (all of whom are sergeants) and is overseen by camp warden Oberst von Scherbach.

In December 1944, the men of Barracks 4β€”led by appointed barracks chief “Hoffy” Hoffman and security officer Frank Priceβ€”arrange for the escape of fellow airmen Manfredi and Johnson.

The two are shot dead in the attempt, and the men believe they were betrayed by an informant. Suspicion falls on J.J. Sefton, an enterprising cynic who barters openly with the German guards for various luxuries …

He also creates profitable ventures that distract from the mundanity of camp life, from organizing mouse races for gambling to an improvised distillery for brewing alcohol, to a makeshift telescope to spy on the Russian women from a neighbouring compound.

Clarence “Cookie” Cook, who narrates the story, serves as Sefton’s naive, but helpful and loyal, aide.

The men of Barracks 4 do their best to keep sane, which includes enduring the antics of barracks clowns “Animal” Kuzawa and Harry Shapiro and smuggling in a radio to hear war news.

Their jovial guard, Feldwebel Schulz, secretly retrieves hidden messages from a hollow black queen on the chessboard and straightens the looped cord of a dangling light bulb, which serves as a signal between himself and the informant.

Just before Christmas, recently captured Lieutenant Dunbar is assigned to Barracks 4 until he can be sent to an officers’ camp. Sgt. Bagradian, who accompanies Dunbar, reveals that Dunbar rigged a time bomb in transit and blew up a munitions train.

Sefton recognizes Dunbar from the officers’ school and believes that he passed only because of his rich family, creating tension between them.

Schulz announces that an inspector from the Geneva Convention will arrive, and Sefton bribes the guards to let him spend the day with the Russian women.

The radio is later confiscated by Schulz. Concluding that Sefton was rewarded for revealing the radio, the men confront him when he returns, but Sefton denies he was responsible.

Von Scherbach interrupts to arrest Dunbar as a saboteur; the men blame Sefton again and brutally beat him.

The next day, the inspector from Geneva arrives with Red Cross parcelsβ€”including 2,000 ping-pong balls, which the prisoners later use to create smoke bombs.

The inspector is then told about Dunbar’s removal, and he warns von Scherbach that Dunbar cannot be convicted without proof, lest there be war crimes trials. Von Scherbach hands Schulz a hollowed-out black queen to be delivered to the informant.

During the Christmas Eve celebrations, Price stealthily switches out the black queen, reads the hidden message, and then resets the signal. Sefton, recovering from his beating, notices the looped light socket wire signal afterwards and becomes suspicious.

Price gets Bagradian to reveal the recipe of Dunbar’s time bomb – a lit cigarette tucked into a matchbook. That night, an air-raid siren forces the men to evacuate. Sefton hides and witnesses Price speaking German to Schulz and demonstrating the time bomb as evidence against Dunbar.

Shortly afterwards, Sefton discusses with Cookie, his only confidant, that he now knows who the informant is but he cannot figure out the right way to make use of that information.

He points out that if he simply unmasks Price, the Germans will send Price to another POW camp to serve as an informant there, and if he kills Price, the Germans would likely retaliate by killing all of the Allied prisoners there.

He clearly has a conundrum as to how to rid the POWs of the informant Price, and yet not hurt the Allied POWs, something he hasn’t figured out yet.

On Christmas Day, the SS arrive to take Dunbar to Berlin. While Hoffy has Price guard Sefton (who is still believed to be the informant), he gathers the men to rescue Dunbar. A riot and an ignited smoke bomb distract the guards, and Dunbar is taken to hide in a latrine’s water tower until nightfall.

After von Scherbach threatens to raze the camp, the men of Barracks 4 decide that one of them must help Dunbar escape. Price volunteers and it is at this point that we see that Sefton has finally worked out his problem about how to expose and deal with Price.

Sefton interrupts Price and accuses him of being a German spy. He then interrogates Price, who falters when answering questions, and Sefton then describes to the group the messaging system that he’d observed Price and Schultz use.

The men are convinced and Price tries to flee, but he is quickly restrained. Sefton also now reveals the plan he came up with to rid the POWs of Price and yet not cause German retaliation against the POWs; it is his plan that Price be thrown outside the barracks, while making a lot of noise, which will cause the guard towers to see and then shoot him.

Anticipating a generous reward, Sefton had decided to rescue Dunbar, and he volunteers to Hoffy to do so.

The prisoners throw Price out of the barracks with cans tied to his legs, per Sefton’s plan. Price attracts the spotlights of a guard tower and is gunned down; Sefton retrieves the lieutenant from the water tower and both escape amidst the chaos.

The prisoners return to their bunks, and Cookie whistles “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”.

Credits :

  • Directed by Billy Wilder
  • Screenplay by Edwin Blum andΒ Billy Wilder
  • Based on Stalag 17 1951 play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski
  • Produced by Billy Wilder
    Narrated by Gil Stratton
  • Cinematography : Ernest Laszlo
  • Edited by George Tomasini
  • Music by Franz Waxman
  • Distributed by Paramount Pictures
  • Release Dates : May 29, 1953

Cast :

  • William Holden as J.J. Sefton
  • Don Taylor as Lieutenant James Dunbar
  • Otto Preminger as Colonel von Scherbach
  • Robert Strauss as Stanislas “Animal” Kuzawa
  • Harvey Lembeck as Harry Shapiro
  • Richard Erdman as “Hoffy” Hoffman
  • Peter Graves as Frank Price
  • Neville Brand as Duke Musgrove
  • Michael Moore as Manfredi
  • Sig Ruman as Sergeant Johann Sebastian Schulz
  • Peter Baldwin as Johnson
  • Robinson Stone as Joey
  • Robert Shawley as “Blondie” Peterson
  • William Pierson as Marko the Mailman
  • Gil Stratton as Clarence Harvey “Cookie” Cook
  • Jay Lawrence as Bagradian
  • Erwin Kalser as Geneva Man
  • Edmund Trzcinski as “Triz” Trzcinski
  • Ross Bagdasarian as Singing Prisoner of War
  • Paul Salata as Prisoner with Beard
  • Joe Ploski as German Guard

Film Information Source :


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