🎥 The Great Escape – 1963

The Story …

In 1942, the Third Reich moves Allied POWs who repeatedly escape captivity to a new camp under the command of Luftwaffe Colonel von Luger.

He warns British Group Captain Ramsey—the highest-ranked POW officer and their de facto leader—that any man who escapes will be shot. Behind the scenes von Luger has opposed such measures, but the Gestapo has grown tired of the extensive and costly disruptions created by repeated prisoner escapes and has promised to intervene if the Luftwaffe continues to stop them.

Regardless of the threat, many prisoners improvise escape attempts on the first day, though none make it past the fence …

USAAF Captain Hilts, a notoriously prolific escapee, spots a blind spot between two guard towers—however, he purposefully gets caught before the guards can realize his discovery. He is sentenced to solitary isolation (“the cooler”) with RAF Flying Officer Ives, whom he befriends. Ives is among the most eager to escape, having been held prisoner since 1940.

RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett re-establishes “the X Organisation”, the escape-planning committee at their former camp, with Ramsey’s tacit approval.

He argues that the best way to help the Allied forces is to break out 250 men simultaneously, forcing the Germans to divert significant manpower away from the front. The POWs begin working on three tunnels: “Tom”, “Dick”, and “Harry”.

Each POW brings something to the plan. Hendley secures vital objects on the black market, and forms a bond with Blythe, an expert forger.

Sedgwick makes picks and air bellows, while Welinski and Dickes oversee the digging. MacDonald gathers intelligence, Griffith sews civilian disguises, and Ashley-Pitt devises a method of hiding the excavated dirt. Digging noise is masked by a choir, led by Cavendish, who also surveys the tunnels’ routes.

Aware that Hilts was planning to use the blind spot to jump the fence, Bartlett asks him to instead help the X Organisation by escaping, scouting out the surrounding area, and then allowing himself to be recaptured so he can draw maps for the main breakout. Hilts refuses out of pride.

When “Tom” nears completion first, Bartlett orders “Dick” and “Harry” sealed off. Hilts, Hendley, and Goff brew potato moonshine with a homemade still and celebrate the Fourth of July with the camp, but to the POWs’ dismay the guards accidentally find “Tom”.

A despondent Ives snaps, frantically climbs the barbed wire fence, and is shot dead. Hilts, shaken, agrees to Bartlett’s proposal.

Bartlett switches the prisoners’ efforts to “Harry”. When the tunnel partially collapses, Welinski has a breakdown and confides to Dickes that he is claustrophobic.

He tries to break out through the fence, but Dickes manages to calm him down and prevent him being shot like Ives. Blythe finds he is going blind due to progressive myopia, and Hendley takes it upon himself to be Blythe’s eyes during the escape.

The last part of the tunnel is soon completed, but when they break the surface on the night of the escape the end is found to be 20 feet short of the forest, and still within sight of the guards. Guided by Hilts using a tug on a rope as a signal—and aided by a fortuitous air raid blackout—multiple POWs flee before Cavendish slips and makes a noise. An impatient Griffith surfaces while a guard investigates and is captured, ending the breakout.

The 76 escapees flee throughout Europe. Three make it to freedom: Welinski and Dickes row to a port and board a ship for Sweden, while Sedgwick makes it to France, where the Resistance smuggles him to Spain.

The rest are unsuccessful: Cavendish hitches a ride on a truck, but is turned in by the driver.

Hilts steals a motorcycle and heads for the German-Swiss border, chased by soldiers, but after successfully jumping one line of barbed-wire-topped tank barriers his bike is shot and he is recaptured.

Hendley and Blythe steal a Luftwaffe training plane to fly to Switzerland, but crash when the engine fails; Blythe is shot and Hendley recaptured. At a railway station, Kuhn, a Gestapo guard from the camp, is with the authorities searching the disembarking passengers for escapees; Ashley-Pitt kills Kuhn to prevent him recognizing Bartlett and is shot dead. However, Bartlett and MacDonald are still caught when another Gestapo officer tricks MacDonald into speaking English while boarding a bus.

Most of the men are loaded into trucks, but instead of returning to the camp are taken to a field and shot dead on Hitler’s direct orders. An ashamed von Luger tells Ramsey that 50 were killed; a broken Hendley, hearing the news on his return to the camp with the handful of survivors, asks Ramsey if the escape was worth it.

Von Luger is relieved of command by the Gestapo, who drive him away to an uncertain fate.

As he leaves he tells the returning Hilts that it looks like the American will be the one who gets to see Berlin first.

Hilts is sent to the cooler, where he begins planning his next escape .… 

Credits :

  • Directed by John Sturges
  • Screenplay by James Clavell and W. R. Burnett
  • Based on The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill
  • Produced by John Sturges
  • Cinematography : Daniel L. Fapp
  • Edited by Ferris Webster
  • Music by Elmer Bernstein
  • Production Company : The Mirisch Company
  • Distributed by United Artists
  • Release Date : June 20, 1963

Cast :

  • Steve McQueen as Captain Virgil Hilts (‘The Cooler King’): one of three Americans in the camp, a particularly persistent escapee with an irreverent attitude.
  • James Garner as Flight Lieutenant Bob Hendley (‘The Scrounger’): American RAF officer, responsible for finding materials on the black market for the escape attempt; forms a close friendship with Blythe.
  • Richard Attenborough as Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett (‘Big X’): RAF officer and ringleader of the escape committee.
  • James Donald as Group Captain Ramsey (‘The SBO’): most senior British & Allied officer in the camp, serves as an intermediary between the Germans and the POWs as their de facto leader.
  • Charles Bronson as Flight Lieutenant Danny Welinski (‘Tunnel King’): Polish RAF officer; despite having dug 17 escape tunnels in other camps, is severely claustrophobic.
  • Donald Pleasence as Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe (‘The Forger’): mild-mannered English forger; forms close friendship with Hendley.
    James Coburn as Flying Officer Sedgwick (‘The Manufacturer’): an Australian officer who constructs tools for the escape.
  • Hannes Messemer as Oberst von Luger (‘The Kommandant’): Commandant of the camp and a senior Luftwaffe officer.
  • David McCallum as Lieutenant-Commander Eric Ashley-Pitt (‘Dispersal’): a Fleet Air Arm officer; devises a way to get rid of the tunnel dirt.
  • Gordon Jackson as Flight Lieutenant Alexander MacDonald (‘Intelligence’): Bartlett’s second-in-command.
  • John Leyton as Flight Lieutenant Willie Dickes (‘Tunnel King’): Welinski’s best friend and co-lead on tunnel design and construction.
  • Angus Lennie as Flying Officer Archie Ives (‘The Mole’): anxious Scottish airman who befriends Hilts in the cooler.
    Nigel Stock as Flight Lieutenant Dennis Cavendish (‘The Surveyor’): surveys the tunnel routes.
  • Robert Graf as Werner (‘The Ferret’): young, naive guard whom Hendley befriends and exploits for black market contraband.
  • Jud Taylor as Second Lieutenant Goff: the camp’s third American.
    Hans Reiser as Kuhn: Gestapo officer and ardent Nazi.
  • Harry Riebauer as Stabsfeldwebel Strachwitz: the senior NCO amongst the German guards.
  • William Russell as Sorren (‘Security’): British officer.
    Robert Freitag as Hauptmann Posen: von Luger’s adjutant.
  • Ulrich Beiger as Preissen: Gestapo officer.
  • George Mikell as SD Hauptsturmführer Dietrich: SS officer.
  • Lawrence Montaigne as Haynes (‘Diversions’): Canadian officer.
    Robert Desmond as Griffith (‘Tailor’): British officer; provides civilian clothes and military uniforms to disguise the escapees.
  • Til Kiwe as Frick Heinz Weiss as Kramer
  • Tom Adams as Dai Nimmo (‘Diversions’): Welsh officer.
  • Karl-Otto Alberty as SD Untersturmführer Steinach: SS officer.

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