The Great Escape is an epic classic, now in 4K UHD
The great Escape is an epic classic and it’s even better now that the film is available on Ultra-HD 4K via Kino Lorber.
The film is based on Paul Brickhill’s 1950 book about British POWs escaping en masse from a German POW camp, Stalag Luft III. Some characters are made up of multiple people and the filmmakers compress time. Either way, the details of the escape are the same. However, they increased American efforts because they wanted to appeal to American audiences. It’s one of the downsides of Hollywood, but please don’t let it stop you from watching. If you want to know the real story, just pick up a book!
The film features a star-studded cast, but the focus is on Captain Virgil Hilts (Steve McQueen), Flight Lieutenant Bob Hendley (James Garner) and RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett (Richard Attenborough). Group Captain Ramsey (James Donald) is essentially the commander of the prisoners and ends up supporting Bartlett’s plan. Flight Lieutenant Danny Welinski (Charles Bronson) has decided to fight for England after fleeing Poland. He has a great fear of claustrophobia, especially in tunnels. Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe (Donald Pleasence) is a master forger and eventually escapes with Hendley after he begins to lose his sight. Flying Officer Louis Sedgwick (James Coburn) plays a leading role in constructing items for their escape. Hilts and Hendley are two of the three Americans in the POW camp.
The film does well in showing all three escapes going well. But again, they make changes in terms of nationality and such. It makes you wonder how those moments play out overseas when Hollywood filmmakers make films for American audiences. Canada really gets the short end of the stick due to its involvement in the actual breakout. But watching the movie, you would have no idea! Due to security concerns for future POWs, the film omits some key details. You can’t fault the filmmakers for honoring the demands of former POWs, because it’s the right thing to do. In real life, only one American actually survived the escape – the others had already transferred before it happened. Just a little food for thought.
This film houses one of the all-time great action stunts when Steve McQueen’s Hilts rides a motorcycle for the final third of the film. Stunt double Bud Ekins is on the bike for the biggest jump, not McQueen. For what it’s worth, it could have been a number of people doing the stunt. It’s a moment I wish I could watch on the big screen but the small screen will have to do. McQueen also plays some of the Germans chasing Hilts. Without this movie, the King of Cool probably wouldn’t have become a superstar. Unfortunately, we lost him far too soon in November 1980.
Musically, Elmer Bernstein wrote the score. It gives the film its own patriotic march, and the main actors get their own recurring motif throughout the film. The score is all you want in a film of this nature. The legendary film composer could have retired after this film and he would have been fixed for life! Luckily for moviegoers, that didn’t happen. It just shows how popular the score is.
What surprises me the most, looking back on the film after almost 60 years, is that it only earned one Oscar nomination for editing. Nothing for casting, directing or even Best Picture. Almost 60 years later, the film is one of the best of 1963. My only regret is that it took me until this weekend to watch it. It’s been available since Kino Lorber’s 4K Ultra HD release, but finding the time is easier said than done. But anyway, with the movie airing Memorial Day weekend on TCM, I decided it was better late than never. In terms of bonus features, two are carried over from the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release in 2020.
My first real introduction to Richard Attenborough came through Steven Spielberg jurassic park. I had a similar moment seeing Alec Guinness when I watched The Bridge over the River Kwai few years ago. When we are used to seeing them in the last part of their career, it is so different to see them a few decades earlier! It’s so weird to see Richard Attenborough on screen without white hair or a beard! Interestingly enough, it was the film that first caught his eye in the United States.
The public might know The great Escape because of an epic motorcycle student, but this movie is an epic classic that you can’t miss. Even though the filmmakers make changes for the benefit of an American audience, the memory of the 50 executed Airmen will never be forgotten.
DIRECTOR: John Sturges
Screenwriters: James Clavell and WR Burnett
ACTORS: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, James Donald, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence, James Coburn
United Artists released The Great Escape in theaters on July 4, 1963. Rating: 5/5
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