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The Great Escape [World War II]

The Great Escape (1963), starring Steve McQueen, Dickie Attenborough, Donald Pleasance, James Garner, Charles Bronson, David McCallum, James Coburn, Gordon Jackson

The Great Escape – a variety of Allied prisoners try to escape from a Nazi prisoner of war camp. But the entire camp needs to escape at the same time! Based on a true story.

The Great Escape is one of the great films. It has a large cast, but gives every one of them time on screen. Their characters are all developed, and the audience cares for them. It’s nearly three hours long, but it never drags. The pace is quick, with moments of tension, drama, and even comedy at certain points. It’s a great film — but not necessarily a happy film. It’s highly recommended, and I rate it 5 stars. I can’t see any way in which it could be approved.

Rating: 5 out of 5.


  • Steve McQueen (Soldier in the Rain) … Hilts ‘The Cooler King’. Hilts keeps escaping, getting caught, and thrown into the cooler. Despite this, he’s very intelligent and creative. And even sacrifices himself to another session in the cooler at a critical moment, to distract the Nazis.
  • James Garner (Support Your Local Sheriff) … Hendley ‘The Scrounger’. The man who, by hook or crook, procures the different items needed for the escape. Including blackmailing one of the Nazi guards!
  • Richard Attenborough (Doctor Dolittle, Chaplin) … Bartlett ‘Big X’. The leader of the allied soldiers. The mind behind the great escape.
  • James Donald … Ramsey ‘The SBO’
  • Charles Bronson (Master of the World) … Danny ‘Tunnel King’. The man with expertise in tunneling. But, by the end of the film, his claustrophobia makes things very difficult.
  • Donald Pleasence (The Uncanny) … Blythe ‘The Forger’. A wonderful performance. The man in charge of forging identification cards, passports …. And he’s slowly going blind.
  • James Coburn … Sedgwick ‘Manufacturer’
  • Hannes Messemer … Von Luger ‘The Kommandant’
  • David McCallum (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) … Ashley-Pitt ‘Dispersal’. The British inmate who discovers a method to disperse the dirt from the tunneling. An idea so simple, it’s brilliant.
  • Gordon Jackson … MacDonald ‘Intelligence’
  • John Leyton … Willie ‘Tunnel King’
  • Angus Lennie … Ives ‘The Mole’
  • Nigel Stock … Cavendish ‘The Surveyor’
  • Robert Graf … Werner ‘The Ferret’
  • Jud Taylor … Goff
  • Hans Reiser … Herr Kuhn
  • Harry Riebauer … Strachwitz
  • William Russell … Sorren
  • Robert Freitag … Capt. Posen
  • Ulrich Beiger … Preissen
  • George Mikell … Lt. Dietrich
  • Lawrence Montaigne … Haynes (‘Diversions’)
  • Robert Desmond … Griffith ‘Tailor’
  • Til Kiwe … Frick
  • Heinz Weiss … Kramer
  • Tom Adams … Dai Nimmo (‘Diversions’)
  • Karl-Otto Alberty … S.S. Officer Steinach

Editorial review of The Great Escape courtesy of Amazon.com

A stirring example of courage and the indomitable human spirit, for many John Sturges’s The Great Escape is both the definitive World War II drama and the nonpareil prison escape movie. Featuring an unequalled ensemble cast in a rivetingly authentic true-life scenario set to Elmer Bernstein’s admirable music, this picture is both a template for subsequent action-adventure movies and one of the last glories of Golden Age Hollywood. Reunited with the director who made him a star in The Magnificent Seven, Steve McQueen gives a career-defining performance as the laconic Hilts, the baseball-loving, motorbike-riding “Cooler King.” The rest of the all-male Anglo-American cast–Dickie Attenborough, Donald Pleasance, James Garner, Charles Bronson, David McCallum, James Coburn, and Gordon Jackson–make the most of their meaty roles (though you have to forgive Coburn his Australian accent).

Closely based on Paul Brickhill’s book, the various escape attempts, scrounging, forging, and ferreting activities are authentically realized thanks also to technical advisor Wally Flood, one of the original tunnel-digging POWs. Sturges orchestrates the climax with total conviction, giving us both high action and very poignant human drama. Without trivializing the grim reality, The Great Escape thrillingly celebrates the heroism of men who never gave up the fight. –Mark Walker

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