Mickey on Movies: The Great Escape (1963)

“We have in effect put all our rotten eggs in one basket.” 

In The Great Escape, we are treated to the most notoriously hard-to-contain Allied prisoners of war doing what they do best…trying to escape their German confinement and harass the enemy to the best of their ability.  And this bunch of POWs all more than earn their “rotten egg” monikers.  Everything from trying one-off escapes, blackmailing the guards, making moonshine, and just generally harassing their captors, these POWs stay on task around the clock. 

Let me say that while that opening paragraph may make one think that this movie is a comedy in the vein of Hogan’s Heroes, it most certainly is not.  While there are a few humorous lines, this is quite a serious movie, as it’s based on the true story of a group of POWs and their courage and perseverance and the indomitable will of the human spirit.   

A great deal of time in this film is spent on everything it takes to successfully tunnel out of the camp.  We see how materials for the needed tools are gathered by the scrounger, how those tools are put together by the fabricator, and how they’re put to use by the “tunnel kings”.  Beyond that, we are included in what it takes to keep a project like this secret and hidden from the guards, how the dirt from the tunnels is disposed of, and maybe most importantly, everything that it takes for the escaped prisoners to blend in with the outside world once they’re free.  The ins and outs of all of these things make for tense moments throughout the film. 

Aside from all of the planning and the actual work it took to make the escape reality, there is the rest of the film that depicts what happens with everyone once they are outside of the camp and go their separate ways in search of their own way home.  If the building of the tunnels didn’t provide enough tense moments, these scenes of the second half of their journeys certainly make up for it. 

As one would expect, there are a number of diverse characters when you have a group made up of prisoners from many different countries and walks of life.  All of these great characters are brought to life by an ensemble cast that rivals any put together for any other film.  McQueen, Garner, Attenborough, Pleasance, Bronson, Coeburn, and the rest make up as diverse a cast as the real POWs whom they were playing, and they all turned in standout performances in their own right. 

I wish I could tell you that everyone depicted in the film had a happy ending, but that’s just not so.  The unfortunate truth is that for everyone that reached safety from their captivity, there were many more that did not.  While I found myself cheering for, and feeling joy at the sight of those men who may have had their happy endings, I was equally saddened by seeing what befell the others.  The movie does an excellent job of taking you on a roller coaster ride of emotions throughout. 

While I personally love this film, others may be put off a little by the age of it being as how it was made in the ’60s.  But the story of a band of brothers fighting a war far from home, captured by the enemy, and brought together in the single cause of escaping and returning home…the men and their story featured in The Great Escape should inspire even the most cynical watcher. 

My highest recommendation.  5 out of 5 stars. 

About Mickey Yarber 172 Articles
Sometimes referred to as The Retro Rambler...I was born in the '70s, grew up in the '80s, and came of age in the '90s. I love to share all the fun stuff from those years via articles and videos, and occasionally make un-needed appearances on various podcasts. I can also catch quarters off my elbow. Email to book me for your next corporate event.

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