The Great Escape (1963)

A true-life WWII POW story gets all-star Hollywood treatment, topped by Steve McQueen’s iconic (and fictional) motorbike ride towards freedom.

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Introduction

“A hit with the critics and at the box office, The Great Escape is for many the great ‘escape’ film.”
The Virgin Film Guide

Having featured a strong ensemble cast for his popular western The Magnificent Seven (1960), director John Sturges followed the formula with this adaptation of Paul Brickhill’s memoir about the mass escape from Stalag Luft III in 1943.

Packed with name actors including James Garner, James Coburn (an unlikely Australian), Richard Attenborough and Charles Bronson, the result was perhaps surprisingly faithful to the tunnelling methods used by the 76 largely British POWs who broke out from the camp. Given the subsequent summary executions of the apprehended fugitives, however, the filmmakers cannily opted to give the film – and motorcycle-riding lead Steve McQueen, whose career breakthrough this was – the final flourish of a invented bid for the Swiss border. The result remains an enduring holiday attraction on British television screens.

Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped (1956), the true story of a French resistance hero’s escape from captivity, represents a more austere yet no less gripping approach to similar material.

 

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