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When I first joined Film Club a few months ago, I started to contemplate what movie I would choose for everyone to discuss when Kieron would have me pick the film. As you all know, I’ve seen a few movies in my 41 years exactly (because today 11 Jan is my birthday) of movie watching and to whittle it down to one choice movie was not an easy task in and of itself.

As a film fan, one of my main goals is to help others uncover new enjoyable movies to add to their own movie (hopefully loving) repertoire. So I decided to choose one of my own personal favorite movies that I’ve seen so many times but also probably doesn’t get as much exposure by modern moviegoers as it probably should. I hope you all enjoyed this movie as much as I always do. I, at least can say that I loved re-watching it for Film Club despite knowing it practically by heart.

Thanks to Kieron for choosing me this month and I apologize to any of you who felt this movie was too long. 

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Movie Rob:

Plot summary:

The Nazis, exasperated at the number of escapes from their prison camps by a relatively small number of Allied prisoners, relocates them to a high-security “escape-proof” camp to sit out the remainder of the war. Undaunted, the prisoners plan one of the most ambitious escape attempts of World War II. Based on a true story.” – From IMDB

IMHO, this movie has so much going for it that it’s hard to imagine that anyone can somehow dislike it. In IMDB, there are currently 28,693 Members who have loved it and rated it a 10 and 1788 Members that hated it and gave it a 1 rating.  It is also currently rated #117 in the IMDB top 250.

The cast is a who’s who of some of the best actors from the 60’s brought together and is one of the first real ensemble movies ever made. The cast is led by Steve McQueen, James Garner and Richard Attenborough and includes Charles Bronson, James Coburn, David McCallum, Donald Pleasence, Nigel Stock, James Donald, Gordon Jackson and John Leyton. This movie gives each of its characters enough of a spotlight to explain to us why they are there and also what their “specialty” is.

The fact that this movie is based on a true story also enhances the experience because you know that it won’t just be a Hollywood sugar-coated story especially since we all know war is never a “light” subject.  The characters are all fictitious, but the storyline and plot are based on the true event. On the other hand, in order to not make this movie too heavy, it is peppered with lots of humorous anecdotes and scenes that help to uplift the dark and desperate feeling of soldiers in a wartime prison camp.

The title music has become so well-known that most people recognize the music, but probably can’t place it when asked. Here is a clip of the music with some pictures from the movie:

When thinking of WWII prison camp movies, 3 always come to mind, this one, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Stalag 17 (1953). All 3 are great, but each place a different emphasis on the seriousness of the story. Kwai is the most serious and brutal and Stalag 17 is seen mostly as a satire of the German officers and inventive thinking of the allied soldiers and is relegated as more of a comedy despite its setting.  This one gets it just right between the two giving us both humor and seriousness.

This is one of the most entertaining and gripping movies about a WWII prison camp and it helped to prove that true ensemble movies are not only possible but essential to the film industry. The ability to show great men doing their best while at their worst is another reason that this movie is so inspiring for me.

Rating: 10/10

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What About The Twinkie?:

It’s hard not to enjoy The Great Escape. The film is etched into the minds of men and women of a certain age, while the film itself feels as much a part of British pop culture as hot tea and warm beer. It’s a film that even if you have never seen it, you will no doubt still be familiar with some aspect of it. Whether that be the memorable score by Elmer Bernstein, the vast array of characters, or Steve McQueen on that motorcycle there will be something here that you have seen or heard replicated elsewhere. It’s a mark of the films quality and its standing in the public domain that it still carries such weight, fifty two years after its release.

The film itself is undoubtedly showing its age now, but even for a film made it 1963, it has enough qualities to remain an entertaining ride. From the very beginning you are drawn in, as the theme tune kicks in and we are introduced to the various characters there already seems to be so much happening. There is a lot to take in, and the film needs its near three hour running time to allow it all to sink in. There are great moments of action, as well as some true nail biting tension and a bittersweet ending that you will not see coming. It all makes for a truly entertaining film, and one which deserves its place in cinematic history.

Rating: 8/10

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HC Movie Reviews:

The Great Escape had managed to escape me until it was chosen as this month’s film for reviewing. I simply had just never come across this film for viewing, I was aware of it yes but never felt compelled to watch it. However another great choice from the Film Club gang means that I have a new classic to add to my DVD collection.

I really enjoyed this film and I can see why so many families delight in watching it on Boxing Day sprawled out in front of the fire. It has that holiday film vibe to it; I think this has a lot to do with its elongated running time. At almost 3 hours long The Great Escape is a long haul but it is totally worth it. The advantage of this running time means that you really get to know the films characters. This at first I thought was going to be a struggle due to the large number but very quickly I found myself being able to distinguish between them all. What a great bunch of characters too, each bringing something different to the story. My favourite was probably Blythe ‘The Forger’ played by Donald Pleasence. The only past role I had seen him in was Blofeld in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice so it was really cool to see him play a completely different role to that here. There were so many likeable characters in the film though that it was hard not to enjoy what you were watching.

The Great Escape boasts one of the most well-known film soundtracks of all time and even despite me not having seen the film I was immediately able to join in humming along to the music. The soundtrack really does add to the picture and even in its darker moments the soundtrack excels itself. However, probably due to the runtime on occasions it does feel a little repetitive. Although it is only a very small issue, The Great Escape has many other elements that make up for it though. There is a definite light-hearted tone to the film despite its subject matter however this works well as it paves the way for a lot of humour which is featured in the film which breaks up the running time nicely. The action becomes more of a focus in the later scenes in the film and this was a refreshing change in pace for the film, offering excitement and suspense in equal measure.

The Great Escape is a wonderful portrayal of a true story which has been adapted very well into a film. With humour, action and heart all included it would be hard not to adore this movie. An instant classic that can be enjoyed by the entire family, a fine pick to focus our attention on for this month and a stellar addition to my movie collection.

Rating: 9/10

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Ten Stars or Less:

The Great Escape is based on the amazing true story of several Allied P.O.W’s attempts to break out of an inescapable Nazi prison during World War II. Headlined by action star Steve McQueen, The Great Escape features a stellar cast of actors that included James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence, and James Coburn. These guys are leaders in their respective armies but in here they must put their ranks and differences aside to dig tunnels in order to get to the woods outside of the prison.

For a movie that was hugely successful in 1963, the cast did a great job getting down and dirty in the tunnels without out the help of many special effects. After doing some research on the true story of these events, I learnt that McQueen did all his own stunts and that Bronson really developed claustrophobia from working in the tunnels. There was about 250 guys involved in the break out but not everyone could dig in the tunnels, so the rest were tasked with coming up with distractions to throw the guards off. One couldn’t help but laugh to see grown man singing Christmas carols in the middle of a hot summer day while the guards walk by and shake their heads. Not every distraction worked because some of the German guards are not that dumb and catch a few guys in the process of their escape attempts. No plan is perfect and these guys try their best to cover their tracks and not look that suspicious.

I have seen this movie once before in my life and according to my IMDb ratings, I gave it an 8/10. After watching it again yesterday I feel I need to lower my score a bit. McQueen is the drawing power of the movie but really isn’t the focal point of the first hour of the movie. He plays an important part in the escape plan, but so many other characters get more screen time which kinda took away from McQueen’s presence. Attenborough’s Big X may be the main character of the whole movie because he is one of the masterminds behind the plan and every move he makes outside of the prison is very well documented. Garner, as Hendley, is the second biggest character in the movie. His leadership on top of his ability to wheel and deal is an important part of the grand plan. The fact he develops a strong friendship with his roommate, Blythe (Pleasence), speaks volumes of the kind of man he is and that every P.O.W. isn’t a bad guy. By far my favourite character had to be Bronson’s “Tunnel King” Danny. I’ve always been a fan of his work thanks to my grandmother’s love of the Death Wish movies, so it was fun to watch a moustache-less Bronson use his muscle to move dirt instead of shooting a gun.

The Great Escape does a great job building up the main characters in the film while it digs itself to the epic finale. Sadly though when the guys reach the other side their escape plan goes astray which causes us to sit through about 40 minutes of clueless men walking around. The movie became uninteresting to me when everyone is trying to hide in plain sight. After being so creative and thoughtful to get free, most of them fall for the tricks they trained not to fall for which dooms them at the end. I understand the movie is dedicated to the 50 men who didn’t make it, but when it was all said and done it just didn’t seem worth all the trouble to end up at square one again.

Rating: 6/10

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The Sporadic Chronicles of a Beginner Blogger:

I really enjoyed The Great Escape. I have never seen it before, but I can see why it is so popular and why it is a classic but goodness gracious, it is long. I have no problem with long, I have a problem when I start becoming aware that it is long, and unfortunately that was the case here. However, this does not mean that it was not an engrossing and entertaining film. I thoroughly enjoyed the cast and their characters, though I certainly wish some of the characters had been fleshed out a little more to give more meaning to the events that were transpiring. There were also plenty of comedic moments laced throughout this, considering how serious the subject matter was at the best of times. The soundtrack was pretty ditzy, really making this work, right up until the end when things got serious. My heart ached for the forger, Blythe, and his terrible sight and how it counted against him. I had a lot of respect for Hendley for sticking with Blythe to help him out. Also, one could not help but laugh at the contempt Hilts had for captivity, and his endless one-man escape attempts. I enjoyed seeing how the prisoners of war all stayed together and how they dealt with the Germans and one another. Also, a younger David Callum? Very cool, goodness knows I have an exceptionally soft spot for NCIS’s Ducky, he’s so sweet!

I understand why this film is a classic, as it is very well put together, though sometimes it is significantly longer than it needs to be and in places more hollow than required, but seeing as how many characters they were dealing with, I suppose you can’t have too much background on them. I really enjoyed watching the Allied prisoners pulling together their great escape plan, cooking up moonshine as well as celebrating Independence Day in between it all. Well worth a watch if you have never seen it before!

Rating: 7.5/10

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 Sweet Archive Blog:

The Great Escape is a classic, and I can’t believe I just watched it for the first time. I am ashamed of myself. Points taken down for ol’ Sweet Archive for this one.  It’s been a while since a film got me this enthused. It’s only a fact that almost 3 hours of footage went by without me yawning through it. I must admit I didn’t expect to enjoy this film at all. At first, it seemed to me as another war film, and I’m not into war films AT ALL, thus I assumed I would hate every minute of it. Not the case. I ended up getting into it so much that I was constantly craving to see what happens next. Now I’m trying to write this review without revealing too many details, simply out of pure excitement, but it seems almost impossible. I’m positive there are not many who would say they never watched The Great Escape before, but I promise not to create too much of a spoiler anyway for the sake of those who haven’t yet.

Warning: the following paragraph is written from a slightly feminine point of view.

Director John Sturges puts together a wild bunch of actors, and creates a testosterone filled film for every woman to enjoy. Starting off with the legendary Steve McQueen, whose performance I enjoyed extremely. McQueen played Hilts ‘The Cooler King’ and absolutely won me over with his boyish attitude and mischief smile. I haven’t watched too many films of his, but somehow I always imagined him as a tough and rough cookie, Clink Eastwood style, but I was totally taken by surprise. Don’t let this blonde blue-eyed charmer fool ya, he totally kicked ass and took matters into his own hands, especially in that famous motorcycle scene at the end. Well done, Hilts!   James Garner I mostly recognize as an older man on the big screen. Hendley ‘The Scrounger’ is such a cool and clever character, and Garner couldn’t have done a better job at mastering it. Goodness, he was handsome! Other familiar faces that I had seen as much older were the ones of Charles Bronson and James Coburn, who were also the ones that eventually… Oh shit, sorry! No spoilers, I promised! To conclude, all character are just too genuine to believe that a script was involved, and that is why this film is magnificent.

I recently posted a list of ten films I must watch in 2015, which one of them was The Great Escape (crossing it off the list now) when a fellow blogger, Paul S of Pfeiffer Pfilms and Meg Movies, commented with nothing but good things to say about it. I was bothered by my curiosity once again. Now that I watched it, I get it. I understand why it’s been highly praised by others. Other than the great cast, this film holds an important value of team work and brotherly understanding, a great desire to help and stand beside one another when things get tough and life threatening. The film also has a humoristic and slightly sarcastic aspect to it. I often experienced the whole thing as a game, as if those honorable men were a bunch of kids playing catch with the German guards. The entire process of the escape planning and conduct was so detail oriented and creative I could have watched it forever and even take notes. I can’t think of a situation when I would use those notes, but it seemed important to remember. I told you I was very enthused. I thought The Great Escape is originally funny, serious, and adventurous all together.

As a former costume designer one particular scene caught my attention (1:01:42 in the film), and it’s the one where Roger a.k.a Bartlett ‘Big X’, is given a full explanation by one of the men (I don’t remember his name) of ways the service uniforms can be redesigned and dyed with boots polish and blue ink for diversion reasons during the escape. It’s just fascinating to me how creativity’s expressed in complex situations. I just love it.

Rating: 10/10

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Oracle of Film:

We’ve all seen The Great Escape. But how many of us have really looked and seen this movie? We all know the first few beats of the soundtrack, that upbeat, glorious whistle, but did we pay attention to the whole magnificent thing? We all remember Steve McQueen, roaring through a German countryside on a motorbike, but do we remember the entire ensemble cast, all as good as the other, gifting the audience with several great characters to follow? The Great Escape is remembered for the big moments, but the smaller ones are just as impressive. The slow, methodical planning of the escape is well mapped-out and a good excuse for nearly hitting the three-hour mark. The prison warden is surprisingly three-dimensional, the movie hinting that he doesn’t agree with the Gestapo’s methods. Director John Sturges takes a gripping true story and totally perfects every part of it.

Of course, I better talk about the big parts as well as the small. The action is slow-burning, but god, is it glorious? The tunnel scene is breath-taking, the tension feeling like a slow-turning knife in the stomach. As each new soldier escapes, we are brought right back into the suspense, as the camera reminds us of the next 200 still to get out. The aftermath of the tunnel is just as well-directed with a train sequence that is impossible to predict, a fantastic motorcycle sequence that goes down in movie history and some terrific twists and turns. The ending even strips away the upbeat Britishness of the whole affair to deliver a hard-hitting story development, revealing the true brutality of the Gestapo. It is an upsetting moment, yet tastefully done. A cult movie!

Rating: 10/10

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Overall rating: 8.6/10

General consensus: The Great Escape remains a classic of its time and still proves enjoyable today. Whether you have seen it once, ten times, or a hundred The Great Escape proves that they just don’t make them like this anymore.

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