The Great Escape Movie Review

Coming on the heels of John Sturges' The Magnificent Seven three years earlier, 1963's The Great Escape shows how quickly the ambitious epic can turn into a rote, readymade piece of filmmaking - a Hollywood masterpiece by design. There's a formal, somewhat stilted feel to its three-hour story about a group of imprisoned World War II officers and their struggle to break out of a Nazi P.O.W. camp, and anybody who thinks that Michael Bay is a bullying thug of a filmmaker who likes pushing people's emotions around can come here to see where he got it from. But for all its flaws, Escape has some of the most memorable moments in any war film, and some excellent performances from its ensemble cast.

Based on a true story, The Great Escape is set during the tail end of World War II, when a variety of officers from different countries were sent to Stalag Luft III, a prison camp designed to handle the most diligent escape attempts. Both fearless and duty-bound, the men spend no time with long prologues or chit-chat about what to do; they, along with the movie, immediately set to work, using the skills they know best. There's Anthony Hendley, the "scrounger" skilled at digging up needed provisions; James Garner, at his best when he's being charmingly unctuous to his Nazi captors; Charles Bronson, as the "tunnel king" Danny Velinski, offering a nice combination of two-fisted bravado and sensitive-guy neurosis; and Donald Pleasance, the British document forger, who brings a steely, proud stoicism to his role that sets the movie's emotional feel. His is the most convincing performance, which makes sense given that really did time in a German P.O.W. camp.

But this is Steve McQueen's movie. From the quiet bravado he shows when he helps his fellow inmates escape, to the smirking I'll-be-back way he tosses a baseball in his jail cell, to the simply kick-ass way he roars across the German countryside on a motorcycle, this is the moment where McQueen defined himself not just as a great American actor, but as a living representative of what America's all about. The movie's official tragedy is that 50 of the men who escaped were caught and killed by Nazis. But the real one is the moment when McQueen himself is finally caught on the lush German countryside. Bleeding and swaddled in barbed wire, he looks sadly emasculated.

There are other parts of Escape worth cheering - James Coburn's humor, Elmer Bernstein's wonderful score - but John Sturges isn't a very clever director, and his approach to the war story itself often feels pat and insubstantial. The script suffers from its share of improbabilities and clichés - none worse than the way Bronson gets a sudden case of claustrophobia at just the wrong time after spending his life making tunnels. So Escape sits somewhere between Stalag 17 and the average episode of Hogan's Heroes - a professionally made World War II tale, but not an emotionally resonant on.

On the new DVD, director Sturges (with various others) offers a commentary track, plus a nifty pop-up trivia track. A second disc offers numerous featurettes and archival documentaries. Highly recommended disc set.

He's going back! He's going back!

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer :


The Great Escape Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 1963


More Steve Mcqueen

'Mandela's' Lack of Awards Down to '12 Years' Guilt Hoover, Suggests Screenwriter

‘12 Years a Slave’ was, rightfully, the recipient of huge praise and numerous awards. The remarkable story of Solomon Northrup - portrayed by Chiwitel Ejiofor...

Sainsbury's Criticised For Ragged Mannequin Next to '12 Years a Slave' DVD Promo

As one of the biggest, most critically acclaimed and most decorated films of 2013, 12 Years a Slave was always going to be a big...

Catfighting And Manipulation: How '12 Years a Slave' Feud Marred The Oscar-Winning Movie

After 12 Years a Slave's Oscars success on Sunday, the movie could well emerge as not only one of the films of the year but...

New York Times Corrects 161 Year-Old Error In Article About '12 Years A Slave'

The New York Times has made amends to a spelling error over 161 years-old.In the newspaper's Tuesday edition, it published a correction in an article...


New York Times Amends '12 Years A Slave' Article, 161 Years After It Was Written [Trailer]

The New York Times has chosen to amend a detail from an article written 161 years ago about the memoir of Solomon Northup, the free...

So Here's Why '12 Years a Slave' Writer Snubbed Steve McQueen at the Oscars [Video]

Did it not cross your mind that, when John Ridley won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay on Sunday (March 2, 2014), he was sat...

'12 Years a Slave' DVD Released, But It's Heading Back Into Cinemas

Despite the fact that 12 Years a Slave is released on DVD on Tuesday (March 4, 2014), exhibiters are clamoring to book the movie back...

After '12 Years A Slave' Oscar Win, What Are Brad Pitt's Chances At A Best Actor Award?

Brad Pitt never expected to win an Oscar. He said as much during Sunday night’s Governor’s Ball. Speaking to E! News, Pitt said: “"I don't...