The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

'The Great Escape' A Lost Hollywood Gem

2 min read


Simply put, “The Great Escape” is a cinematic showcase of who was a badass in the ‘60s. Believe me, Brad Pitt and George Clooney have nothing on these guys, although Matt Damon might.

Based on a true story, the film follows a group of POWs in World War II Germany.

The cast is entirely made up of cool, good looking British and American actors. Think “Oceans 11” meets “Saving Private Ryan.”
Led by the King of Cool, Steve McQueen, the cast includes James Garner (the old Noah from “The Notebook”), Richard Attenborough (director of “Gandhi” and John Hammond from “Jurassic Park”), Charles Bronson (from “Death Wish”) and other assorted badasses.
The film is based on the book of the same name, written by Paul Brickhill, a survivor of the German POW camp Stalag Luft III.  The camp was designed specifically for soldiers who had extensive histories of escape attempts.

We’re “putting all our eggs in one basket,” explained Colonel von Lugar, the German officer in charge of the camp.  As you can guess, some escape attempts were made.

Big X, the escape plan mastermind, played by Richard Attenborough, devises a plot to free 250 prisoners and scatter them across the German countryside in an attempt to force the German army to expend valuable manpower in search of the escapees. Three tunnels are dug, nicknamed “Tom,”  “Dick” and “Harry.”

The escapees are required to dig 30 feet underground to avoid noise detection and then hundreds of feet to the forest beyond the confines of the compound. The movie includes grippingly claustrophobic scenes of the tunnels being dug by Danny Velinski, a Polish pilot, played by Charles Bronson.

The movie shows how the prisoners were forced to steal, forage, manufacture and bargain with German guards to gather the things necessary to pull off a successful escape. Civilian clothes had to be created from uniforms and any stray fabric.

A pick ax was needed for digging, enough wood to support hundreds of feet of tunnels, an air pump and other items you may not consider if you had to tunnel from Combs to Goolrick.

Perhaps most important were the forged identification papers once the prisoners made it into rural Germany. This was no easy task. A simple fake ID that says you’re an organ donor that would pass for the guy at Express Food Mart probably wouldn’t work with the German Border Police or the Gestapo.

Military identification cards, permits to be in Germany, train tickets, bus schedules and anything else you would need to escape Germany had to be forged for the 250 escaping men.

Paired with a fantastic soundtrack that you’ve probably heard on “The Simpsons” or deep in a Girl Talk song, “The Great Escape” is a movie everyone should see, if only as an introduction to some of the greatest male actors of the 1960s. Don’t get discouraged with its length, sometimes it takes a long time to bust out of Germany.

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