Adventure, History, War

The Great Escape (1963)

Comments Off on The Great Escape (1963) 15 December 2013


Studio: MGM

Theatrical Release: July 4, 1963

Blu Ray Release: May 7, 2013

Director: John Sturges

Not Rated

Review by James Klein

The 1960’s were filled with “men on a mission” movies that were overly long, action-packed and star studded. Films like The Magnificent Seven, The Guns of Navarone, The Dirty Dozen, and The Professionals were just some of the highlights from that decade. But it was John Sturges’ The Great Escape that is arguably the most popular and considered the best film of the bunch. While overlong and not as action-packed as one often thinks it really is, The Great Escape is the true story about American and British POW’s who planned their escape from a German war camp.

Steve McQueen stars as Hilts, an air pilot captain who from the very beginning is already planning his escape the moment he sets foot in the camp. With his trusty baseball mitt and ball in hand, he gets himself thrown in the cooler by testing the German snipers as he pushes their buttons by going past the fence that the prisoners are not suppose to cross. While in the cooler, he becomes friends with Scottish Ives, a former jockey and known mole who can dig tunnels that will ultimately be their escape route.

Meanwhile, the other POW’s (lead by the British officer Bartlett, played by Richard Attenborough) have also devised a way to dig three tunnels under their bunks. They call each tunnel Tom, Dick and Harry and come up with various ways to dispose of the dirt, use tools and weapons while digging and come up with escape plans for once they are out. I really enjoyed the friendship between American Hendley (James Garner) who happens to be called “The Scavenger” because of his way to get whatever anyone needs and his British comrade Blythe (Donald Pleasence) who is slowly losing his eyesight and needs help in escaping which Hendley graciously takes on. Another storyline I found interesting is the Russian Danny (Charles Bronson) who works on one of the tunnels but slowly becomes claustrophobic and can’t seem to carry on once it is time to escape.

What I find fascinating about The Great Escape is the fact that the films tone shifts once the men do escape from the camp. The film takes on a darker path that one would not expect and I couldn’t help but think no studio movie nowadays would end on such an enigmatic downer. Even with the upbeat theme music by Elmer Bernstein playing throughout, one can’t help but feel a bit depressed when watching the outcome of what these men faced. While some viewers may not enjoy the bleak outcome or have problems sitting through a three hour film, the movie is a classic. It’s beautifully shot, well acted, and wonderfully directed (I still personally prefer Sturges earlier film,  The Magnificent Seven myself). It’s a movie that every man who has his own “man cave” should have in his collection.

And now comes the controversy over MGM’s blu ray. Many fans were not happy with the restoration and I can see why. It doesn’t look much better than the older DVD and many of the colors look washed out. While some shots are clear, others look too blurry. There is also some DNR that looks rather awful. Rumor has it that this restoration wasn’t used from the films original camera negative. I can only hope a new blu ray will eventually see the light of day as this doesn’t look too good. The sound however is fine. While it won’t blow out your speakers, the dialog is clearly audible and won’t upset fans. 

The special features are nice as there is plenty of making of featurettes. The “audio commentary” however is just a bunch of older interviews cut up and placed in while the film is being shown. While there are some neat stories about the making of the film, I usually cannot stand these type of commentaries as it feels cheap and thrown together. Still, there is enough special features to please fans of the movie.

Right now the blu ray for The Great Escape ranges from $9.99 – $12.99 and while I am not happy with the picture, its still worth a grab for such a low price. And if one has to double dip eventually down the line, so be it. You can’t not have The Great Escape in your collection, right guys?

Movie Rating: ★★★★☆

Blu Ray Rating: ★★½☆☆

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