Comments on Uncommon Classics: The Great Escape

Learn a little about forgotten classic movies as I watch and review them with my dad.


Shelby Hallett

The Great Escape was released July 4, 1963 and has since become a classic.

Shelby Hallett, Reporter

Finding the time to watch a three hour movie was much more challenging than I anticipated, but it’s what The Beacon followers asked for.  The winner of my first movie poll and the one I will be reviewing here is The Great Escape.

Even though it started a little slow and I wouldn’t recommend watching it unless you have the whole afternoon set aside, it was surprisingly well paced.

My dad gave this movie a ⅘ rating but explained that it would lose points if it had been made today because “there are certain things, with modern sensibilities, where it’s definitely a little lacking.”

He made a disclaimer before the movie started and warned me that it does not even place on the Bechdel test, but I don’t have a problem with that considering the historical context and the premise of this movie.

My dad explained afterwards, “One thing I appreciate is they didn’t try to force any kind of romance in.  It was a bunch of guys [who were] prisoners of war and they just let it be that.”

Even though The Great Escape features an entirely male cast, it is very accurate to the historical events that it is based on.

The set was based on maps and stories of the actual camp, it was filmed on location in Germany, and even one of the actors, Donald Pleasance, had formerly been a POW in World War II.

The only part that was obviously not accurate to the historical context was the American involvement in the escape, since the United States had not technically joined the war yet.

Despite the the historical disparity of some characters, their development was still well handled.

My dad sung praises for Hiltz, The Cooler King, who is the “quintessential romanticized American male.  Nothing’s gonna get him down and he’s gonna thumb his nose at everything.”

He also expressed respect for “ the drivenness of Big X, this guy who’s escaped all these times but his duty is to escape again even if it means his life.”

It is not just the development of the characters that works well in The Great Escape but the pairings of characters

“Then you’ve got the scrounger guy . . . but you’ve also got the forger roommate and the pairing of those two together I think is really kind of poignant in some ways because it softens the guy who you could just look at and go ‘oh, he’s a criminal’ but he has a care for the Forger, but then the forger is just this a-typical guy who’s like the throw out nerd character,” my dad explained.

My father also mentioned that the cinematography is great, which I agree with but for different reasons.  While he admired the beautiful shots of the alps and Germany’s countryside, I was more impressed with lighting and cropping.

There were several scenes that took place at night, requiring them to play with lighting, which I appreciate as someone who’s taken video and photography classes.  Night shoots are a challenge even with modern technology–I can only imagine how much work went into making believable moonlight and candlelight.

The camerawork was also fantastic because of the difficult sets they had to work with.  Cropping the camera image to the confined spaces of the tunnels and following the escape artists as they zipped through them must have been a challenge, but it paid off in the end and was surprisingly realistic.

Overall, The Great Escape is a great story and a great movie, earning a ⅘ from me as well as my father.