Sunday, June 09, 2013

The Great Escape

Gesprengte Ketten / Suuri pakoretki / Den stora flykten. DE/US © 1963 Mirisch-Alpha. PC: The Mirisch Company, Inc.; Alpha Corp. Original distributor: United Artists Corp. P+D: John Sturges. SC: James Clavell, W.R. Burnett – based on the non-fiction book (1950) by Paul Brickhill. DP: Daniel L. Fapp – colour by DeLuxe – Panavision. AD: Fernando Carrère. Set dec: Kurt Ripberger. Props: Frank Agnone. SFX: Paul Pollard. Cost: Bert Henrikson. Makeup: Emile LaVigne. M: Elmer Bernstein. S: Harold Lewis – Westrex Recording System. ED: Ferris Webster. Production: 4.6.–late October, 1962, Bavaria Studios, Geiselgasteig, Germany. Technical consultants: C. Wallace Floody, Paul Brickhill. C: Steve McQueen (Captain Virgil Hilts USAAF, "The Cooler King"), James Garner (Flight Lieutenant Bob Hendley DFC RAF, "The Scrounger"), Richard Attenborough (Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett DFC RAF, "Big X"), James Donald (Group Captain Ramsey DSO MC RAF, "The SBO [Senior British Officer]"), Charles Bronson (Flight Lieutenant Danny Velinski DSC DFC RAF, a "tunnel king"), Donald Pleasence (Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe RAF, "The Forger"), James Coburn (Flying Officer Louis Sedgwick RAAF, "The Manufacturer"), Hannes Messemer (Oberst von Luger, "The Kommandant"), David McCallum (Lieutenant-Commander Eric Ashley-Pitt DSC RN, "Dispersal"), Gordon Jackson (Flight Lieutenant Andy 'Mac' MacDonald RAF, "Intelligence"), John Leyton (Flight Lieutenant William 'Willie' Dickes RAF, a "tunnel king"), Angus Lennie (Flying Officer Archibald 'Archie' Ives RAF, "The Mole"), Nigel Stock (Flight Lieutenant Denis Cavendish RAF, "The Surveyor"), Robert Graf (Werner, "The Ferret"), Jud Taylor (First Lieutenant Goff USAAF), Harry Riebauer (Hauptfeldwebel Strachwitz, "The Security Sergeant"), William Russell (Flight Lieutenant Sorren RAF, "Security"), Robert Freitag (Hauptmann Posen, "The Adjutant"), Ulrich Beiger (Preissen, Gestapo), George Mikell (SS-Obersturmführer Dietrich), Lawrence Montaigne (Flying Officer Haynes RCAF, "Diversions"), Robert Desmond (Flying Officer 'Griff' Griffith RAF, "The Tailor"), Til Kiwe (Frick, "The Ferret"), Heinz Weiss (Kramer, "The Ferret"), Tom Adams (Flight Lieutenant 'Dai' Nimmo RAF, "Diversions"), Karl-Otto Alberty (SS-Untersturmführer Steinach). Helsinki premiere: 30.8.1963 Bio Rex, released by: UA United Artists Pictures Inc. – re-release: 21.3.1975 Adams – telecasts: 23.12.1994 MTV3, 28.12.2010 Yle TV2 – vhs: 1983 Scanvideo, Musiikki Fazer – PCA 20399 – VET 66300 – K16 – 4780 m / 175 min. A vintage KAVA print deposited by UIP (MGM-UA) with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Bror Labart / Stina Labart viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (50 Years Ago), 9 June 2013

I saw this most popular of the WWII prison camp movies for the first time. It belongs to a distinguished genre. Jean Renoir, himself an officer of the French Air Force and a POW veteran, directed the best of them, La Grande Illusion, about WWI.

Noteworthy aspects in The Great Escape include:

1. The focus on professionalism. These prisoners remain soldiers also in prison, and their mission is to cause maximum trouble to the Germans.

2. The absence of hate. The Germans and the Allied are enemies, but it's all strictly professional, and there is no ad hominem aspect in the relationship.

3. It is not a matter of mutual respect, though. The Allied do not respect the Germans who let Hitler and the Gestapo reign the way they do.

4. Oberst von Luger (Hannes Messemer) is a victim, too. He knows how it all will end, and he would like to have the war play itself out without further trouble. The Allied prisoners decide otherwise. Almost all the fugitives are finally executed by the Gestapo, as is apparently Oberst von Luger.

5. The Great Escape is a fantastic account of a big, elaborate, and professional organization. It is a secret organization, and in that sense The Great Escape resembles big caper movies. Every little link is vital in the huge chain. Any mistake can become fatal. The pressure can become too much to bear. Weaknesses need to be acknowledged. Panic, anxiety, claustrophobia, and weakening eyesight are among the problems that have to be dealt with. Craziness has to be acknowledged, too: on the Fourth of July everybody gets drunk with moonshine liquour. The Great Escape is a study in the organization of labour and in leadership seen from an exceptional angle.

6. There is a documentary passion in the detail.

7. The cast is excellent. Steve McQueen may be the star, but Richard Attenborough's understated performance as the project leader of the prison break is the most memorable.

8. There are no women in main roles or supporting roles. There is no romantic interest.

9. The rhythm and the mise-en-scène also express the concept of professionalism (first think, then act). This is an action film where the action is not expressed via exaggerated speed or editing.

10. There is an American bias. While the movie is largely based on facts, in reality none of the fugitives were American. Of the actors Donald Pleasence was an actual RAF and POW veteran.

11. I was struck by the focus on intelligence in this legendary spectacle.

The print viewed has been in heavy use with "rain" pouring in the heads and the tails of the reels. The colour is intact, and the print gives an ok cinema experience of the epic.

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