Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"The Great Escape" (1963) - Movie Classics

One of the million things my mom says again and again, which actually never gets boring is the story of “The Great Escape”. She watched it in her early years and the image of a lonely man sitting in a solitary prison playing with the base ball is something she permanently put upon me. I did not know it was the stylish and smart Steve McQueen as Virgil Hilts did that. Similarly are the image of a bike running through a barbed wire in the end and Charles Bronson’s (She did not remember the character name) character Danny “The Tunnel King” escaping never left my mind. The film had made such an impact on my mom that she retold this film many many times right from my child hood. Now I watched the film finally and am glad I did.

Directed by John Sturges it tells the story of a group of prisoners of war in World War - II planning an escape. Perfectly planned, attention to detail and men with an immaculate obedience in taking orders and doing it as said in a fashion surprises the audience. Comprising of major English army men and few Americans along with a Scotsman, the leader of the operation Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett “Big X” (Richard Attenborough) wants to hit the Germans hard this time. As the jailor of the camp Colonel Von Luger (Hannes Messemer) says “all rotten eggs in one basket”, the members have at the least attempted five escape attempts prior to their arrival in the camp. That is their duty says Group Captain Ramsey (James Donald) and they do it duly.

This film based on the true story admits its characters blended, mixed but also says the escape methods are identical to the real ones. It is an operation apart from freeing themselves. That is to get the German troops distributed as the D-day came by. That becomes the driving force to get Bartlett whose another escape would result him being shot, to plan big. He says to assist 250 men out of the camp. And in the way it gets planned, it begins to look like he could vacate the whole camp. He gets the Forger, the surveyor, trader, intelligence and him being the perfect leader. But the men who goes into the labour and procedure the signals and routines without a slightest hint of fault astounds on how the reality would have been.

“The Great Escape” of course is a big entertainer. It has the Hilts doing the cool and casual moments. He is astute and straight shooter in talks and dealing the consequences. He earns the nick name of “The Cooler King” as he visits the solitary confinement without any problem. The film is not an exercise on the cruelties of the prison. Actually this prison does not gets run by SS and hence every one are treated in a nice manner at least the film depicts so. The first day of the arrival, every one runs a shot gun method to escape just for the fun of it and also to gauge the vigilance of the location they are being put upon. Hence we jump along the topic of this scheme right away.

The film says the characters and time have been compressed. Quite true and one can not even imagine the work required to operate in stealth in digging tunnels straight under for several hundred feet with continuous possibility of being buried alive. The pool of characters and the actions which set the path in the direction are moved in a swift pace keeping us involved all through the end after the night of the event. With great bike stunt to finish and spectacular locations of the greenery, this film offers everything.
The film actually is a trendsetter for the war film and more importantly prison escape movies. Generally in prison films, the mere chance of breathing a little bit of fresh air from the atrocious inhuman prison and the guards in the films becomes the expectant factor for the lead person’s quest for freedom. In this film, it is the game and curiosity of the grand plan working out. As a con film, the actual act is nervous merely of its success or failure. The process of building it up becomes the characterization in its smart remarks and exquisite detail of cleverness and diligence to appreciate the art of constructing it.

Running nearly for three hours, it does not tire you with its details. In fact there could have been another thirty minutes and we would have not been bored by the information. Steve McQueen particularly is the charming face one would not forget when the film gets over. Characters like Hilts are the reason we face the tough situation with a facade of coolness. That would be the facade we sometime desperately need and in McQueen’s character case, it is quintessential for his survival and mainly hope.

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