Produced and Directed by John Sturges
MGM/UA Home Video
2 hours 52 minutes; Not Rated
by Tammy Vrieze
It took less than ten minutes from a film three hours long for Steve McQueen to inspire thousands of people to want to ride. You will find “The Great Escape” at the top of every catalog of biker flicks although the film’s plot has very little to do with motorcycles.
In 1943, the Germans opened Stalag Luft North, a maximum security prisoner of war camp designed to eliminate any hope of escape. The Nazis rounded up and imprisoned the sneakiest and most clever POWs from the less secure camps and in doing so helped to facilitate the largest escape ever attempted. Six hundred British and American Air Force officers spent a year digging three underground tunnels in hopes of freeing two hundred and fifty prisoners. They practiced speaking German, forged passports and made civilian clothes from bedding. Although less than one hundred prisoners made it out of the camp and fifty men were executed after their capture, it was the largest and most effective mass breakout of POWs in military history.
You would not believe the cast of this film. “The Great Escape” stars Richard Attenborough, James Garner, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence, and James Coburn along with Steve McQueen. James Sturges, the director, jumps right into the action. Within the first two minutes of the film we know where the plot is headed. This film is much more a war film than biker flick. Not to diminish Steve’s fine riding but this movie is more than just that. Still, watching Steve ride his Triumph, painted to look like a vintage Nazi machine, across those rolling hills with the German troops in pursuit stirs the emotions of both riders and non-riders alike. As for the famous jump over the barbed wire fence, I am sad to report that it was not Mr. McQueen. Worried studio executives refused to let Steve perform the stunt instead, hiring Bud Enkins, a long time friend of Steve’s, to make the leap. All other riding and stunts were done by McQueen.