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The Great Escape (1963) – DVD Review

The Great Escape DVD cover art


Written by: James Clavell and W. R. Burnett, based on the book by Paul Brickhill
Directed by: John Stuges
Starring: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, James Donald, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence, and James Coburn


  • 24-Minute Making-of Documentary
  • Trivia and Production Notes

Released by: MGM
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: Yes

My Advice: Rent it.

During WWII, Allied service men were instructed that in case of their capture and imprisonment in a Prisoner of War camp, they were to try to escape as many times as they possibly could. This would keep the Germans busy with sending men after them for recapture, thereby reducing the number of German soldiers that could be placed on the front lines of the major battles. As the war wore on, a certain group of men in the Royal Air Force became infamous for their abilities to organize and execute these escape plans. As a result, the Germans built a fortress called Stalag Luft North, from which they claimed no man could escape. Needless to say, doing this simply gave the men trying to escape more fuel to make it happen. When “Big X” (Attenborough), the master of escape plans, was transferred to the camp, he arrived with plans to make sure that not only would they escape, but they would allow large numbers of men to escape. So, they devised a plan to take 250 men out of the camp. Hence the term “Great” in the title.

[ad#longpost]To me, this movie doesn’t really fall into the category of a War Movie. This is more about a prison break and the suspense that’s involved with that rather than the war. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that it’s more about the prison break does not weaken the movie in any way. In fact, since it is based on mostly true events, it makes it that much more exciting. All of the cast members are perfect. McQueen does what he did best: he’s the rowdy, maverick American in the camp who was always trying to escape on his own. Attenborough is dark enough in his role of “Big X” and Garner is as charming as humanly possible as the man who could get his hands on mostly anything they needed for their efforts.

If the movie has a weakness, it lies in the decision to let Coburn try to do an Australian accent for his character. I guess we thought there weren’t any good actors from down under when this movie was made. Anyway, it came very close to drawing me out of the movie. If he had played a larger role in the plot, it probably would have. Anyway, the suspense is great and everything just leads towards rooting for these guys to escape the clutches of the Nazis at this supposedly escape-proof camp.

The only piece of bonus material that we do get happens to be absolutely wonderful. In twenty-four minutes, it covers the history of the prison camps, the adaptation from novel to film, the making of the movie, and is chocked full of interviews with the cast and crew. It is efficient and very informative; this is the way that these behind-the-scenes documentaries should be done. The only thing that is missing is a commentary track with the surviving stars of the film. They should be brought to a studio and have this recorded ASAP. That way, the studio will have something to put on the special edition DVD which I am demanding be released. Plus, we get their thoughts recorded for posterity–which is beyond important.

Don’t bother buying this one until they put together a special edition disc. In the meantime, it should be rented and seen by everyone.

James Coburn and others from The Great Escape

DVD menu for The Great Escape

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