CineTV Contest #46 - Favorite Movie Based on a True Story: The Great Escape.

The Great Escape is the most famous of the escape movies, which takes the gambling and tension of a group of people during World War II looking for a way to escape from the most perfect of concentration camps to the ultimate consequences.


The Germans, grouping British and American aviator prisoners in Stalag Luft III, a maximum security POW camp, which has expert guards, and from which escape is hypothetically impossible.

The Gestapo sends Royal Air Force Major Roger Bartlett, nicknamed Big X by the prisoners, to the camp. In addition, most of the prisoners include members of a prisoner organization that has already attempted to escape through tunnels.

Bartlett and some organized prisoners plan the escape of 250 prisoners of war through the construction of 3 tunnels they would call Tom, Dick and Harry.
We are introduced to British and American prisoners, facing the despicable Nazi enemies. It is the story of the planning of a mass escape, with the captives learning German, carrying uniforms and false documentation, clinging to the possibility of catching a train, a boat or a bicycle, to get far away although most end up dead or in the tangle of barbed wire.


Based on real events, the film narrates the execution and planning of the greatest escape from a concentration camp during World War II with a surprising pace, which grips the viewer, making the film a must-see title when talking about films set in World War II.


Roger Bartlett, (Richard Attenborough), is the mastermind of this spectacular escape; Danny Velinski (Charles Bronson) is the specialist tunnel digger; Colin Blythe (Donald Pleasence) is the expert document forger; and Hendley (James Garner) is responsible for providing the supplies needed to execute the plan; Louis Sedgwick (James Coburn) develops tools to facilitate the construction of the tunnels; U.S. Air Force Captain Virgil Hilts, ( Steve McQueen) is nicknamed The Cooler King in the concentration camp, with his repeated escapes and subsequent captures, helps create maps of the area and gives information on the nearest town and train station. The Cooler is the name of the dungeon where the Nazis send undisciplined prisoners.


The Great Escape features excellent scenes that combine action and drama, with some doses of humor.


John Sturges, is the director who masterfully combines his ability to film and direct actors, in this story in which Americans are given more prominence than they had in real life. He was able to surround himself, of course, with a group of truly remarkable actors and stars, in which Steve McQueen, who is almost a secondary actor, with a smile, a phrase, or a joke manages to make the screen his own.

Apart from Steve McQueen's motorcycle chase through the German (almost Swiss) prairies, it is the anguished excavation of the tunnels or the friendship between Hendley (James Garner) and Collin (Donald Pleasence), who loses his sight due to progressive myopia, that stand out.

The film is an adaptation of Paul Brickhill's book (a non-fiction book that recounted in detail the escape from Stalag Luft III), carried out by James Clavell and W. R. Burnett, with music by the great Elmer Bernstein.


Contrast with reality.

The prison camp Stalag Luft III is famous in the history of World War II because on March 24 and 25, 1944, 76 prisoners of war managed to escape. These dates were Friday and Saturday, and the escapees wanted to take advantage of the fact that the trains stopping at the nearby Zagan station would be full of soldiers and foreign workers on leave to blend into the crowd and escape more easily.

The concentration camp Stalag Luft III was created in 1942 and was intended to confine officers and non-commissioned officers of the air force who fought against Adolf Hitler's ideals. This place had a double barbed wire fence, watchtowers and a large number of guards accompanied by dogs. All barracks were built in the center away from the barbed wire and were built on piles about 30 centimeters above the surface to prevent the prisoners from building tunnels, the Nazis installed microphones in the subsoil to hear any construction sounds.


A military intelligence unit randomly searched the rooms and were known as ferrets. This surveillance was carried out by the Luftwaffe (German air force).

Among the prisoners, a committee was organized to plan escapes called Big X. This was because aviation officers were military men unaccustomed to spending long periods of time in confined spaces.

In the spring of 1943 one of the aviation aces of the Royal Air Force, Roger Bushell arrives at the camp and takes under his command, the Big X committee. He encouraged the prisoners to build three large tunnels simultaneously, through which 200 of them escaped with false papers, civilian clothing and food supplies for the journey.

The tunnels were baptized Dick, Tom and Harry, each one would be about nine meters deep so that the noise of the excavation would not be detected by the microphones; and a length of 100 meters to reach the cover of the forest.

To prevent the Germans from discovering these operations, a whole network of sentries, called henchmen, was put in place, these while pretending to talk, watched the guards to alert the barracks and thus stop the construction of the tunnels.

The construction of the Tom tunnel is discovered, and the prisoners decide to concentrate all their energies on Harry where the sand had to disappear, maintain the ventilation systems and oxygen regeneration, provide lighting inside the tunnel, forge documentation and make the necessary clothing for the escape of 200 prisoners.

Dick's construction was frustrated because the Nazis erected a new building at the exit site.

After seven weeks of digging, the Harry Tunnel was breached through the barbed wire. Everything was ready for the escape, and so on March 24, 1944, 200 prisoners made their way to Barracks 104 (where the Harry Tunnel was dug), wearing their escape suits.

With the camp completely dark, Bushell ordered the opening of the tunnel, but found that the exit had been frozen by the snowfall that night, which delayed the operation for more than an hour. Once the mishap was resolved, they realized that the tunnel exit did not reach the forest. But they would soon come up with a solution. The first man out of the tunnel would cross the open field to the forest with a rope which he would pull when all was clear, but the plan was aborted midway through the escape, forcing many prisoners to return to their barracks.

A guard saw one of the prisoners emerge from the tunnel outside the barbed wire and immediately raised the alarm, prompting a quick inspection and prisoner count. Harry was discovered and only 76 prisoners made it out of the concentration camp.

German patrols surrounded the prison and the nearby train stations were kept under close guard.After several attempts to escape to Switzerland, Sweden and Spain, most of the men who managed to escape were caught. Some were unlucky enough to be killed at the train station or while boarding a bus.


Both in reality, and in the movie the escape was a failure, many of these evaders were caught, and killed. In the real story there was no such character as Steve McQueen, but it is impossible to deny how this gentleman looks on screen, in an endearing character and leading the best action scene in this film.

I understand the reasons why the prisoners want to escape and I think the Nazis in the film do too and they very naively make it easy for them to escape as the prisoners are not controlled, except when they try to escape, and there are no night controls in the barracks so they gather whenever they feel like it.

If there were no documentation of this fact I would not believe it was a true story and I do not believe that living inside a concentration camp one could make liquor from potatoes or that prisoners in a Nazi camp were given license to celebrate the 4th of July. It is not credible that an individual capable of building a tunnel would suffer from claustophobia.

This is a true story in which we do not get to know the characters in depth, and there is no meticulous exploration of their motivations and in general the tone is very light and with many licenses around what actually happened, but it is very entertaining, the viewer is immersed in what is happening.As an action-adventure film, it more than meets the task and became a movie classic.

This is my participation in the initiative CineTV Contest #46 - Favorite Movie Based on a True Story Link Here

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