John Sturges big screen telling of a WW2 escape from a German P.O.W. camp based on a true story is a classic. Not much else to say. At least not anything that hasn’t already been said before.
The cast is the stuff of movie legends and it’s got the iconic motorcycle chase between Steve McQueen and an army of German soldiers along the border to Switzerland.
As I said it’s a classic and I don’t think anyone is going to challenge me on that statement.
If you’re a regular visitor here I’d be surprised if you’ve never seen the film. For me, growing up in the late 70’s and 80’s, Sturges, film played regularly on TV and if you wanted to, you could rent the double VHS tape edition at your local video store for the weekend.
I’ll let you either revisit the film or discover the twists and turns for yourself. What I’d like to do is celebrate the cast that Sturges put together including three alumni from his earlier hit of 1960, The Magnificent Seven.
He also brought along Elmer Bernstein from the Seven to deliver another rousing score to accompany us all on this greatest of escapes.
Here’s the roster of actors who earned not only screen billing at the fadeout but a nickname befitting their character throughout this nearly three hour adventure that elicits a wide range of emotions for viewers like me who find themselves swept up in this rousing WW2 story.
Steve McQueen as Hilts, The Cooler King. “I haven’t seen Berlin yet, from the ground or from the air, and I plan on doing both before the war is over.”
James Garner as Hendley, The Scrounger. “Colin’s not a blind man as long as he’s with me. And he’s going with me!”
Richard Attenborough as Big X. “It’s my duty to harass, confound and confuse the enemy to the best of my ability and that’s what I intend to do.”
James Donald as Ramsay, The SBO. “The English have always been very keen on gardening.”
Charles Bronson as Danny, The Tunnel King. “Tomorrow night in the tunnel with all those men… I’m afraid maybe this time I will lose my head and ruin the escape for everybody.”
Donald Pleasence as Blythe, The Forger. “Tea without milk is so uncivilized.”
James Coburn as Sedgwick, The Manufacturer. “It’s all right, mate. We’re just having a friendly little argument.”
Hannes Messemer as Von Luger, The Kommandant. “We have in effect put all our rotten eggs in one basket. And we intend to watch this basket carefully.”
David McCallum as Ashley, Dispersal. “Unless you’re a complete fool, the ferrets will never see a thing.”
Gordon Jackson as MacDonald, Intelligence. “Oh my God, they found Tom.”
John Leyton as Willie, Tunnel King. “We’re getting out but not through the wire. We’re getting out through the tunnel. It’s finished.”
Angus Lennie as Ives, The Mole. “I’ve been in the bank nearly three years now. Bloody close to being wire happy.”
Nigel Stock as Cavendish, The Surveyor. “I make it just over three hundred and thirty-five feet.”
Robert Graf as Werner, The Ferret. “If you steal tools, cooler.”
There are plenty of things one can focus on in the film. I’d like to draw your attention to the relationships that make it so memorable and none greater than the emotional impact of the James Garner-Donald Pleasence pairing. Again, I won’t play spoiler just in case you’ve yet to see the film.
Haven’t seen the film? Seriously, you’re only cheating yourself. I hadn’t sat down and watched it in a good 7 or 8 years. Seeing it again reminded me of just how much I love movies. I’m not much on rating a movie but if I were to offer one up here, it’s 4 stars all the way. Or if you prefer, 10 out of 10.
I’ll leave you with a link to the IMDB and the trivia that you can read up surrounding the film and the actual events it is based on.