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The Great Escape (SE)
DVD disk
10.04.2004 By: The Shootin Surgeon
The Great Escape (SE) order
John Sturges

Steve McQueen
James Garner
Richard Attenborough


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It's 1943 and as the Second Great War rages around them, a group of Allied POW's lay about in Stalag Luft III, a German prison camp. Bound by honor and duty to "harass, confound and confuse the enemy to the best of their ability", the men hatch an escape plan that figures to set hundreds of them free and drive the Krauts crazy. With an all-star cast of legends acting out a story based on one of WWII's most memorable events, THE GREAT ESCAPE provides just that to whoever is on the lookout for a classic piece of cinema.
John Sturges' classic 1963 tale of Allied escape does all the right stuff and to this day, remains one of the most entertaining film accounts of World War II events. With a cast of luminaries including Sir Richard Attenborough, the late great Steve McQueen, smooth-as-silk James Garner and tough-as-nails Chuck Bronson and James Coburn, this movie behemoth has rolled through the last forty-one years as one of the pillars of war cinema and doesn't look as if it's about to slow down anytime soon. Much has been made though about the large amounts of creative license that were used to bring this film to the silver screen. The production had to add considerable American content in order for it to sell on our side of the pond, when in reality, the large majority of participants were in fact from England and other Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada. These countries were given their fair shake in the movie and in all fairness, as explained in the features, many Americans participated in the planning and execution of the real-life escape, but were transferred to another compound mere weeks before it was to be put into action. However, this illustrates that although the movie doesn't stick to the exact storyline of the actual events, it still manages to stimulate a fair amount of emotion as to what men were prepared to do for these countries at the time.

The stars that shimmered throughout the film were also true to themselves. McQueen has never been Lawrence Olivier, but what he lacked in method, he more than made up in charisma and his baseball-bouncing. His cooler stints from this flick have become one of the most parodied and imitated scenes in movies. The other most familiar tough dude was the sadly departed Bronson, who impressed Sturges with his great performance in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and went on to become a cinematic icon. It's no small feat of the actors, and of Sturges, to be able to keep your interest during almost three hours with a story that essentially takes place in only one location until all heck breaks loose toward the conclusion. There's a lot of content and it's all so well played out that you hardly realize that you'd probably have time to tunnel out of your own basement between the opening and closing credits. There's nothing particularly stunning about the visuals. As mentioned above, most of the action takes place in a prison camp with standard wooden barracks and a bunch of ragged uniformed men loitering about aimlessly like Indiana Sev playing hockey. There is, however, the characteristic musical theme by Elmer Bernstein which everyone in the world has probably hummed at one point or another (the theme, not Bernstein!) THE GREAT ESCAPE will give you all that you're looking for in an adventure film: drama, tragedy, action and some great acting to boot. Make sure you catch this one, especially if you're into war movies.
Full Length Audio Commentary by Director John Sturges, Cast and Crew: Obviously, the deceased Sturges didn't make a ghostly appearance in studio to record this, but rather, his comments were culled from an interview and edited in here along with input from a bunch of others. James Garner, James Coburn, Donald Pleasance and a whole bunch of other cast and crewmembers feed some info in what amounts to a pretty good result.

Trivia Track: Along with the audio commentary, you can play this text track which will display info about the film, the shoot, the stars and a slew of other topics in little boxes on the screen. There's enough content on this to make it worthwhile.

Featurettes: The following featurettes go into varying levels of detail about the story and the making of the film. They're narrated by Burt Reynolds with additional comments from Burt Reynolds' hairpiece.

The Great Escape: Bringing Fact to Fiction (12 minutes): This feature deals with some of the adaptation work that was done to the real-life tale to bring it to cinema. There's also a bit about the construction of the prison camp set and some comments by some of the actual participants in the escape including Paul Brickhill who later wrote the book on which this film is based.

The Great Escape: Preparations for Freedom (20 minutes): Again, some of the actual ex-POW's show up and present the actual escape plan as it was hatched back in '43. Very interesting if you're into the historical aspect of the movie or if you just want to hear about some men who gave their all so we could enjoy our freedom today.

The Great Escape: The Flight to Freedom (10 minutes): This deals with the aftermath of the escape and the considerable havoc it played at the time with German troops in the area. Although the escape wasn't as successful as hoped for, in terms of people being set free, it was however most successful in driving the Germans nuts.

The Great Escape: A Standing Ovation (6 minutes): A small clip discussing the critical acclaim the movie garnered when it premiered as well as some thoughts from vets who lived the war.

Return to The Great Escape (20 minutes): This one isn't narrated by Burt Reynolds and the domesticated ferret which resides on his scalp. Instead, it features many of the movie's aging stars recalling some memories from the shoot and their fellow cast and crewmembers. Among them are Garner, Pleasance, Coburn and Sturges.

Documentaries: Two longer documentaries which deal with history rather than the movie it inspired. They're both quite well made and very informative.

The Great Escape: The Untold Story (50 minutes): While the Escape did accomplish its goal of distracting the Germans and using up their manpower, its results in terms of human costs were much more dire. This documentary deals with the grim treatment that was afforded the recaptured escapers and the war crimes investigation that followed. Without spoiling the movie for those who have yet to see it, one can only say that the escape required a much larger sacrifice than mere sweat and muscle power. It also comes with a 9-minute clip of some additional interviews with some veterans and ex-POW's who discuss the aftermath in more detail.

The Real Virgil Hilts: A Man Called Jones (25 minutes): Narrated by James Coburn, this documentary deals with an American pilot named David M. Jones, who participated in the Doolittle raid which followed the attack on Pearl Harbor and was eventually shot down over Tunisia before being taken to Stalag Luft II as a prisoner of war. Sturges used him as a loose frame on which he built McQueen's rambunctious character. If anything, you'll find out listening to this that some people can sit there waiting for their time to come with the full knowledge that their life made a difference. Mr. Jones can definitely say that.

There's a bit more added in the form of a very well-stocked Photo Gallery and the Original Theatrical Trailer.
As long as MGM keeps dishing out these classics on DVD, I'm happy. You will be too if you get your paws on this as you'll get one of filmdom's greatest classics, packaged along with some very good extras and a nice box and booklet. There's no other recommendation that can apply here other than to tell you to make sure you don't miss this one.
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