Wednesday Double Features – Escape From the POW
Growing up one of my favorite shows was Hogan’s Heroes. I watched it religiously and one of the side effects was doing a lot of reading about the real POW camps as well as the history of world war II (got one of my few perfect grades on a paper about the SS in high school that way.) Regretably the show doesn’t hold up as well as I’d liked (though I still enjoy Werner Klempner’s performance) Though it led me to watch one of the films that it was slightly based on Stalag 17, still one of my favorite Billy Wilder/William Holden films. So I decided to dedicate this week’s selselection to several of the other world war II escape films.
It’s almost embarrassing when all you know about a movie comes from watching one of the parodies first. Regrettably this was very much the case with The Great Escape. Make no mistake Chicken Run is a wonderful movie, but you really shouldn’t judge the film that inspired it on it’s merits. After that all I knew about it was there was a scene where Steve McQueen passes the time in solitary confinement bouncing a baseball against the wall.
The Great Escape was amazing. While Steve McQueen is listed as the star it is really an ensemble film with Charles Bronson, Richard Attenborough, James Garner and the rest have equal time telling the story of the adaptation of the true story about how 76 prisoners escape from a German POW camp (at least temporarily)
What makes this film so good is meticulous pacing and attention to detail. While I had never read about this particular escape what I had read about POWs in general made many of the details very familiar. Everything from the logistics of digging a 100 foot tunnel from getting the proper foundations, the air pump they built to make the tunnel breathable and most importantly how to hide all of the dirt. (Especially when it’s a different kind of dirt than the dirt you’re trying to mix it with.)
And of course we finish it all with Steve McQueen driving a motorcycle.
The next film on my list was much more light hearted and comical. It The Secret War of Harry Frigg, Paul Newman plays the title character a private in the US Army who has escaped from the stockade numerous times. Because of this when five Generals get captured he is regarded as the perfect choice to rescue them.
The generals have been placed in a prison that was originally a five star Italian hotel with every luxury. On top of that since they’re all the same rank, they’ve been planning their escape through committee and getting nowhere. In order to break this deadlock, Frigg gets promoted to major general in order to be able to give the generals orders. However when he gets there he is quickly seeduced by the luxury of the prison (as well as the former owner of the Hotel, a beautiful contessa.)
This was a mostly fun film. Though as far as quality it’s rather unfair to put it back to back with The Great Escape. I enjoyed Paul Newman playing a puckish trickster character that contrasted nicely with Tom Bosley’s deadpan performance as one of the generals.