The Great Escape (1963)

greatescapeAbout The Film: Based on a true story, The Great Escape tells of Allied prisoners of war who managed to escape from an allegedly impenetrable Nazi prison camp during World War II. The prisoners, led by Richard Attenborough as the British soldier who masterminds the plan, develop a scheme where they will leave the camp by building three separate escape tunnels. Attenborough’s motley squad features Charles Bronson as a Polish trench-digging expert, James Garner as an American with a talent for theft, Donald Pleasence as a masterful forger, and Steve McQueen as an American rebel.

Why I Chose It: My family has watched this movie several times together. We all enjoy the historical aspect of it, especially since many Canadians were involved in the real Great Escape.

The Review:

This is a great movie about a group of men coming together to achieve something amazing. The plan is to dig three tunnels simultaneously and to eventually escape 200 men from the German POW camp. One of the great aspects of this film is the amount of details that are littered throughout, like how they hid the tunnel entrances, their plans for getting rid of the tunnel dirt, and the different systems they used for signalling one another. I particularly enjoyed watching how they scavenged materials from everywhere in the camp – including their beds! Plus all of the scenes in the tunnel were really well done, showing how small this tunnel was and how the men had to fit through it.


Learning how these tunnels were built is really interesting because most of these details are accurate. The film tried to portray these tunnels as they were truly built, a statement made at the beginning of the film. Several real people involved in the actual tunnel making during the war were consulted during filming. I really appreciate that the movie didn’t try to romanticize the escape; there were a lot of problems and delays throughout the build and the movie really highlights these difficulties, from cave-ins to attacks of claustrophobia, as well as many unforeseen issues the night of the event. While many details of this movie were inaccurate, including the men’s characters, I really appreciate the focus that was made on the tunnels themselves.

One aspect I really love in this movie is the use of extras. There are a lot of men in most of the scenes, which helps to give the sense that these men are in a large POW camp and surrounded by lots of captured soldiers. These men are also utilized to help move and hide dirt from the tunnels, send signals, etc. Yet despite the large presence of extras, I never felt overwhelmed by characters or confused by who people were. The extras remain present enough to give the right feel to the setting, yet never become central enough to warrant learning who they are. I loved that these men played a critical  part in the building of the tunnels, yet I only had to focus on a handful of key men in the actual escape. It was a very effective way to use the extras in the movie and I found the over feel very successful.


Overall, I really enjoy this movie. Although it’s a bit long (almost 3 hours) I don’t find any of it terribly slow or boring. There is simply too much to look at and watch, too many subtleties and little details as they are constructing the tunnels. Plus with an action packed finale, I find myself on the edge of my seat every time, eager to find out who makes it out and who is captured. It’s an amazing movie to watch knowing that men really built those tunnels and made the escape. Definitely check this one out if you are interested in history – or in prison breaks!

Rating: 4 / 5


“Colonel Von Luger, it is the sworn duty of all officers to try to escape. If they cannot escape, then it is their sworn duty to cause the enemy to use an inordinate number of troops to guard them, and their sworn duty to harass the enemy to the best of their ability. ” (The Great Escape)





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