Obligatory spoiler alert
And right at the end of the Golden Age of Hollywood, we’ve come to perhaps one of the most famous prison break films in history.
What’s it about: The Great Escape focuses on a large group of British and Commonwealth officers who are attempting a mass breakout from a Nazi POW camp in the Second World War.
The Good: This is another film with a very iconic theme tune and I think it was used well to create a light-hearted and jovial tone for the film. When I initially decided to watch this film, I imagined it being something similar to Schindler’s List with hard-hitting drama and plenty of violence and gore. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this wasn’t the case. Whilst certainly not trivialising the true horrors of the Second World War, the Great Escape helped to keep its subject matter entertaining and light-hearted without poking fun at it. This is where the theme tune came in playing at some of the more amusing moments of the film. That notwithstanding, the film wasn’t entirely comedic and it also helped to balance the emotional drama attached with the film’s content matter. For example, the forgerer Roger Blyth becoming myopic through his intricate work by candlelight is a powerful instance of what people were prepared to do to escape these camps. This is most prevalent within the film’s conclusion, which I felt was a painfully realistic depiction of how most escape attempts conclude. Whilst, I don’t claim to be an expert about such things, I can imagine that the vast majority of escapees were either killed or sent back to POW camps.
The Bad: There were a lot of characters in the film. I would argue too many. I acknowledge that this isn’t a criticism of the film or Paul Brickhill’s (who wrote the book that the film was based on) but rather serving as an indicative reminder of the sheer extent of these escape operations. However, the large cast proved to be quite confusing for me, as I struggled to distinguish between each different character or learn what their particular role in the escape operation was. For me, this really hurt the emotional poignancy of the film’s conclusion. As I didn’t really know one character from the other, I wasn’t that sad to see the majority of them killed or sent back to prison, as I didn’t have a strong emotional attachment to any of them.
The Ugly: If it was me having to crawl through and dig out the escape tunnels, then I think I would be as claustrophobic as Danny was.
Overall, this is a powerful film that balanced humour and drama well, but was hurt by the large and confusing cast. Although, I think that the sheer extent of the operation and how they planned to bust out 250 prisoners is big enough to even put the escape attempt in the Shawshank Redemption to shame.