When people ask me what my favorite films are they are always surprised by the random nature of the handful of titles I rattle off. The list includes City of God, Oldboy, The Shawshank Redemption, Dumb and Dumber, Ace Ventura and, when I remember, The Great Escape. You’d think that because it isn’t always top of mind that it shouldn’t count as one of my favorites, but I don’t think there are any films that pre-date the 1970’s that I love as much as The Great Escape.
You might be wondering why I’m penning this love letter to one of my favorite films and the answer is simple, yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the film which also just came out on blu-ray so I thought it made sense to let people know that they should see it if they haven’t already done so or see it again if they have.
Plot: Set in 1943, the German army set up a prisoner of war camp solely for the purpose of housing the best prison escape artists and to prevent them from ever getting out again. As a result of the creation of this camp, they brought together the best in their trade, unknowingly assembling one of the best escape teams possible. This true story chronicles the events that lead up to one of the largest prison breaks in history and the events that followed. The film stars Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson and James Corburn as some of the leading convicts in the film and introducing me to some of the most famous actors of that generation.
There are plenty of reasons why this film impacted me. One of the reasons is that I’m completely in love with prison break films and so and any all films in that genre have an immediate advantage when it comes to entertaining me. Watching this and The Shawshank Redemption clearly left it’s mark as they are the two films which drove me towards the genre. Secondly, it’s a WWII movie, so any chance you can watch people carefully plan an escape from the Nazi’s is also a winner. Lastly, look no further than the cast. When my father introduced me to this film as a young teen, I had no idea who any of the actors were but I immediately took a liking to Steve McQueen (who doesn’t), thought Charles Bronson’s character was bad ass (little did I know that this was Charles’ fucking’ Bronson) and that the doctor from Jurassic Park (Richard Attenborough) was the brains behind the mission (I found this out two days ago!). The performances were great and it’s hard not to like everyone in the film, outside the story it’s the main reason why I love the film so much. I become so engrossed in the performances and actions of the characters that I forget I’m sitting on my couch and not in a P.O.W. bunker in the middle of Germany.
You might say to yourself, everyone has their favorite movies and they make similar arguments but why is this one impressive? Well the answer is quite simple and rests in the following statement: The fact that 14 years ago my dad was able to get a 13 year old boy to sit down and watch a 172 minute movie from 1963 was very impressive. The fact that this boy watched the movie from start to finish and then thanked him for showing it to me is nothing short of a miracle. Any time you can keep a teenage boy in one place for more than 10 minutes, as a parent you know something is clearly working but when it’s a classic film from the 60’s you’ve clearly struck gold, so if was good enough to keep me down for 172 minutes it’s good enough for all film lovers to enjoy.
For all the folks over the age of 40 and haven’t see The Great Escape, it was a movie was directed by John Sturges who also helmed the acclaimed Seven Samurai western adaptation, The Magnificent Seven another great classic in its own right and one that predates this film but stars many of the same people in leading roles. Both of his films were nominated for an Oscar and story in each was worthy of his directorial touch.
For those that are looking for a good movie to watch and willing to give this lengthy one a shot, MGM and Fox have just released The Great Escape on Blu-ray and I highly suggest picking it up especially for those who are already fans of the film. In addition to a beautiful transfer, the disc comes with over 3 hours of bonus footage which includes the following:
THE GREAT ESCAPE Blu-ray Features:
- Audio Commentary by Director John Sturges, Cast & Crew
- The Great Escape: Bringing Fact to Fiction
- The Great Escape: Preparations for Freedom
- The Great Escape: The Flight to Freedom
- The Great Escape: A Standing Ovation
- The Great Escape: The Untold Story
- The Great Escape: The Untold Story – Additional Interviews
- A Real Virgil Hilts: A Man Called Jones
- Return to The Great Escape
- Original Theatrical Trailer
Though I don’t have to, I feel obligated to let you know about this release and this film since it truly is one of my all-time favorites. If you don’t believe, ask your parents or another knowledgeable film aficionado and they’ll tell you just how good the film is. If I have to, I’ll get a quote from my dad to prove that it’s awesome.