Sunday, August 27, 2006

The last few weeks I've enjoyed lounging around on Sunday morning watching great, old, classic movies on tv. This morning I was lucky enough to find Hitchcock's "Rebecca" with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, and then "The Great Escape" - one of my favorite all-time movies. Besides maybe Paul Newman in "Cool Hand Luke", I'm hard pressed to think of a cooler movie character than Steve McQueen as Stiltz in the Great Escape. The below reviewer is right - every time I watch this film, and I've seen it more than a dozen times, I keep hoping for a different ending . . .

E-file Movie Reviews nicely summarizes the Great Escape as:

After what seems an eternity of soul-searching, earnest, war-is-hell flicks (Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down, We Were Soldiers etc), it would seem insulting to war veterans to make a Boys Own adventure film that makes war out to be as thrilling as 'The Great Escape' does. But it manages to do what is seemingly the impossible: make a thrilling WW2 film that also brings home the horrible, futile cost of war.

'The Great Escape' is one of those movies that you've probably seen a hundred times, but can't stop watching every time it's on to watch all your favourite bits roll out again. And each time you foolishly hope against hope that everyone is going to make it out this time. They won't, but that magical last scene and the superb theme tune from Elmer Bernstein, is testament to their defiance and courage. And that's what 'The Great Escape' is all about.

The lengthy running time also gives plenty of space to characters and make no mistake, Steve McQueen is the Daddy here. From his very strut as he riles Von Luger into giving him 20 days solitary to his nonchalant way of banging his baseball off his cell wall to pass the time, he's the essence of stubborn resistance.James Garner runs him a close second as the charming, light fingered scrounger who forms a touching friendship with the hopelessly out of place Blythe. His defiant defence of his blindness to make sure he goes into the escape tunnel is a special moment.

Coburn and Bronson are also excellent (Bronson's last minute claustrophobia another one of those classic bits that everyone remembers), but it's a shame that the British actors get the more cliched roles. They're very much a public schoolboy set who stand around smoking pipes and tending gardens, while the Americans brew up illegal licqour and play baseball. It's a cliche that was prevalent in every war film up until then, and it's a shame it doesn't try to play against these stereotypes.

It re-inforces the Boys Own feel to the piece, but ultimately it doesn't detract from it.This of course all leads up to the bit that everyone remembers: Steve McQueens legendary motorbike jump as he makes his last desperate bid for freedom into Switzerland. Admittedly with CGI and legions of stunt teams, it may not seem so impressive now but with the story and the character behind it, it still rates as one my greatest ever movie moments. But for all this excitement and showboating, it's largely to unavail as the tragic end looms into view. It's a brave move to end what has been a terrifically entertaining yarn with a sobering end, but this is based on a true story and this is what happened. This is what happens in war.


Blogger ffleur said...

oh no, he doesn't die does he? I hate when that happens, even if it was the true story.

As as kid, I had to be reassured everyone would live before I'd watch a movie. I'd sob even if dogs died (especially if dogs died)

10:26 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

Steve lives!

p.s. don't watch Old Yeller . . .

7:35 AM  
Blogger LA said...

Ffleur - Don't read Old Yeller, either.

10:58 PM  

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