Review: The Great Escape

“It is the sworn duty of all officers to try to escape. If they can’t, 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.” – My favorite line from the movie/intro of the book.

WOW. Because I’m a youngin’ born more than a decade after The Great Escape hit theatres, I’d never heard of this book or movie. When our readers chose it as one of the top 5 movie adaptations from a book, I was assigned the job of reading the book and watching the movie.

I have to admit, the ensemble of actors playing the roles of officers in the movie made for quite a bit of manly eye-candy.  Portions of the film were heroic and quotable.  For a three-hour movie, it seemed shorter for the suspense, action, and drama.  But growing up with movies like The Pianist and Schindler’s List, I couldn’t help but feel the movie seemed too sanitized, and the Germans were comedic caricatures of the horror within true concentration camps. The book showed a much more realistic picture of life as it happened within the walls of the “inescapable” camp.

That’s where the wow comes in.

The movie adapted from the book by Paul Brickhill is what we’d consider Historical Fiction. The book itself is the non-fictional account of a man held in the camp at Stalag Luft III. When movie producers got a hold of the story, they used quite a bit of poetic license in showing the movements of the characters from escape to freedom, recapture, or death.  For example – Steve McQueen added some of the most memorable parts of the movie at personal request. The motorcycle escape – pure fiction. James Garner’s fighter jet hijack? Fiction again.

Overall, this great film seemed like a story “too good to be true,” and was exactly that. But let’s not forget most great, memorable stories are works of fiction and enjoy the movie for the epic Hollywood take on reality that it is.

This is one time I preferred the movie over the book–a rare exception. But when you have Steve McQueen and motorcycles–’nuff said!