The Great Escape (1963)

 ●  English ● 2 hrs 52 mins

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Based on a true story, this thrilling and suspenseful saga follows a group of allied escape artist-type prisoners-of-war (POW's), are all placed in an 'escape proof' camp. Never ones to give up and accept defeat, the POWs band together under a leader, and decide to make a mass escape, that would free several hundred of them at once. Initially, they test the alertness and efficiency of the German setup, and when their initial attempts are easily rebuked, they band together and work on a comprehensive plan for a great escape. Constantly outwitting their jailers, the POWs dig a set of tunnels that would be instrumental to their epic escape. Will they ultimately succeed in escaping the Germans and returning to their countries as free men? How many of them will manage the escape with their lives intact?
See Storyline (May Contain Spoilers)

Cast: Steve McQueen

Crew: John Sturges (Director), Daniel L Fapp (Director of Photography), Elmer Bernstein (Music Director)

Rating: U (India)

Genres: Adventure, Drama

Release Dates: 04 Jul 1963 (India)

Tagline: A Glorious Saga Of The R.A.F.

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Did you know? The film was shot entirely on location in Europe, with a complete camp resembling Stalag Luft III built near Munich, Germany. Exteriors for the escape sequences were shot in the Rhine Country and areas near the North Sea, and Steve McQueen's motorcycle scenes were filmed in Fussen (on the Austrian border) and the Alps. All interiors were filmed at the Bavaria Studio in Munich. Read More
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Direction

Director

Production

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Production Company

Writers

Screenplay Writer
Novelist

Camera and Electrical

Director of Photography

Music

Music Director

Sound

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Film Type:
Feature Film
Language:
English
Colour Info:
Color
Sound Mix:
4-Track Stereo, Mono
Frame Rate:
24 fps
Aspect Ratio:
2.35 : 1
Stereoscopy:
No
Taglines:
A Glorious Saga Of The R.A.F.
Hours ago... Minutes ago.... These men were behind barbed wire.
Goofs:
Continuity
After Ives is killed, Hilts escapes and is purposely captured so he can bring back information about the area around the camp. He had obviously been in water, but different angles as he's brought back into the camp show the water line higher or lower on his pants legs.

Crew/Equipment Visible
The Region 1 widescreen DVD version is framed such that some unintended things are seen to the left of the screen. When Hilts is serving moonshine, for instance, a crewmember can be seen pushing the prisoners forwards (in the Region 2 version, only his hand is visible). When Hilts is first sent to the cooler, the left-hand edge of the set can be seen at one point, too, with crew and equipment visible beyond (completely out of shot in the Region 2 version). When the prisoners are assembled the morning after the escape, there are several huge studio lights on stands on the left side of the frame between the trip wire and the fence. More studio lights are visible on the left frame during the first appearance of German town where Roger Bartlett and Mac McDonald are captured. The Region 1 Special Edition DVD has been reframed, removing most of these instances.

Revealing Mistakes
After the plane crash Hendley's left leg is so badly injured he cannot stand on it. When he is returned to the POW camp he walks in normally.

Revealing Mistakes
In the tunnel scene where it is discussed that they will need to shore up the entire tunnel (after Willie is buried by a collapse), one of the supports of the base room is seen to move when hit by the trolley cart. Being thirty feet below ground, this support should be held firmly in place by the dirt overhead.

Revealing Mistakes
Flipped shot. After Hilts steals the motorcycle, he is hiding behind a building waiting for the German troops to go by. As they go by, the sidecar on the German motorcycle is on the wrong side of the bike.

Revealing Mistakes
When Hilts is playing the fife on the Fourth of July, his hands are in the wrong position. Both are on the outside of the fife, while anyone actually playing the instrument would have the right hand on the other side.

Continuity
In the very last scene, as Hilts is being returned to the camp, he has a bloody rip in his shirt, on the right shoulder. When he is marched directly to the cooler afterward in the last shot, the tear is gone.

Continuity
Soon after MacDonald is captured, Bartlett tries to be nonchalant as he walks along a sidewalk. The German soldier, in the car, yells at Bartlett to stop and he does...on the sidewalk. Cut to a different angle and Bartlett is stopped...in the middle of the street.

Errors in Geography
Immediately after Lt. Henley tells Colin that they are just one mountain ridge away from Switzerland, their plane flies past the famous castle of Neuschwanstein, which is on the Austrian border, about 60 miles (and some very high mountains) away from Switzerland.

Factual Mistake
The film shows a large number of the escapees being shot in one common space at one time. In reality, the 50 were shot in many different places, sometimes alone and sometimes in small groups.

Factual Mistake
The film shows the executions being carried out by uniformed German troops using a Spandau machine gun. In reality, the executions were done by Gestapo agents who used pistols at close range.

Factual Mistake
Group Captain Ramsey's bottom three service ribbons denote service during the first world war. (Correct order would be: 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal). However, these three ribbons are worn backwards on his uniform throughout the film (Victory Medal, British War Medal, 1914-15 Star).

Factual Mistake
The film shows almost everything happening in the summer months. In reality, the actual escape occurred in March, 1944 while there was still significant snow on the ground. Most of the escapees who were trying to walk across country were forced by the deep snow to leave the fields and go on to the roads and into the hands of the patrols.

Audio/Video Mismatch
During the majority of the 4th of July scene the background soundtrack loops over and over. This goes on for nearly 10 minutes.

Audio/Video Mismatch
When the Americans are marching as "The Spirit of '76", they stop before the Senior Barracks Officer. The last fife note is heard after Hilts lowers the fife from his lips.

Character Error
When Hendley and Blythe are playing chess, the chessboard is set up with a black square in the bottom right corner, i.e. the board is positioned sideways.

Character Error
In the opening scenes, Hilts and Ives are sentenced to 20 days each in the Cooler by the Commandant. When Hilts and Ives are to be released from the Cooler, Hilts counts the 14 day-marks on the wall and as he's counting the 15th day on his fingers, the door opens and they walk out.

Character Error
Throughout the movie, British and German officers pronounce "lieutenant" as "lootenant" rather than "leftenant".

Continuity
Soon after his initial arrival at the camp, Hilts puts his gear bag on the ground next to the hut. Taking his ball and mitt with him, he walks over to the wire, leaving the bag behind. While talking to another prisoner about the blind spot between the towers, a camera shot back toward the hut shows Hilt's bag is gone.

Continuity
In Bartlett"s briefing, he says the first tunnel ("Tom")will go out from 105, and then says it will go out from hut 104, and Harry from 105. Danny is then shown starting Tom in 104. However, by the July 4th celebrations, "Tom" is in hut 105 when Strachwitz discovers it (and "105" is painted on the hut when the guards surround it).

Continuity
Motorcycles change in close-up shots.

Continuity
In the tunnel, Colin's socks alternate between grey and white between shots.

Continuity
When Hilts crashes his motorcycle into the barbed wire fence, he is clearly in front of the barbed wire. When they cut back for the close-up, he is entangled in the barbed wire.

Continuity
When Hendley's stolen plane crashes the wings are clearly ripped completely off the fuselage. When the plane is next seen on fire the wings are still attached.

Continuity
When Ives drops his cup and moves towards the fence, in the background Hilts turns and starts moving towards Ives. Camera cuts to Hilts and he turns and starts moving again.

Continuity
While Hilts is contemplating throwing his baseball to the "blind spot" at the fence, he backs up to the shadows at the corner of one of the prisoner's huts. when the camera cuts back to the same spot at corner of the hut, the area is no longer in shadows.

Continuity
In the scene in Hendley and Btlyhes room, when Bartlet is telling Blythe he can't go. During close ups or the view is from the door there is an ashtray hanging on the side of Hendley's bunk. When the scene is viewed from across the room the ashtray is not there.

Continuity
During their initial escape attempt (walking out with the Russian workers) the two escapees are in different rows. In the next shot, during which one attempts to vouch for the other, they are in the same row.

Continuity
When Danny prepares to dig the first tunnel, he marks the outline using blue chalk. The outline is round/oval, but during a close-up shot when he writes the number 17 in the corner, the outline is more of a square. In the next shot, the outline is once again oval and the number 17 looks different.

Continuity
When Hilts and Ives are first put in the cooler, Ives is to the right as Hilts faces the door. As Hilts talks to Ives through the bars in the door, he faces the wrong direction.

Continuity
On their first day in camp, Hilts throws his baseball to the wire to check the Germans' lines of sight. When he is finally stopped and the commandant comes over and Hilts is explaining what he was doing, the position of his hands change in differently angled shots.

Crew/Equipment Visible
On the left side of the screen in the closing scene, as Hilts walks to the cooler, the camera track is visible between the fence and the warning wire.

Crew/Equipment Visible
When Hilts is setting a trip line across the road the sun is screen left. As he reaches the near side of the road he's suddenly lit from screen right and has two opposing shadows. The light (probably a reflector) follows him causing the post in the foreground to reflect the light and then the post also gains a shadow facing the sun.
Trivia:
When celebrating the Fourth of July and pouring alcohol, Hilts (Steve McQueen) is thrown off by an ad-lib by Goff (Jud Taylor). While Hilts is drinking, Goff says, "No taxation without representation." McQueen jumps out of character and gives him a look (and mouths, "What?") The director must have signaled to "just go with it" and the scene continues. But it is an obvious ad-lib.

MacDonald (Intelligence) is based on George Harsh, a very good friend of Wally Floody (the real Tunnel King). They were both transferred to Belaria before the escape. Harsh was a very interesting character who was from the American south and had joined the RCAF as a tail-gunner. In the 1920s Harsh had committed murder and was sent to jail for life. A medical student, Harsh performed an appendectomy on a dying prisoner and saved his life. The governor of Georgia granted him a pardon and he was set free. After the war, he had personal problems as he was plagued by guilt over the crime he committed as a youth; on top of adjusting to life after fifteen years in captivity (12 years on the Georgia chain gang, followed by three years as POW). On Christmas Eve 1974, he did shoot himself but survived. A stroke soon after left him partially paralyzed. When that happened, Wally Floody and his wife brought him up to their Toronto home and looked after him. He eventually went to live -at his own urging- at the Veteran's Wing at the Sunnybrook Medical Centre. He died in January of 1980.

Most of the planes in the airfield are actually American AT-6 Texan trainers painted with a German paint scheme, but the one actually flown is an authentic German plane, a Bucker Bu 181 'Bestmann.'

The real-life escape was on the night of 24 March 1944, and the ground was snow-covered. The German town near the prison camp, called Neustadt in the film, was really Sagan (now Zagan, Poland). Steve McQueen was born on March 24th.

The nationality of a few of the prisoners in the story was changed, emphasizing American, and de-emphasizing Commonwealth and other Allied.

Wally Floody, the real-life "Tunnel King" (he was transferred to another camp just before the escape), served as a consultant to the filmmakers, almost full-time, for more than a year.

The gold medallion Steve McQueen wears throughout the film was a present from his wife.

Richard Attenborough was an RAF air gunner/photographer who served in the RAF for three years unlike his character, based on Squadron Leader Roger Bushell who was a Spitfire Pilot in 92 Squadron in the early years of World War Two.

The newspaper that Ashley-Pitt (David McCallum) reads on the train is the 'Völkischer Beobachter', a real newspaper produced for 25 years by the National Socialist German Workers Party. It served as a propaganda sheet for the Nazis and helped bring Adolf Hitler to power. At its height, it had a circulation of approximately 1.4 million. The headline for the issue seen in the film translates roughly to "Day after day, the Soviets have high, bloody losses." Given that the escape in the film occurs in the summer of 1944, this too can be viewed as propaganda. The Nazis had transferred hundreds of thousands of troops to Normandy to stop the Allied advances after D-Day, allowing for the Soviet's to launch Operation Bagration on 22 June, which pushed the Nazis back into Poland by the beginning of 13 July and sparked the Warsaw uprising. In all, the Soviet advance caused German losses of approximately 670,000 dead, missing, wounded and sick, including 160,000 captured. Although the date of the escape is unclear, given the green pastures around the Alps that the escapees encounter, one can easily surmise that the newspaper was putting a positive spin on the battles in the east.

The song sung by Ives & McDonald on 4th July is "Wha [who] saw the 42nd?" Contrary to common belief it is not in Gaelic but (heavily accented) English. The 42nd Regiment of Foot was a Scottish regiment (the Black Watch) in the British army.

When the Bavaria Studio's backlot proved to be too small, the production team obtained permission from the German government to shoot in a national forest adjoining the studio. After the end of principal photography, the company restored (by reseeding) some 2,000 small pine trees that had been damaged in the course of shooting.

The motorcycle driven by the character of Virgil Hilts that is used for the fence jump is a 1962 Thunderbird Triumph, which was refurbished to look like a bike 20 years older.

Steve McQueen's character Hilts was based on amalgamation of several characters, including Major Dave Jones, a flight commander during Doolittle's Raid who made it to Europe and was shot down and captured and Colonel Jerry Sage, who was an OSS agent in the North African desert when he was captured. Col. Sage was able to don a flight jacket and pass as a flier otherwise he would have been executed as a spy. Another inspiration was probably Sqn Ldr Eric Foster who escaped no less than seven times from German prisoner-of-war camps.

Richard Attenborough was cast at short notice after the first choice pulled out.

During idle periods while The Great Escape (1963) was in production, all cast and crew members - from stars Steve McQueen and James Garner to production assistants and obscure food service workers - were asked to take thin, five-inch strings of black rubber and knot them around other thin strings of black rubber of enormous length. The finished results of all this knotting were the coils and fences of barbed wire seen throughout the film.

Paul Brickhill, who wrote the book from which the film is based, was piloting a Spitfire aircraft that was shot down over Tunisia in March 1943. He was taken to Stalag Luft III in Germany, where he assisted in the escape preparations.

The motorcycle that Hilts (Steve McQueen) rides is a cosmetically modified Triumph TR6 Trophy. Bud Ekins who actually performs the famous barbed wire leap stunt, was a Triumph dealer. Triumph was McQueen's favorite motorcycle marque. The motorcycle sidecar combination that crashes into a ditch is revealed to be a Triumph motorcycle, too. As is well known, these British motorcycle models were not in existence during the Second World War and their appearance is somewhat incongruous.

For the train sequences, a railroad engine was rented and two condemned cars were purchased and modified to house the camera equipment. Scenes were shot on the single rail line between Munich and Hamburg, and a railroad representative was on hand to advise the filmmakers when to pull aside to avoid hitting scheduled oncoming trains.

The motorcycle scenes were not based on real life but were added at Steve McQueen's suggestion.

The character of von Luger was actually based on Friedrich von Lindeiner-Wildau. As with von Luger, the real commandant was an Oberst (Colonel), a general staff officer, and a holder of the "Blue Max" (Pour le Merite) medal. However, while the pictures on the wall of von Luger's office are of World War I flying units, von Lindeiner-Wildau earned his Blue Max in the East Africa campaigns in 1905-07 and served as an infantry officer before and during World War I. He retired from the Army in 1919 and only joined the Luftwaffe in 1937 at 'Hermann Goring''s personal invitation.

The medal that Colonel von Luger wears around his neck is the Pour le Merite, also known as the Blue Max. Originally a Prussian military honor, in the First World War it was automatically given to fighter pilots who shot down eight planes (later raised to sixteen). The Nazis replaced it with the Knight's Cross but it could still be worn by officers who'd won it before the Third Reich.

The real-life escape preparations involved 600 men working for well over a year. The escape did have the desired effect of diverting German resources, including a doubling of the number of guards after the Gestapo took over the camp from the Luftwaffe.

The film was shot entirely on location in Europe, with a complete camp resembling Stalag Luft III built near Munich, Germany. Exteriors for the escape sequences were shot in the Rhine Country and areas near the North Sea, and Steve McQueen's motorcycle scenes were filmed in Fussen (on the Austrian border) and the Alps. All interiors were filmed at the Bavaria Studio in Munich.

Donald Pleasence had actually been a Royal Air Force pilot in World War II, who was shot down, became a prisoner of war and was tortured by the Germans. When he kindly offered advice to the film's director John Sturges, he was politely asked to keep his "opinions" to himself. Later, when another star from the film informed John Sturges that Pleasence had actually been a RAF Officer in a World War II German POW Stalag camp, Sturges requested his technical advice and input on historical accuracy from that point forward.

Hilts (Steve McQueen) strings a wire across the road to obtain a motorcycle. McQueen himself played the German motorcyclist who hits the wire.

During production, Charles Bronson met and fell in love with David McCallum's wife, Jill Ireland, and he jokingly told McCallum he was going to steal her away from him. In 1967, Ireland and McCallum divorced, and she married Bronson.

Charles Bronson, who portrays the chief tunneler, brought his own expertise and experiences to the set: he had been a coal miner before turning to acting and gave director John Sturges advice on how to move the earth. As a result of his work in the coal mines, Bronson suffered from claustrophobia just as his character had.

One day, the police in the German town where the film was shot set up a speed trap near the set. Several members of the cast and crew were caught, including Steve McQueen. The Chief of Police told McQueen "Herr McQueen, we have caught several of your comrades today, but you have won the prize [for the highest speeding]." McQueen was arrested and briefly jailed.

Several cast members were actual P.O.W.s during World War II. Donald Pleasence was held in a German camp, Hannes Messemer in a Russian camp and Til Kiwe and Hans Reiser were prisoners of the Americans.

Steve McQueen held up production because he demanded that the script be rewritten to give his character more to do.

James Garner developed his "Scrounger" character from his own personal experiences in the military during the Korean War.

Although Steve McQueen did his own motorcycle riding, there was one stunt he did not perform: the hair-raising 60-foot jump over a fence. This was done by McQueen's friend Bud Ekins, who was managing a Los Angeles-area motorcycle shop when recruited for the stunt. It was the beginning of a new career for Ekins, as he later doubled for McQueen in Bullitt (1968) and did much of the motorcycle riding on the television series CHiPs (1977).

Steve McQueen accepted the role of Hilts on the condition that he got to show off his motorcycle skills.

Steve McQueen also personally attempted the jump across the border fence, but crashed. The jump was successfully performed by Bud Ekins.