By Matthew Turner (Erdington, Birmingham)
Ah, those great ensemble movies Ocean’s Eleven, The Avengers, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Simpsons Movie? (is technically speaking one of sorts). But if asked to name such ensemble movies very rarely will you hear The Great Escape. And I suppose it depends who you ask but 1963 was a while ago now but this movie with its list of A list stars was one of if not the first real ensemble piece.
The movie was based on the events of a mass breakout from a World War II prisoner of war camp and the route of which it focused. The plan was to tunnel out of the camp and take as many as possible behind the fence and beyond the woods. The sad truth is the subject this film is based actually happened and in truth many good men lost their lives and pains were suffered. However, the point of this movie wasn’t to dwell on one of the worst crimes in human history but rather celebrate our war heroes.
As production began on the project the cast started as it meant to go on as big names such as Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, James Garner, Donald Pleasence and Charles Bronson all agreed to appear and so began the start of a movie that has lasted well in age as a watchable piece of feel good drama, but maybe not so well if you’re picky about inaccuracies which is blatantly what the movies full of. But it doesn’t take anything away from the emotional feeling you are expected to feel in this movie by the makers…pride.
The movie starts well straight away with a signature theme tune that is still heard around many football grounds today, it’s not long till we get our first sight of McQueen’s character hilts, and Richard Attenborough’s Roger Bartlett who has been recaptured and brought back to this particular war camp along with the rest of the so called British “bad eggs”. The fact that McQueen was tagged the epitome of cool before this movie’s release spoils it for me a little because watching the movie when I was young and now he doesn’t seem to be putting much effort in to his role and he is somewhat labored. The same goes for Attenborough.
This movie is clunky and can be overly cheesy at times but when we watch it, it makes it no less enjoyable because of the vintageness of the movie. But I do expect McQueen or even James Garner to turn knowingly to the camera and wink. I think if I’m truly honest, the more viewings I take of this movie the more I find to complain about it. I also wasn’t fooled by the forced friendship the cast appeared to have on screen as it’s known some of the cast actively were jealous or disliked each other.
Again I know it was 1963 and war movies were the rave but I wouldn’t mind seeing this story done with a more gritty backdrop and more factual. The over ass kissing to the Americans was annoying to me especially as in reality the Americans were shipped out before the escape took place. It feels too Hollywood at times when it should be more British beef. The German guards were PG13 sadistic, so we were treated to some long chats between guards and prisoners which I suppose is to represent all good feeling and oh “it was all just fun and banter, forging away or digging a tunnel…” No! The real story is more heart rendering and the true heroes should have been well celebrated. Each scene in the movie for me is an excuse to see these great past stars on film and assign them roles and watch the magic flow (which undeniably it must have), but with such amazing actors I think we could have seen the first raw prisoner of war camp movie with scenes of the real angst between prisoner and their enemies.
I imagine some studio big head somewhere might be thinking of a remake and I for one say hell, yes! With Jason Statham, Ian McKellen, Daniel Craig, Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Stephen Graham, Vinnie Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Tennant and maybe James McAvoy in the cast this could well be another ensemble with a difference and give us a Great Escape to remember for different reasons apart from sitting in a cooler throwing a baseball which by the way I know is an iconic scene.
Do not get me wrong this movie has its Sunday afternoon chilled on the sofa charm, but that’s about it. So if there’s a type of film I want to see now its gritty prisoner of war films and as much as it’s inspiring…I don’t need to see a MOTOR CYCLE JUMP!!