TGE was the sensation of the 1963 film season. The running time, at close to three hours, meant it was released as an epic, similar to Ben Hur and other films with a length demanding an intermission. Smoke breaks weren’t necessary, since everyone was smoking in the theater.
While already big stars, it brought super-stardom to a motorcycle riding Steve McQueen. Also in the cast were James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Coburn and many others of international importance. The film was a WWII story about prisoners placed in an escape-proof camp due to their already established tenacity to escape. The film was shot entirely in Germany, close to actual locations where the story occurred.
For dramatic purposes, all of the characters were fictionalized conglomerations of the real prisoners and the time periods involved were compressed. If played in real time, the story would take several years to watch. Three hours turned out to be just right. The actual Great Escape, which takes place in the last section of the film, is a story of heroism and grit.
Steve McQueen plays Virgil “Hilts,” the cooler king. His character is based on real life aviator, David Mudgett Jones. DJ had a truly remarkable and heroic role in WWII and beyond. His story is told in a special feature filmed in 2001. Major General Jones died in 2008, at the age of 94. Do not miss this feature.
While DJ rode a motorcycle, the motorcycle chase in TGE was created just to give Steve MQ more to do, at his insistence. During the long chase sequence Steve actually dons a German uniform and, through judicious film editing, can be seen chasing himself. The impressive 60 foot stunt jump was done by Steve’s pal Bud Ekins, who also doubled for Steve in the car chase sequences in Bullitt. Steve tried the jump and crashed. The filmmakers would not let him try a second time.
The film also features a stunning march and score composed by Elmer Bernstein. EB was in his greatest era after composing scores for The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), and Hawaii (1966). Along with the other 200 films he did in his career these were the three best. His best was as good as it got.
The film is now available on Blu-ray and looks spectacular. It has a host of extra features including the not-to-be-missed one mentioned above. The retail cost is under $10. The Great Escape is now also a great deal.
The Great Escape marks its 50th anniversary on the 4th of July. If you have never seen this film, you are in for a truly great cinematic experience.
Rated 4.0 out of 4.0 reasons to enjoy this film on the 4th of July, which is appropriately celebrated by the three Americans in the prisoner of war camp, which held mainly British captives. Drinks will be served.