The world celebrated what is one of the most important dates in history last week with the remembrance of VE Day. That was the day that the war in Europe ended. Interestingly enough, last Tuesday, MGM and 20th Century Fox released the fiftieth anniversary edition of what is one of the most talked about films centered on the war in Europe in The Great Escape. This is hardly the shortest movie made about events from the war. It clocks in at nearly three hours long. And even with certain fictionalized portions as noted in the movie’s bonus features, it still proves almost half a century later to be one of the greatest WWII themed movies to ever be crafted.
What makes The Great Escape enjoyable, despite its run time, is that while it is on the surface a story based in WWII, it is more a story about the power of teamwork and of the human spirit to survive. Having so many P.O.W.s from so many different backgrounds in one confined area could be argued to be a microcosm of the nations of the world. This likely wasn’t the primary intent of script writers James Clavell and W.R. Burnett. But seeing this and the ability of the men to work together for a singular cause despite their varied backgrounds helps to illustrate the power of teamwork and the human spirit to survive. Those messages are made even more powerful when juxtaposed against the ideologies of the Nazi party. It shows that no matter how great the odds, even ordinary people can do extraordinary feats when they come together.
The messages of teamwork and the human spirit are integral to the enjoyment of The Great Escape. Those same messages are illustrated even more through the movie’s main storyline and its action sequences. The movie’s main storyline is not that difficult to follow. A group of P.O.W.s is sent to what is supposed to be an inescapable P.O.W. camp created by the Nazis. The allied prisoners find every way to hide their “great” escape plan from the Nazi guards manning the camp. The ways in which the plan is covered up are funny. From singing Christmas music to using special code, it all seems so outrageous. But it’s that outrageousness that is so entertaining. As soon as audiences allow themselves to be pulled into the story, and get over the fact that some of the story was in fact fictionalized, they will find themselves appreciating the story even more.
Staying on the matter of the fictionalized portions of The Great Escape, the bonus features included in the movie’s fiftieth anniversary Blu-ray edition do a lot to justify the fictionalized portions of the story. It is noted in the bonus features that portions of the story were in fact added that didn’t happen, such as Steve McQueen’s famous motorcycle chase. It is noted that he made the demand that unless this scene was added, he was not going to star in the movie based. Perhaps most interesting to note in the included bonus features is that despite some changes and additions here and there, the men that actually escaped from Stalag Luft III were quite accepting of the movie and even tried to claim that this character and that was based on him. One can’t help but laugh at the pride brought out in those men when they shared their stories and joked about being the influence behind given characters in the movie. The pride of the men on whom the movie was based is the most important reason for the movie having been made. And it’s the most important reason for the movie to be seen to this day. It is a tribute to just one more group of individuals of what former newsman Tom Brokaw properly called “The Greatest Generation.” With members of this generation passing away each day, a movie like this is increasingly necessary in order to keep the memory of that generation alive. It’s a movie that members of every generation should see at least once. It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct online via the Fox store at http://www.foxconnect.com.
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