The Great Escape

This classic of the WWII-can-be-fun genre merges fact-based epic with great escapist entertainment. In a maximum-security Nazi stalag, Allied officers accept their sworn duty: either to escape, or barring that, “to harass the enemy to the best of their ability.” So, in 1944, Richard Attenborough of the RAF plans a breakout for 250. This intricate operation requires an array of determined operators, including Donald Pleasence the forger, James Garner the scrounger of forbidden goods, Charles Bronson the claustrophobic tunnel man, and American independent Steve McQueen, cool man of the solitary “cooler.” There are setbacks and suspense, of course, and when the characters finally reach the Panavision expanse of the outside world, they discover that escape is easier than survival. But Elmer Bernstein's infectious score maintains a jaunty tone, and life and death are finally just parts of the same exhilarating game.

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