Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Great Escape" Is Great Adventure

Cleveland Press July 19, 1963

There must be hundreds, even thousands, of stories about the impossible deeds accomplished by men under stress during World War II.

"The Great Escape" is one of the best of them.

This film, based on a true incident, is a topnotch adventure yarn. It's taut almost every minute of the way, but there are moments of skillfully wrought humor to ease the tension now and then.

This is the story of the greatest mass breakout of prisoners during World War II.

Into a German maximum security prison camp are herded a new bunch of prisoners. They are all airmen but they all have something else in common. Every one of them is an escape artist.

Help War Effort

Time and again each has tunneled under or climbed over a fence to get away. While it is true that they have all been recaptured, they feel that their efforts are contributions to the war since they keep enemy soldiers busy pursuing them instead of fighting on the line.

As the camp commander puts it, the Germans have put all their rotten eggs in one basket. And now they intend watching the basket.

What the Germans have got themselves is a basket full of troubles.

Action, Suspense

The men go to work planning a mass escape of 250 prisoners. Every expert is assigned his job. Documents are forged, old uniforms and blankets are dyed and tailored into civilian clothes, and work begins on three tunnels -- each 30 feet down and 350 yards long.

The movie becomes most captivating as it deals with these intricate preparations. Every inch of the tunnel must be shored up to keep it from collapsing. Barracks are stripped of every excess board, tons of earth have to be disposed of.

When the moment of escape comes, only 76 make it. The final portion of the movie is filled with suspense and action as the camera follows the escapees over the German countryside as men and material are diverted to try to recapture them.

Polished Cast

Producer-director John Sturges has assembled a skillful and polished cast for this movie. Steve McQueen registers as both an actor and a personality.

He is cast as a devil-may-care escape artist, a man dedicated to a single purpose and who accepts setbacks with a shrug and a smile.

His athletic prowess with a motorcycle is put to good use in a wild, cross-country, hill-leaping and fence hurdling ride.

Con Man De luxe

James (Maverick) Garner does his best work in this movie as a man adept at scrounging. It's the sort of con-man part he does so well.

Charles Bronson as the determined tunneler, Richard Attenborough as the master mind and James Donald as the senior officer all contribute sturdy performances.

Elmer Bernstein has composed background music with a jaunty martial flavor.

The total result is a compelling adventure film.