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THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963) ****

After reviewing director John Sturges’ weak Ice Station Zebra yesterday, I decided to watch Sturges’ The Great Escape; one of the greatest fucking movies of all time.  The Great Escape has one of the best casts ever assembled.  Steve Muthafuckin’ McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Donald Pleasence, the list goes on and on. 

 

All these guys are prisoners in a Nazi POW camp.  After digging tunnels and acting cool as Hell for about two hours, they escape.  What did the kraut-eating sons-a-bitches expect when they put all those badasses together under one roof?

 

You know, I always go back and forth over which star-studded WWII Men on a Mission movie featuring Charles Bronson is better, this one or The Dirty Dozen.  I think I have to give The Dirty Dozen the edge because it’s a bit more action-centric.  Still, The Great Escape is one Hell of a good time.

 

Sturges directs the film with an invisible style.  He doesn’t do anything flashy; he just presents the material and has enough confidence in his actors to let them do their own thing.  Besides, with a cast this great, who needs to worry about shit like “motivation”?  Sturges’ only direction must’ve been, “OK, act like a badass annnnnd… ACTION!”

 

And what a cast of badasses we have.  McQueen simply gives the best performance of his career.  He’s never been as cool as he is here.  The motorcycle finale is all kinds of awesome and what makes it so great is the fact that McQueen did nearly all of his own stunt diving.  Garner is also outstanding as the smooth-talking “Scrounger”.  I particularly liked the scene where he vouches for the blind Pleasence and vows to keep an eye on him throughout the escape.  Pleasence’s inevitable fate is tragic and both he and Garner are terrific in their final scene together.  Bronson does a marvelous job as the tunnel digger who has severe bouts of claustrophobia.  Many critics wrote him off as being a “Stone Face”, but he gives a fully three-dimensional performance in this movie.  The scene where the lights get turned out on him while he’s in the tunnel is unforgettable. 

 

On top of the impeccable cast, Elmer Bernstein delivers one of his finest scores.  It’s definitely among the best in film history.  You’ll be whistling that shit days after you watch the flick. 

 

McQueen, Bronson and Coburn were also in Sturges’ excellent The Magnificent Seven.

 

The Great Escape is Numero Uno on The Video Vacuum Top Ten Films of the Year 1963.

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