THE GREAT ESCAPE
DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY JOHN STURGES
DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY JOHN STURGES
Information From IMDb
Based on a true story, "The Great Escape" deals with the largest Allied escape attempt from a German POW camp during the Second World War. The first part of the film focuses on the escape efforts within the camp and the process of secretly digging an escape tunnel. The second half of the film deals with the massive effort by the German Gestapo to track down the over 70 escaped prisoners who are at this point throughout the Third Reich attempting to make their way to England and various neutral countries. Written by Anthony Hughes
Steve McQueen ... Capt. Hilts "The Cooler King"
James Garner ... Flight Lt. Hendley "The Scrounger"
Richard Attenborough ... Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett "Big X"
James Donald ... Group Capt. Ramsey "The SBO"
Charles Bronson ... Flight Lt. Danny Velinski "The Tunnel King"
Donald Pleasence ... Flight Lt. Colin Blythe "The Forger"
James Coburn ... Flying Officer Louis Sedgwick "The Manufacturer"
Hannes Messemer ... Col. von Luger
David McCallum ... Lt. Cmdr. Eric Ashley-Pitt "Dispersal"
Gordon Jackson ... Flight Lt. Sandy MacDonald "Intelligence"
John Leyton ... Flight Lt. William Dickes "The Tunneler"
Angus Lennie ... Flying Officer Archibald Ives "The Mole"
Nigel Stock ... Flight Lt. Denys Cavendish "The Surveyor"
Robert Graf ... Werner 'The Ferret'
Jud Taylor ... Goff
Hans Reiser ... Herr Kuhn
Harry Riebauer ... German Sgt. Strachwitz
William Russell ... Sorren
Robert Freitag ... Capt. Posen
Ulrich Beiger ... Preissen
George Mikell ... Lt. Dietrich
Lawrence Montaigne ... Haynes ('Diversions')
Robert Desmond ... Griffith 'Tailor'
Til Kiwe ... Frick
Heinz Weiss ... Kramer
Tom Adams ... Dai Nimmo ('Diversions')
Karl-Otto Alberty ... Steinach
Paul Brickhill (book)
James Clavell (screenplay) and
W.R. Burnett (screenplay)
John Sturges .... producer
James Clavell .... producer (uncredited)
* Paul Brickhill, who wrote the book from which the film is based, was piloting a Spitfire aircraft that was shot down over Tunisia in March 1943. He was taken to Stalag Luft III in Germany, where he assisted in the escape preparations.
* The film was shot entirely on location in Europe, with a complete camp resembling Stalag Luft III built near Munich, Germany. Exteriors for the escape sequences were shot in the Rhine Country and areas near the North Sea, and Steve McQueen's motorcycle scenes were filmed in Fussen (on the Austrian border) and the Alps. All interiors were filmed at the Bavaria Studio in Munich.
* When the Bavaria Studio's backlot proved to be too small, the production team obtained permission from the German government to shoot in a national forest adjoining the studio. After the end of principal photography, the company restored (by reseeding) some 2,000 small pine trees that had been damaged in the course of shooting.
* For the train sequences, a railroad engine was rented and two condemned cars were purchased and modified to house the camera equipment. Scenes were shot on the single rail line between Munich and Hamburg, and a railroad representative was on hand to advise the filmmakers when to pull aside to avoid hitting scheduled oncoming trains.
* During the climatic motorcycle chase, John Sturges allowed Steve McQueen to ride (in disguise) as one of the pursuing German soldiers, so that in the final sequence, through the magic of editing, he's actually chasing himself.
* Several cast members were actual P.O.W.s during World War II. Donald Pleasence was held in a German camp, Hannes Messemer in a Russian camp and Til Kiwe and Hans Reiser were prisoners of the Americans.
* Charles Bronson, who portrays the chief tunneler, brought his own expertise and experiences to the set: he had been a coal miner before turning to acting and gave director John Sturges advice on how to move the earth. As a result of his work in the coal mines, Bronson suffered from claustrophobia just as his character had.
* Although Steve McQueen did his own motorcycle riding, there was one stunt he did not perform: the hair-raising 60-foot jump over a fence. This was done by McQueen's friend Bud Ekins, who was managing a Los Angeles-area motorcycle shop when recruited for the stunt. It was the beginning of a new career for Ekins, as he later doubled for McQueen in Bullitt (1968) and did much of the motorcycle riding on the television series "CHiPs" (1977).
* Hilts (Steve McQueen) strings a wire across the road to obtain a motorcycle. McQueen himself played the German motorcyclist who hits the wire.
* The motorcycle scenes were not based on real life but were added at Steve McQueen's suggestion.
* Steve McQueen also personally attempted the jump across the border fence, but crashed. The jump was successfully performed by Bud Ekins.
* Wally Floody, the real-life "Tunnel King" (he was transferred to another camp just before the escape), served as a consultant to the filmmakers, almost full-time, for more than a year.
* The real-life escape preparations involved 600 men working for well over a year. The escape did have the desired effect of diverting German resources, including a doubling of the number of guards after the Gestapo took over the camp from the Luftwaffe.
* The real-life escape was on the night of 24 March 1944, and the ground was snow-covered. The German town near the prison camp, called Neustadt in the film, was really Sagan (now Zagan, Poland). Steve McQueen was born on March 24th.
* The nationality of a few of the prisoners in the story was changed, emphasizing American, and de-emphasizing Commonwealth and other Allied.
* The gold medallion Steve McQueen wears throughout the film was a present from his wife.
* Steve McQueen accepted the role of Hilts on the condition that he got to show off his motorcycle skills.
* In the scene following Hilts' theft of a German motorcycle, he rolls into a nearby town, and stopped by a police officer. He tells Hilts something in German, to which Hilts kicks him away and rides off. The officer asked Hilts for identification papers Hilts doesn't have.
* Steve McQueen held up production because he demanded that the script be rewritten to give his character more to do.
* Though seemingly hauled away for allowing the escape to take place, the Commandant was actually arrested for being involved in a brisk black-market operation, a fact unearthed during the Gestapo investigation of the escape.
* Ramsey's title, 'S.B.O' stands for Senior British Officer.
* Roger Bartlett is modeled after Roger Bushell, a British officer who was involved in the real escape and, like Bartlett, was executed for his role therein. The scarring around Richard Attenborough's eyes is a tribute to Bushell, who received such scarring from a competitive skiing accident.
* One day, the police in the German town where the film was shot set up a speed trap near the set. Several members of the cast and crew were caught, including Steve McQueen. The Chief of Police told McQueen "Herr McQueen, we have caught several of your comrades today, but you have won the prize [for the highest speeding]." McQueen was arrested and briefly jailed.
* McQueen's character Hilts was based on amalgamation of several characters, including Major Dave Jones, a flight commander during Doolittle's Raid who made it to Europe and was shot down and captured and Colonel Jerry Sage, who was an OSS agent in the North African desert when he was captured. Col. Sage was able to don a flight jacket and pass as a flier otherwise he would have been executed as a spy. Another inspiration was probably Sqn Ldr Eric Foster who escaped no less than seven times from German prisoner-of-war camps.
* MacDonald (Intelligence) is based on George Harsh, a very good friend of Wally Floody (the real Tunnel King). They were both transferred to Belaria before the escape. Harsh was a very interesting character who was from the American south and had joined the RCAF as a tail-gunner. In the 1920s Harsh had committed murder and was sent to jail for life. A medical student, Harsh performed an appendectomy on a dying prisoner and saved his life. The governor of Georgia granted him a pardon and he was set free. After the war, he had personal problems as he was plagued by guilt over the crime he committed as a youth; on top of adjusting to life after fifteen years in captivity (12 years on the Georgia chain gang, followed by three years as POW). On Christmas Eve 1974, he did shoot himself but survived. A stroke soon after left him partially paralyzed. When that happened, Wally Floody and his wife brought him up to their Toronto home and looked after him. He eventually went to live -at his own urging- at the Veteran's Wing at the Sunnybrook Medical Centre. He died in January of 1980.
* James Garner developed his "Scrounger" character from his own personal experiences in the military during the Korean War.
* In issue 73 of Your Sinclair magazine in January 1992, the Spectrum stealth game adaptation of this movie was voted the 23rd best game of all time.
* When celebrating the Fourth of July and pouring alcohol, Hilts (Steve McQueen) is thrown off by an ad-lib by Goff (Jud Taylor). While Hilts is drinking, Goff says, "No taxation without representation." McQueen jumps out of character and gives him a look (and mouths, "What?") The director must have signaled to "just go with it" and the scene continues. But it is an obvious ad-lib.
* The medal that Colonel von Luger wears around his neck is the Pour le Merite, also known as the Blue Max. Originally a Prussian military honor, in the First World War it was automatically given to fighter pilots who shot down eight planes (later raised to sixteen). The Nazis replaced it with the Knight's Cross but it could still be worn by officers who'd won it before the Third Reich.
* Most of the planes in the airfield are actually American AT-6 Texan trainers painted with a German paint scheme, but the one actually flown is an authentic German plane, a Bucker Bu 181 'Bestmann.'
* Donald Pleasence had actually been a World War II prisoner of war. When he kindly offered advice to the film's director John Sturges, he was politely asked to keep his "opinions" to himself. Later, when another star from the film informed John Sturges that Pleasence had actually been a RAF Officer in a World War II German POW Stalag camp, Sturges requested his technical advice and input on historical accuracy from that point forward.
* During production, Charles Bronson met and fell in love with David McCallum's wife, Jill Ireland, and he jokingly told McCallum he was going to steal her away from him. In 1967, Ireland and McCallum divorced, and she married Bronson.
* Donald Pleasence really was an RAF pilot who was shot down, held prisoner and tortured by the Germans.
* Donald Pleasence's character was based partly on London-born John Cordwell, later a Chicago architect and then proprietor of the Red Lion Pub on the city's N. Lincoln Avenue. Cordwell died in 1999. Stories about him and the Red Lion are told from various points of view in the collection "Tales from the Red Lion" (Chicago: Twilight Tales, 2007, ISBN 0977985623).
* The individual incidents in the film are mostly true, but were rearranged as to both the timing and the people involved. (A note at the start of the film acknowledges this.) For instance, of the 76 who escaped, there were indeed 3 who got away and 50 who were murdered in reprisal, but the murders occurred in small groups, not all at once. (14 Germans were executed after the war for their parts in them.)
* The shooting of the recaptured escapees was one of the charges at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial of Hermann Göring and other Nazi leaders.
* According to David McCallum, the barbed wire that Hilts (Steve McQueen) crashes into near the end of the film, which was actually made of rubber, was made by the cast and crew during their free time by tying small pieces of rubber around larger ones.
* In real life, the forger was James Hill, so obviously the stuff about him going blind and being shot dead is fiction.
* Whenever a prisoner attempting escape is told "good luck" by a fellow prisoner, the escape fails. Ironically, these are the same words that the German officer uses to capture Bartlett and MacDonald near the end of the film.
* Factual errors: While there were Americans in the camp when the escape preparations were begun, in real life none of them were among the 76 who escaped because they had all been transferred to another camp by then.
* Anachronisms: The railway logo is incorrect.
* Anachronisms: Traffic signs are clearly post-war.
* Anachronisms: During the escape, there is a brief shot of a bridge spanning a river. This bridge is very obviously a post-war construction.
* Continuity: In Bartlett"s briefing, he says tunnel "Tom" will go out from hut 104, and Harry from 105. However, by the July 4th celebrations, "Tom" is in hut 105 when Strachwitz discovers it (and "105" is painted on the hut when the guards surround it).
* Anachronisms: The motorcycle that Hilts uses in his escape attempt was a 1960s British Triumph 650.
* Continuity: Motorcycles change in close-up shots.
* Continuity: On their first day in camp, Hilts throws his baseball to the wire to check the Germans' lines of sight. When he is finally stopped and the commandant comes over and Hilts is explaining what he was doing, the position of his hands change in differently angled shots.
* Anachronisms: Sedgwick is shown reading "Liberation", a newspaper not published during the German occupation of France.
* Crew or equipment visible: The Region 1 widescreen DVD version is framed such that some unintended things are seen to the left of the screen. When Hilts is serving moonshine, for instance, a crewmember can be seen pushing the prisoners forwards (in the Region 2 version, only his hand is visible). When Hilts is first sent to the cooler, the left-hand edge of the set can be seen at one point, too, with crew and equipment visible beyond (completely out of shot in the Region 2 version). When the prisoners are assembled the morning after the escape, there are several huge studio lights on stands on the left side of the frame between the trip wire and the fence. More studio lights are visible on the left frame during the first appearance of German town where Roger Bartlett and Mac McDonald are captured. The Region 1 Special Edition DVD has been reframed, removing most of these instances.
* Revealing mistakes: After Hilts steals the motorcycle, he is hiding behind a building waiting for the German troops to go by. As they go by, the sidecar on the German motorcycle is on the wrong side of the bike, indicating that the shot was reversed.
* Continuity: Postion of the propeller crank when Hendley first hands it to Colin and when Colin begins to turn it
* Continuity: In the tunnel, Colin's socks alternate between grey and white between shots.
* Incorrectly regarded as goofs: Hendley wears USA flashes on his uniform. This shows that he is an American serving in the RAF and is a member of the Famous "Eagle" squadrons, three squadrons composed of Americans who joined the RAF. This also means that Hendley was shot down before 1944, since the squadrons were re-absorbed by the USAAF at that time.
* Continuity: The steam engine of the passenger train with which the majority of the prisoners tries to escape is a German "Baureihe 78" (type 78) model. However, when arriving at its final destination where all passengers get off the train, the engine is a "Baureihe 64" (type 64) model (the engine of the freight train with which Sedgwick has escaped).
* Anachronisms: The black car in the café scene in France is a 1947 Citroën 11 Légère 'Traction'. The movie is set in 1944.
* Factual errors: Group Captain Ramsey's bottom three service ribbons denote service during the first world war. (Correct order would be: 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal). However, these three ribbons are worn backwards on his uniform throughout the film (Victory Medal, British War Medal, 1914-15 Star).
* Continuity: When Hilts crashes his motorcycle into the barbed wire fence, he is clearly in front of the barbed wire. When they cut back for the close-up, he is entangled in the barbed wire.
* Factual errors: The film shows almost everything happening in the summer months. In reality, the actual escape occurred in March, 1944 while there was still significant snow on the ground. Most of the escapees who were trying to walk across country were forced by the deep snow to leave the fields and go on to the roads and into the hands of the patrols.
* Factual errors: The film shows a large number of the escapees being shot in one common space at one time. In reality, the 50 were shot in many different places, sometimes alone and sometimes in small groups.
* Miscellaneous: At the start of the escape sequence Capt. Hilts, the "cooler king", is wearing a dark top and white trousers and can easily be seen against the background. It seems implausible to attempt to escape through tunnel dirt in the middle of the night dressed in white.
* Factual errors: The film shows that the Germans discovered a tunnel located under a stove. The Germans actually did find one of the three tunnels, but it was located in a corner of hut 123. And in reality it was indeed the tunnel "Harry" located under a stove in hut 104 that was actually used by the airmen to escape.
* Continuity: When the Commandant first confronts Hilts for crossing the wire, he is not wearing his "Blue Max" medallion. But when he turns around to confront Ives immediately after, the medallion is around his neck.
* Anachronisms: After the escape, when many of the escapees are recaptured, they are loaded onto trucks and deceived into thinking they were being transported back to the prison camp. Along the way the trucks stop so that the prisoners can have a break. When one of the trucks stops, its brake light illuminates, and is clearly visible to the viewer. Stop lights were not used in the early part of the 1940s, and did not come into general use until the fifties.
* Anachronisms: As the rowboat escapees, the "Tunnel Kings," near the end of their journey in a harbor, what appear to be container cranes can be seen in the background as they approach the ship and clamber onto the gangway, on both sides of the large vessel. Containerization did not begin until the mid 1950's and containership cranes were unknown in the 1940's.
* Factual errors: The word 'lieutenent' is spoken using the American pronunciation throughout the movie by British and German officers. The British pronunciation would have been used.
* Continuity: Soon after his initial arrival at the camp, Hilts puts his gear bag on the ground next to the hut. Taking his ball and mitt with him, he walks over to the wire, leaving the bag behind. While talking to another prisoner about the blind spot between the towers, a camera shot back toward the hut shows Hilt's bag is gone.
* Continuity: When Hendley's stolen plane crashes the wings are clearly ripped completely off the fuselage. When the plane is next seen on fire the wings are still attached.
* Audio/visual unsynchronized: When the Americans are marching as "The Spirit of '76", they stop before the Senior British Officer. The last fife note is heard after Hilts lowers the fife from his lips.
* Continuity: Soon after MacDonald is captured, Bartlett tries to be nonchalant as he walks along a sidewalk. The German soldier, in the car, yells at Bartlett to stop and he does...on the sidewalk. Cut to a different angle and Bartlett is stopped...in the middle of the street.
* Factual errors: Bartlett asks for 30 feet of rope in the tunnel, but the tunnel is 30 feet underground and 20 feet from the woods, so they would have needed at least 50 feet of rope.
Bavaria Filmstudios, Geiselgasteig, Grünwald, Bavaria, Germany
Füssen, Bavaria, Germany
Geiselgasteig, Bavaria, Germany
Geiselgasteig, Grünwald, Bavaria, Germany
Hamburg - Munich Railway Line, Bavaria, Germany
Munich, Bavaria, Germany
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