Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Great Escape
The Great Escape (1963; director: John Sturges) is a famous World War II film, based on a true story about Allied POWs with a record for escaping from POW camps. The Nazis and Gestapo place them in a new more secure German camp, from which they promptly form a plan to break out as many as 250 men.
The story was inspired by an actual escape from prison camp Stalag Luft III in 1944. While the film condenses various aspects of time and place, a disclaimer claims it to be true to the original as much as possible. This includes all the real-life details of the plans, tunnels, successes and tragic outcome of the "great escape." Paul Brickhill, an inmate of the original camp, wrote an account of the escape under the same name, upon which the film was based.
Featuring an all-star cast—including Steve McQueen (whose motorcycle chase is the film's most remembered action scene), Richard Attenborough, James Coburn, James Garner, Charles Bronson, and Donald Pleasence—The Great Escape is regarded as a classic, and is traditionally shown in Britain during the Christmas season. The march tune that serves as the film's main theme, written by Elmer Bernstein, has also become an easily recognisable classic.
The few Americans involved in the true story of the Great Escape were members of either the British or Canadian military (mostly the RAF or RCAF, but John Dodge was in the British army). The POWs were mainly British and Canadian.
Sequels and remakes
A highly fictionalized, made-for-television sequel, The Great Escape II: The Untold Story, appeared many years later. It starred Christopher Reeve as John Dodge and, interestingly, Pleasence as an SS villain.
The Great Escape in popular culture
- In The Simpsons episode "A Streetcar Named Marge" (1992), Maggie plots a "Great Escape" from the Ayn Rand School for Tots.
- In Red Dwarf episode "Queeg", Lister and The Cat begin whistling the tune as a plan is set in motion to oppose the demanding backup computer, Queeg.
- In the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption, a prisoner is seen dispersing debris from a tunnel operation in the exercise yard in the same manner as the inmates of Stalag Luft III.
- The animated film Chicken Run (2000) contains many references.
- English football fans enjoy whistling the theme tune during matches.
- The Great Escape is also the name of a 1995 album by British band Blur. It reached #1 in the UK charts.
- Former Monty Python cast members Michael Palin and Terry Jones parodied The Great Escape in their Ripping Yarns series, in an episode entitled "Escape from Stalag Luft 112 B", about a prisoner whose myriad, overly perfectionist escape plans take so long to complete that the war ends before he is able to go through with any of them.
Books about The Great Escape
- The Great Escape, Paul Brickhill
- The Longest Tunnel, Alan Burgess
- The Wooden Horse, Eric Williams (about another escape from the same camp, Stalag Luft III)
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