Archive for the ‘1960s films’ Tag

All About Iago: All Night Long (1962)   4 comments

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O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.”
Othello by William Shakespeare
In Basil Dearden’s 1962 film All Night Long, the writers shift Shakespeare’s Othello from 16th century Venice to 1960s London. Set in the black and white world of jazz clubs and smoky back rooms, All Night Long has a cool cocktail party vibe and a fantastic score. It also has a vicious plot full of innuendo, plotting, and lies. The writers obviously used Othello as a guide, but they may also have watched All About Eve once or twice.

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“What a great party! Nothing can possibly go wrong tonight.”

Rod Hamilton (Richard Attenborough) hosts a party at his London brownstone. It’s a surprise anniversary party for friends Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris) and his wife, Delia Lane (Marti Stevens). The couple and their guests, the best jazz musicians in London, gather to celebrate and listen to each other jam. As the group of friends talk and toast, a note of suspicion drifts into the scene. Johnnie Cousin (Patrick McGoohan), the drummer for Rex’s band, wants to step out on his own. He also has a thing for Rex’s wife, Delia. Tired of playing in someone else’s band, Johnny wants his own group even if sabotaging Rex is the only way to get it.

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“I’m going to stare at Rex until he lets me go solo.”

Does this sound familiar? In All About Eve, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) wanted the lead role promised to Margot Channing (Bette Davis) in an upcoming play. Eve also wanted Margot’s director boyfriend, Bill (Gary Merrill) for herself. A little backstabbing here and there and Eve almost got everything she wanted. Watching All Night Long, I could almost picture Karen (Celeste Holm) asking Eve if all this heartbreak and treachery was worth it just for a part in a play. Eve answers, “I’d do much more for a part that good.” Eve and Johnnie Cousin would get along great.

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“Pardon me. I have to go sharpen my knife.”

The allusions to Othello are more obvious. Johnnie Cousin as Iago plants the seeds of jealousy and mistrust in Rex (Othello) by implying that Delia (Desdemona) is cheating with Cass (Cassio). Instead of Iago planting Desdemona’s handkerchief on Cassio, as in Shakespeare’s play, Johnnie plants Delia’s cigarette case on Cass which enflames Rex’s jealousy and sends him over the edge.

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“He never tries to destroy my life at home.”

Slowly and subtly, Johnnie plants a word here, a rumor there, until Rex doubts the loyalty of his road manager, Cass (Keith Mitchell) and even his wife. To add fuel to the fire, Delia and Cass have been meeting secretly while the band tours to rehearse a song they’ll perform at the party as a gift for Rex. Hearing about these clandestine, but innocent meetings along with Johnnie’s other lies convinces Rex that he’s being duped. Rex lashes out and what started as a happy occasion ends in violence.

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“Out, damned sp…oh wrong play.”

Basil Dearden directed controversial films in the 1950s and 60s. He started with Sapphire in 1959 which concerns the racially-motivated murder of a young girl. Dearden went on to make the terrific film Victim in 1961. In Victim, Dirk Bogarde plays a successful barrister who stands up to a ring of criminals blackmailing homosexuals. Both films deal frankly with taboo subjects while avoiding stereotypes. The subjects are people with flaws who make mistakes and Dearden treats them fairly. In All Night Long, a few of the musicians smoke pot and there are references to drug rehabilitation and psychotherapy. Most mainstream, non-exploitation films of the early 60s don’t refer to anything like that. Then there’s the obviously controversial mixed marriage and mixed romance in All Night Long. Delia is white and Rex, black. Cass is white and his love, Benny (María Velasco) is black. Aside from the Othello connection, the big deal in this film is that there is no big deal. The romances simply exist. No one calls attention to them.  Five years later in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the subject of mixed marriage is the whole film. Dearden tackled important issues well before most of his colleagues.

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“Honey, we’re breaking new ground.”
“Don’t be silly, sweetheart. We’re kissing on the stairs.”

Any discussion of All Night Long must mention Philip Green’s music. It’s glorious. Even if you think Coltrane is how we transport briquets, you’ll probably enjoy this score. Dave Brubeck, John Dankworth, Tubby Hayes, and other renowned jazz musicians play pick-up sets throughout the film. They play themselves and their instruments as both an accompaniment and an accent to the story. During tense scenes, the incessant drum beat takes a toll on the ones being squeezed and the device works. It comes off as natural. I mean, it’s hard to complain about a film that begins with Charles Mingus casually playing bass alone on stage while he waits for the party to start.

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Attenborough toasts Mingus. Mingus toasts Attenborough.

Here’s where I wax rhapsodic about one of my favorite character actors. Patrick McGoohan, most famous for his lead role in the enigmatic science fiction/spy series The Prisoner also starred in Ice Station Zebra and appeared in and directed a few of the best episodes of Columbo. In All Night Long, McGoohan even says his trademark, “Be seeing you.” McGoohan has the best part in All Night Long. His smug, obsequious Johnnie Cousin can’t wait to drop his little rumor bombs and walk away, returning in time to witness the explosions and offer to help. His intricate plan has so many twists, you can see Johnnie’s wheels turning every time another character speaks.

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“I’m not plotting against you or anything.”

Johnnie has set the machinations in place, but he needs to think on his feet too. McGoohan looks great in this film.  He even learned to play the drums to appear more natural in the part. As for the rest of the cast, Richard Attenborough did lovely work in the 1960s and this part, although small, makes a difference. Attenborough’s kindness highlights McGoohan’s cruelty. Betsy Blair is all restraint as McGoohan’s sweet, long-suffering wife. Paul Harris and Marti Stevens make believable lovers. Warm and honey-voiced, Stevens convinces as the object of desire for her talent as well as herself. Her rendition of All Night Long is lovely and full of emotion.

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“Did he call you Number Two?”

All Night Long takes risks. A cast full of jazz stalwarts and solid character actors, a plot written by Shakespeare and updated by Nel King and Paul Jarrico, and a catchy jazz soundtrack make for an unusual and entertaining film.

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Dave Brubeck trades fours with Charles Mingus. Nothing to see here.

Note: Paul Jarrico appears in the credits as Peter Achilles. Jarrico was blacklisted by HUAC and wrote under different pseudonyms for years after.

This piece appeared in a slightly different form in Brattle Film Notes, the blog for the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Maniac (1963)   Leave a comment

maniac poster

American artist Jeff Farrell (Kerwin Matthews) stumbles into an isolated village in the Camargue region of southern France and meets Annette Beynat (Liliane Brousse).  There’s obvious chemistry between them, but Annette gets blocked by her stepmother, the sexy Eve Beynat (Nadia Gray).  Eve’s still married to Annette’s dad, but he’s out of town so Eve makes a play for Jeff.  She’s very subtle.  After Eve and Jeff go horseback riding, she takes off her blouse and asks him to towel her off.

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“Jeff? Are we still on for tonigh…oh.”

It works.  Soon, they’re making the beast with two backs all over the place and Annette’s left out in the cold.  There’s just one little problem.  Eve still has that pesky husband.  I said he was out of town, right?  Well, he is.  He’s in an asylum for the criminally insane for using an acetylene torch to kill the guy who raped Annette years earlier.

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“Just a little off the eyes.”

And you thought ONE LIFE TO LIVE was complicated.  Eve says her husband has all his marbles.  He just went a bit overboard (a bit) and if Jeff helps him escape from the sanitarium, he’ll leave the country and start a new life leaving Eve and Jeff to do the horizontal mambo as much as they want.  Sounds logical, right?  Jeff, blinded by lust, says he’d love to help a torch-wielding maniac (TITLE-DRINK!) out of the booby hatch and can we do that toweling-off thing again, honey?  Anyway, cool asylum-escaping ensues, but things go a little twisty.  Will Jeff do crimey stuff?  Will Eve’s husband find his matches?  Will Annette get a little action?  Will Eve take Jeff horseback riding again?  Please?

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“An adjustment et voilà! Ready for your close-up!”

Writer Jimmy Sangster loved LES DIABOLIQUES.  He set MANIAC and SCREAM OF FEAR in France and added a bunch of plot twists in both.  He also cast women in lead roles and made them strong and smart.  Eve’s a real multi-tasker too.  She runs a tavern while hatching an escape plot and seducing a young stranger.  Way to go, Eve!  Sangster writes realistic dialogue and the plot hums along nicely.  Director Michael Carreras and cinematographer Wilkie Cooper keep the mood tense and the atmosphere noirish.  There are some terrific night shots around the inn and later, they film a nifty climax in a cavernous quarry.

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“This is the biggest version of Don’t Break the Ice I’ve ever seen.”

This film is a hoot.  Despite the over-the-top elements of the story, it’s all very natural.  It’s naturally gruesome, but MANIAC was made by Hammer so they have to have a soupcon of gore.  It’s in the contract.   I had fun watching this one.  The cast, screenplay, location, and complexity combine to make it a fun watch and Sinbad, uh, Kerwin is a cutie.

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“Anybody else see a Cyclops?”

 

Cash on Demand (1961)   Leave a comment

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Harry Fordyce (Peter Cushing!) manages a London bank. His micro-managing and general fastidiousness put him at odds with his staff who he belittles every chance he gets.

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“Smudges!”

When Colonel Gore Hepburn (Andre Morrell) from the bank’s insurance company arrives to inspect its security protocols, Fordyce sets out to impress him with his efficiency.  The thing is, the colonel is not from the insurance company and he has a cunning plan.

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Yes, THAT cunning!

Without giving the game away, I can say that CASH ON DEMAND’s director, Quentin Lawrence, knows how to build tension.  What starts out as a slice-of-life drama about a tight-lipped bank manager abusing his staff switches quickly to a race against time to save a family.  In the morning, Fordyce runs roughshod over his subordinates.  In the afternoon, he scurries to save his family, his job, and his freedom.  Writers David T. Chantler and Lewis Greifer adapted Jacques Gillies’ play for the big screen.  That this film started as a play makes sense.  It takes place in three sets, but could easily be done in two or even one.  The excitement comes, not from action, but from acting and a terrific script.

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“Where’s my stake?”

Cushing is brilliant as the mercurial Fordyce who finally feels what it’s like to be under the thumb of a person who has the power of life and death over him.  His transition from haughty to harried develops by degrees and we see his metamorphosis in the few hours the film documents.  Morrell’s Gore Hepburn is fabulous.  He’s sublimely at home ordering Fordyce around and making points with the staff while his devious plan moves along swimmingly.  What a wonderful pair to watch.  Richard Vernon made an impression too.  He plays Pearson, Fordyce’s number two who, because of a small error which was fixed quickly, might lose this position and any hope of finding another.  The entire cast does a wonderful job.

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“Did you steal that thumbtack?”

CASH ON DEMAND is another great Hammer non-horror.  I know Hammer is better known for vampires and busty maidens, but as I watch these smaller, less lavish thrillers, I wonder why they didn’t make more.  They’re wonderful.  I’m going to be sorry when I’ve seen them all.

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Never Take Sweets From a Stranger (1960)   Leave a comment

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Wow.  Where do I begin?

Peter and Sally Carter (Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford) return home from a reception given to welcome Peter as the new high school principal.  Their nine-year-old daughter, Jean tells them that earlier that day, she and her friend Lucille were at a neighbor’s home where they took off their clothes and danced naked for an old man in exchange for candy.  Let that sink in a minute.

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The innocent child thinks it was a game and isn’t terribly upset.  No one hurt or touched her.  Jean’s parents, of course, are livid and report the incident to the police.  The local sheriff tries to dismiss the charge as the ramblings of an imaginative child, but the Carters know their daughter and stick to their guns.

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Sally files a complaint with the local police.

The culprit, Clarence Olderberry, Sr. is the long-retired patriarch of the wealthiest family in town.  No one wants to ruffle their feathers since most of the folks in this small, Canadian town work in the Olderberry’s mill.  Olderberry, Jr. (Bill Nagy) tries to sweet talk the Carters at first.  When they make it clear that they still plan to press charges, he lets them know that his attorney will rip their little girl apart on the witness stand.  This is going to be ugly.  Despite that threat and the reaction of most of the people in town, the Carters insist on a trial.  All the while, Peter hears murmurs that Olderberry has done this before only to have it hushed up.

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Olderberry, Jr. threatens Peter.

I don’t want to ruin the film for you by telling you too much about the trial and aftermath.  I will say it’s riveting and realistic.  This is no sanitized Hollywood trial with a neat ending and it doesn’t end there.

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Jean takes the stand.

Horrifyingly true-to-life and scarier than any Hammer Gothic horror, NEVER TAKE SWEETS FROM A STRANGER whacks you in the head with its frankness.  Writers John Hunter and Roger Garis keep it spare and sharp and director Cyril Frankel doesn’t waste a shot.  Unfortunately, the idea of a well-connected pedophile living next door comes off as a more genuine threat than a vampire in the village.  The acting, direction, and taut dialogue flow so naturally, it seems like someone recorded people talking and included it in the script.  Even the kids can act.

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I enjoyed this film in spite of its subject.  It’s real and well-made and I couldn’t look away.

NEVER TAKE SWEETS FROM A STRANGER might be a rough watch for a lot of people and understandably so.  My heart was in my throat half the time.  In the other half, I was yelling at characters on the screen urging them to hurry or shut up.  It has that kind of visceral impact.  When the film ended, I had to sit down and catch my breath.  Hammer makes a hell of a thriller.

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Seriously, he’ll make you shudder.

These Are the Damned (1963)   2 comments

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Simon Wells (Macdonald Carey) meets lovely Joan (Shirley Anne Field) on the street in a British seaside town and the two walk together toward a pub.  As soon as they leave the main drag, Simon gets jumped by a bunch of Teddy Boys led by Joan’s brother, King (Oliver Reed).  They beat him savagely and steal his wallet.  It’s clear Joan has acted as bait before, but she’s disturbed by King’s level of violence this time.

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“Look what you’ve done to his hat!!!”

What are Teddy Boys?  Teddy Boys are British teens who dressed in a modernized 1950s/60s version of the Edwardian style.  Some formed gangs and committed petty crimes and were a nuisance generally.

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“That outfit is hideous. You had to be stopped.”

Anyway, Joan sees the error of her ways and joins Simon on his boat.  Simon has a boat.  The two moor at a remote cabin atop a craggy mountain of rock.  The house happens to be the summer home of bohemian artist Freya Neilson (Viveca Lindfors) who happens to be the longtime lover of Bernard (Alexander Knox).

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Freya being all arty and junk.

Bernard?  Bernard runs a top secret military base next door to his girlfriend’s place.  Yup.  There’s a lot of Freya wondering aloud about the purpose of the outpost surrounded by barbed wire and guard dogs, but Bernard isn’t talking.  We get a vaguely sinister vibe from Bernard and his cohorts Captain Gregory (James Villiers) and Major Holland (Walter Gotell), but no real clue as to their mission until Bernard skypes with some kids in a classroom.

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“I hope you brought your number 2 pencils.”

After we meet the children, we’re left to divine who they are.  Is Bernard training them to be spies?  Are the kids aliens?  Read: THESE ARE THE VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED.  We’re not sure about them until Simon and Joan (remember them?) run into the kids’ hideout while escaping King and his cosh boy pals.  Then the whole part science fiction/part Cold War nightmare/part love story plot makes sense.  Well, sort of.

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“A Pakuni kid called Cha-Ka and Sleestaks? What kind of cave is this?”

Director, Joseph Losey doesn’t get too arty, but manages a few suspenseful scenes in THESE ARE THE DAMNED.  Based on the novel, THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT by H.L. Lawrence, the film meanders a bit and is hampered by underdeveloped characters and a less than exciting script.  To be fair, screenwriter Evan Jones had to cram a lot into 87 minutes.  More creative editing might have helped.  There are a few scenes in the first half of the film which, if cut, would have given the plot and characters more time to gel in the second half.  If they had spread the ‘getting to know you’ part all through the film instead of the stock first half, biography, second half, action, the movie might hold more interest.

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“I thought you said there’d be water.”

Alexander Knox does a decent job playing the benevolent captor and Macdonald Carey and Sally Anne Field grow into a nice chemistry as the story progresses.

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“Our love transcends the 20 minutes we’ve known each other.”

Oliver Reed is suitably brutal as the disturbed gang leader.

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“When you’re a Jet…”

I liked watching this film because I wasn’t sure what would happen and the dark ending surprised me.  Hammer Studios made a number of non-Gothic horrors which I generally love.  This one tries to do too much and falls short.  THESE ARE THE DAMNED is watchable though and it’s always fun to see another dystopian Cold War film.

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One of these things is not like the others…

Stop Me Before I Kill (1960)   Leave a comment

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British race car driver Alan Colby (Ronald Lewis) and his new bride, Denise (Diane Cilento) get into a nasty car wreck on their honeymoon.  The accident leaves another driver dead and Alan with a severe head injury.  After months in the hospital, the couple finally head to the French seaside for their wedding trip.  It’s clear that Alan still needs time to recover since every once in a while, he goes into a trance and tries to strangle his wife.

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“If I can just get your neck size…”

What a bore.  Denise dotes on Alan and seems to have made the leap from wife to mother seamlessly.  Since she’s running out of scarves to hide the neck bruises, Denise seeks the help of a psychiatrist they happen to meet on their trip.  David Prade (Claude Dauphin) proposes a radical form of therapy to help Alan remember the accident and stop choking his wife all the time.

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“Just five minutes more.”

Since Alan is paranoid and his moods turn on a dime, Denise lies to him about meeting David to ask for medical advice.  Yup, that goes well.

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“Analyze me, will ya!!”

Will David cure Alan?  Will Alan kill Denise?  Will Denise stop saying Alan’s name all the damn time?  I’ll never tell.  I will say this is a neat little thriller with an unusual psychiatric bent.  Director, Val Guest keeps you guessing and the mood tense.  Parts of the film drag, but even the talky parts keep the plot moving forward.  The script, apart from Denise saying Alan’s name about 82 million times, flows naturally.  Cilento and Lewis are believable lovers and I found myself worried about them both.

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“The doctor said to wear that radio around your neck until you’re cured.”

STOP ME BEFORE I KILL is another fun Hammer thriller.  I’m a big fan of these films.  They’re racier and more violent than most American films of that era and they generally have a more mature attitude toward love and sex.  It makes for a more realistic film which, in turn, makes the scary parts scarier.  Scary is good.

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The Great Escape (1963)   2 comments

great esc poster

Throw a bunch of American, British, and Commonwealth Air Force officers into a German prisoner of war camp and what do you get?  You get hundreds of guys who want to get back to fighting and family and home.  THE GREAT ESCAPE, based on the true story of a major British escape from a German prisoner of war camp serves as a kind of survey course on that escape.  Yes, it’s a glossed-over version of events, but it’s such a terrific watch, you don’t really care.

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“Ya vas lyublyu.”

The all-star cast of American and British actors get a chance to fight the good fight while looking cool.  Part World War II movie/part drama/part procedural, THE GREAT ESCAPE shows us the steps leading up to the break-out along with the escape itself and its aftermath.

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Left: Richard Attenborough as Big X outlines his escape plan.
Right: the real Big X, Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, Royal Air Force

We watch as the men survey the camp, dig the tunnels, and gather tools, clothes, and identity papers for their time on the lam.  Big X (Richard Attenborough), the leader of the escape committee, assigns James Garner to scrounge materials.  He has Steve McQueen go over the wall and get caught purposely so he can map the countryside.  He gets engineers and manufacturers David McCallum and James Coburn to design the tunnels and pumps to keep the men safe while digging.

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“Enough hot air for you, Roger.”

He asks Donald Pleasence (a P.O.W. in Germany during the war), and his crew to forge permits and train tickets.

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Colin Blythe (Donald Pleasence) uses art class as a cover for his forgers.

He puts Charles Bronson and John Leyton in charge of the tunnels and has Gordon Jackson drill the men on procedure and the German language so they don’t get tripped up by the locals.  It’s a fascinating process that allows us to meet each character and get to know him.  Director, John Sturges captures the many moods of these men.  The funny ruses the men arrange to fool their captors along with their anxiety about being locked up all come across well.

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“You’re twenty feet short.”

Sturges is not a flamboyant or arty director, but he is able to move from a moonshine-fueled July 4th celebration to a poignant act of desperation seamlessly.  The classic Elmer Bernstein score doesn’t hurt.  Like John Williams, Bernstein can express lightness and frivolity, tense action, and heartbreaking sadness all within the same musical passage.

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From high to low in moments.

Paul Brickhill, an Australian prisoner at Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Germany, now part of Poland, where the real escape took place, wrote the book based on his own experience.

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Australian author and fighter pilot, Paul Brickhill

The screenplay by W.R. Burnett and James Clavell, also a P.O.W. in WWII, is economical and sharp.  We like these men.  We’re elated when it looks like some will make it, and heartbroken when we realize many won’t.  It’s an entertaining film with heart.  Oh yes, Steve McQueen jumps a motorcycle over a barbed-wire fence.

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You wish you were this cool.

In the film, Group Captain Ramsey (James Donald), the Senior British Officer, listens to the Kommandant (Hannes Messemer, a German P.O.W. in a Russian camp in WWII), as he warns the SBO about attempting to escape.  He replies, “Colonel Von Luger, it is the sworn duty of all officers to try to escape.  If they cannot escape, then it is their sworn duty to cause the enemy to use an inordinate number of troops to guard them, and their sworn duty to harass the enemy to the best of their ability.”

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“Englander?”

According to Paul Brickhill, five million Germans spent time (often weeks) looking for the seventy-six escaped prisoners.  They eventually recaptured seventy-three.  Of those, the Gestapo executed fifty.  While the number of Germans searching for the men may be an exaggeration, that’s still a whole lot of troops NOT out bombing London.  Take that, Hitler!

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Harry, the tunnel 76 men used to escape Stalag Luft III.

The50Memorial
Dedicated to the fifty.

After the war, the Royal Air Force Police investigative branch launched an investigation into the execution of the fifty escaped officers.  As a result, the allies hanged or imprisoned many of those responsible for the murders.

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