The Great Escape [Blu-Ray] John Sturges

The Great Escape [Blu-Ray] John Sturges
8
Though the compressed, but serviceable Blu-Ray release of 1963 classic The Great Escape has no menus or bookmark function, making any mid-movie interruption during its three-hour runtime problematic, there is an abundance of special features. Accessible only via remote control, a commentary track (which is more an edited series of interviews with director John Sturges, various actors and even a stuntman), as well as a mini-doc and a History Channel special on the film are included. During the History Channel special, as narrated by Burt Reynolds, there is discussion about the metaphor of the escape movie and Sturges's inherent preoccupation with the subject matter, having researched and documented it for most of his life. While The Great Escape is a rather meticulous, and exceedingly Americanized, recreation of the famed escape of several prisoners from the Stalag Luft III maximum-security POW camp in Germany during WWII, it's also an aggressive assertion of the Walt Whitman/Yankee ethos, showing how oppression can't kill the spirit of men working together for freedom. Interestingly, Sturges's films had a uniform tendency to focus specifically on this idea of male camaraderie, citing the importance of male collaboration, and ideas like honour and nobility, to ensure the myth of the American dream is maintained and upheld. The fact that this constructed, almost megalomaniacal idea of freedom — giving implicit power to men of influence — actively imposes, objectifies and subjugates peripheral members of society (ostensibly, anyone that isn't a straight white man) is outside of his scope and likely wouldn't even be conceived within the lexicon of his dick-swinging classics like The Magnificent Seven and this bit of nationalistic indulgence. But, within the context of a 1963 studio system, his determination and focus in staying true to the details of the actual escape plan are admirable despite this laughable solipsism, taking the quotidian realities and narrative necessity of digging multiple tunnels under a prison and injecting a template of characterization and male-bonding to make it more engaging for a viewer. The many recognizable actors (Steve McQueen, Donald Pleasance, Charles Bronson, James Garner, James Coburn and Richard Attenborough, to name a few) establish their individual archetypes, playing off each other in a naturalistic way that ultimately transcends the grim and oft-severe portrayal of prisons in genre movies such as this. A minor sense of humour amidst a harsh situation — prisoners in WWII deliberately making things problematic for Germans (occupying their resources) by engineering escape attempts — goes a long way in making the inflated runtime tolerable. It's unfortunate that the climactic third act, wherein McQueen engages in a motorcycle chase with Nazis and Garner flies a plane into a tree, is merely sensationalized nonsense made up in an effort to make more of a spectacle out of true story. But it does aid in making exciting and more optimistic a tale that didn't have a particularly happy ending. This is why the "Untold Story" documentary included with the Blu-Ray, which features re-enactments and interviews that outline the Allied efforts to prosecute the members of the Gestapo that murdered escapees, helps give a bit of dignity to a package that is mostly just male power posturing and ego validation. (MGM)