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  • Daniel Rae

The Great Escape Review


"The Great Escape", The Mirisch Company, 1963


This film does a great job at aligning audiences to the tedium and monotony of POW life, prevailing in some areas more than others.

The immediately off-putting bright natural lighting that establishes the prison and the inhabitants that we follow inside helps establish a somewhat calm and collected tone - an interesting choice for Sturges to take given the dehumanising subject matter. Nevertheless, this somehow manages to springboard an effectively dark and vulnerable underbelly that the diegesis is carried along with. This can be seen with the slight shadow that is cast over the charters faces and the earthy colour palette that the costumes are consumed by, both of which opens the room for engaging and calculated characters who offer a different interesting angles into surviving prison life. Whilst the character-driven approach towards the narrative outlines the filmmaker's vision far from a realistic depiction of the prisoners lives, individuals like McQueen's Hollywood-stamped 'Hilts' who arise from this formula of film-making provides a thought-provoking look at national identity and maintaining individuality in during these times of crisis. His charming image of youthful exuberance who walks a fine line (metaphorically with the firing-line) provides a comfortable sense of control that audiences can't help but latch on to. This is destroyed by the death of his Scottish comrade who eventually "snaps". This is effective in underlining the danger of the devout trust in faith, providing a brief contemplative moment in the story that marks the omnipotent danger of the Nazis. Other contemplative moments that sizzle above the main narrative strand can also be seen with the Prison-Head becoming exhausted by the amount of escape attempts happening at the camp, humanising the soldiers on an individual level that subtlety outlines the relentless force of the higher power. This is proof of Sturges excellent direction - the characters hold real chemistry and, between each-other, hold a looking glass over the emotionally volatile relationships they share, which is covered by the exterior of masculinity. This can be seen with the focus the narrative takes in showing the audience the day-to-day lives of the comrades through a slow, steady pace with only brief bursts of true vulnerability.

This helps construct a charming personality that edges the characters to persevere digging the tunnels almost seamlessly. This is built upon by the witty dialogue which helps ground a natural aesthetic, helping poignantly highlight the danger of falling into the trap of hope, breaking through the cheerful sophisticated tone, which in itself is laid out by the breakdown of identity tied to the role each person has in the escape.

Nevertheless, whilst I appreciate how seamlessly Sturges and his team balance denotative and connotative meaning, It is clear that the focus on identification is more binary than the room for wider meaning it may appear to have. Progression of the story only serves to show the audience the next stage of the characters' master plan, which, although taking some interesting directions, comes across as very one-note. The lack of stylistic variation through an abundance of mid-shots and stale lighting choices details a boring presentation of the story, as textured and as well-rounded as it may be. Whilst I appreciate how this may have been utilised in order to remove any devices that may interrupt the audience from elements that are interesting, evident through the mostly uninterrupted diegetic dialogue, I just feel that the chiseled approach to pacing can be exhausting.

Whilst I enjoyed how the patience the story was being told with allowed me to connect to the camaraderie of these interesting characters, Ultimately, the aesthetic felt hollow as a result.


2.5/5 Stars

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