Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Great Escape

The Great Escape, by John Sturges, 1963

I have a long history with not seeing John Sturges' The Great Escape. It has been sitting unwatched in my DVD collection for over a decade now. I bought it as a gift for my dad, maybe in 2000 or so, and sometime after that, he died, and I absorbed it back into my own collection. I never watched it, at first because it made me think of him, but as years passed and the pain dulled, it was really just because it was hidden away in a book of old caseless DVDs and when I did notice it, I didn't have the time or patience for a three hour movie.

Well, I finally watched The Great Escape, and as I expected, it's kind of the ultimate watch-with-your-dad movie. For those few of you who may not have already watched it, it's about a bunch of tough-guy P.O.W.s in Poland in World War II, who hatch an elaborate plan to dig a tunnel right under the Nazis' eyes and burrow out of their prison camp. Steve McQueen leads the team, in the role that made him a star. James Garner, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn are there. Donald Pleasance is there, but true to form, he's not a tough guy, he's an expert forger losing his eyesight.

The movie is great fun, though it's perfectly comfortable being serious when the story demands it too. The three hour running time rolls by unnoticed. The score is another classic by Elmer Bernstein (whether you've seen the movie or not, you definitely know this score), who also wrote the influential score for Sturges' The Magnificent Seven, among many others. Those are the only two John Sturges films I've seen so far, but that guy knew his stuff, didn't he? Both are great, large-scale stories with tons of action, drama, and comedy, and huge ensemble casts playing great, memorable characters. I never liked war movies or westerns when I was young, but now I totally enjoy them, and Sturges made movies that are among the very best of those genres.

My dad wasn't a big movie guy, really. He liked a lot of great movies, but that was a side effect of growing up in the 60's and 70's when great movies were coming out left and right. He had some amazing stuff taped off HBO when I was a kid, and that's what opened the doors for me to love movies in the first place. So I guess what I'm saying is, you should totally watch The Great Escape, or The Magnificent Seven, or The Godfather, or even The Lord of the Rings, or anything else, especially if it's something he likes, with your dad. I didn't get to do much of that, and I regret it.

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