Movie Classic – The Great Escape (1963)

The classic story of grit and determination that cemented Steve McQueen as the king of cool still holds up strong nearly 50 years later

The Great Escape was released three years before England won  the World Cup against West Germany at Wembley and is regarded as the movie that cemented the ‘king of cool’ Steve McQueen as a superstar, thanks to his iconic sessions in 'ze cooler' with nothing but a baseball for company.

Luftwaffe Colonel von Luger is the Nazi commandant at the high security Stalag Luft III POW camp in Poland, charged with keeping a watchful eye over ‘every escape artist in Germany’ – a slippery bunch of British and American soldiers who have a habit of escaping through the fingers of their Nazi oppressors. 

The prisoners promptly set about planning an escape from this impregnable camp – and ingenuity and comararderie required to build the three escape tunnels by the prisoners is inspirational. The disposal of tunnel dirt via hidden trouser pockets right beneath watchful Nazi eyes is a stand-out moment.

The tension during the escape as the men realise the tunnel is 20 feet short of tree cover is high and the feeling of dread as escapees trickle slowly out of the camp is intense. We still wince at the moment the Nazis cotton on, and the dreaded ‘good luck’ moment when MacDonald replies in English to a suspicious officer is just painful to watch.

McQueen’s motorbike chase scene – cumulating in his famous jump over the barbed wire – is still an iconic silver screen moment, even though it was his friend Bud Ekins who carried out the stunt for insurance reasons. Being a capable race-winning biker though, we’re sure McQueen would've happily given it a go himself.

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