Man, they just don’t make movies like this anymore. Filled with bravado, but constantly stays away from becoming overly masculine. It is a gruff, entertaining adventure film that defines a by-gone era of filmmaking.
Assembling a cast that is the very definition of true action star – Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson, James Coburn – the film is a true ensemble effort. Although McQueen’s character of Hilts is the selling-point of the movie, not one castmember is more prominent than the other. Garner’s slick American, Richard Attenborough’s sly and devious leader of the escape and Charles Bronson’s brilliant performance as the tough but sensitive Polish miner all contribute to the strong character-centric story.
The friendship and teamwork between the characters in this film make it something not too often seen in today’s movies. You often expect one of the escapees to betray the rest of the group, or for some major twist that would create a villain out of someone we previously thought was the hero. Quite the contrary – from the outset, the protagonists and antagonists are, and they are kept that way right until the end. Some might say the unabashed loyalty these characters have to each other may be a little unrealistic, as somewhere there would be a sleazy character of questionable morals, but after all, this film doesn’t need to be entirely realistic, and as it is based on a true story, it no doubt transpired this way, if not similar.
As I said above, it is difficult to pin-point a particular actor who stood out. The entire cast was strong as an entity, and each performer added to the strong ensemble effort. However, there were some performances I feel should be pointed out. Donald Pleasence, who remains one of the most underrated actors of all time, gives a wonderful performance as Colin Blythe, the expert forger who is incidentally mostly blind. Charles Bronson is known for his tough-guy persona, but playing a gruff miner who ends up being claustrophobic (a trait Bronson shared with his character) is a remarkable change of pace for the actor. Of course Steve McQueen is the effortless King of Cool of 1960s cinema, and he shows off his macho charm here as the intelligent and calculating Hilts.
The Great Escape is the epitome of classic war film – it isn’t overly heavy or depressing, and it is incredibly entertaining. It is purely riveting cinema, and while the last act does drag considerably, it is purely exciting and captivating viewing, and from the well-known theme song to the image of Steve McQueen driving through the countryside on a motorcycle being pursued by Nazis, The Great Escape is pure entertainment.
This film is the reason I love movies.