91 of 94 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2000
Quite easily a front runner for the title of best POW movie ever made, "Stalag 17" is expertly directed by Billy Wilder to provide humour, drama, satire and sadness....and William Holden in his Oscar winning performance as the cynical POW sergeant, Sefton, makes this movie a class act from start to finish !
American POW's under the watchful eye of camp commander Von Scherbach (Otto Preminger at his sinister best) are suspicious of a traitor in their ranks...escape plans are going horribly wrong...lives are being lost....and the finger of guilt point's to the crafty, opportunistic Sefton. William Holden was well deserving of the 1953 Best Actor Oscar as the somewhat unlikeable and moody Sefton. Taking advantage of his fellow POW's and filling his footlocker with contrband purchased from the income off his "racetrack", "moonshine" and "telescope" rackets, Sefton then suddenly finding himself the victim of circumstance and his own cynical nature. Holden took on a particularly difficult role, as Sefton is definitely not what you would call a likeable character...only looking out for his own welfare, negative of his fellow prisoners escape attempts and eager to pick up an extra dollar any way he can from other prisoners. The character of Sergeant Sefton is arguably one of the first anti-hero's of film drama. Fine support is provided in the film by the hilarious comic talents of Robert Strauss & Harvey Lembeck (Animal & Harry Shapiro)...just love that dreamy Betty Grable dance sequence...plus the fine character actor, Sig Ruman is very funny as chess playing German guard, Schulz.
A quite youthful Peter Graves plays security officer "Price", Gil Stratton narrates the tale as the meek "Cookie"...Sefton's trusty sidekick.....and actors Richard Erdman & Neville Brand are solid as "Hoffy" & "Duke", the two leaders of the POW barracks.
"Stalag 17" is thoroughly enjoyable on so many levels due to the fine balance of performances between the cast members and the equilibrium between tension and humour that Wilder maintains throughout this memorable movie....
I've noticed some reviewers have called this film a "time passer" or that it is "nothing spectacular"...are they sure we are discussing the same movie ??? "Stalag 17" is top class entertainment and it's release on DVD (albeit without any extra features) is long overdue and well received.
A high calibre production that deserves a place in any true film fans movie collection !
42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2000
This is not your typical WWII war movie. Great acting by William Holden. He won the Oscar for best actor. Robert Strauss and Harry Lembeck are blazingly funny as 2 other POW's along with Holden. The movie is set in a German prison camp during WWII a week before Christmas. Holden is suspected of being a nazi spy living with the POW's. He's not, but he's going to find out who is. The other prisoner's have already beaten him and and taken some of his possessions. Definitely the best POW movie ever. The DVD has no "special" features such as behind the scenes or information about the cast. It does have scene selection, Dolby Digital, and English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impared. This DVD is the "Standard version" aspect ratio. The movie came out in 1953 when the movie studios were going to "Widescreen" but I think it was shot before they adapted. So this DVD is basically how it looked in the theatre. The transfer to DVD is great. It looks as if they restored it some. This is definitely one for your DVD collection.
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Although the play by Edmund Trzcinski and Donald Bevan had been a smash hit on Broadway, most insiders did not expect STALAG 17 to succeed as a film. The story concerned WWII American POWs held in a Nazi camp--but it combined serious drama with broad farce and offered one of the first anti-heroes in American film in the leading role. And with the war still very fresh in every one's mind, the combination seemed more likely to offend than appeal. Every one concerned held their breath when the film debuted: would audiences get it? They did indeed, and STALAG 17 became one of the most critically-lauded and commercially popular films of the early 1950s, picking up an Academy Award nomination for director Billy Wilder and a Best Actor Oscar for William Holden in the process.
The story concerns American prisoners of war held in the German "Stalag 17" in 1944, and it begins grimly: after much planning, the Americans have devised an escape for two of their number, but the next morning the bullet-riddled bodies of the two men are dragged into camp and dumped in the mud. But the escape plan should have worked. It was perfect. How did the Germans know? Suspicion begins to settle on J.J. Sefton (Holden), a bitter cynic and hardbitten opportunist who spends his time running various scams designed to strip his fellow prisoners of what little they have.
While this might have worked as drama pure and simple, the film counterbalances its darkness with streaks of a sort of "boys will be boys" broad farce played out in the most over-the-top way imaginable. And strange to say, even given the overplaying typical of the early 1950s, the balance works: for every dramatic twist there is a stroke of comedy, and for every stroke of comedy there is a dramatic twist. In Wilder's hands the ensemble cast, which includes the likes of Otto Preminger and Peter Graves, performs some of the most remarkable juggling of the decade. But the glue here is William Holden. Interestingly, according to most sources Holden hated the play and hated the character and did the project under duress. Whatever the case, he gives a truly remarkable performance: Sefton is not a likable man by any stretch of the imagination, but even so he has certain self-integrity that you cannot help but admire. While Holden is now probably best remembered for his performances in SUNSET BLVD and NETWORK, his work here is likely the finest of his entire career.
There has been some complaint that STALAG 17 is disrespectful to WWII prisoners of war, for it paints their Nazi captors as buffoons and camp conditions as not so much horrific as merely unpleasant--and it is true that the film makes no serious portray the extreme difficulties most POWs encountered. But to say that it is disrespectful to POWs is akin to saying that 42nd STREET is disrespectful to chorus girls: we know, just as 1953 audiences knew, that this is not an attempt to portray reality; it is instead a story told via our willing suspension of disbelief--and a very entertaining story it is indeed.
The DVD is truly a "no frills" product, but the print is crisp. And if you are expecting a realistic examination of men at war you may be disappointed. But still, this is a memorable film, directed with great skill, performed by an exceptional cast, and with a sharp story and clever script. It bears repeat viewing extremely well--which is a great deal more than one can say for most films made. Recommended.
--GFT (Amazon Reviewer)--
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
There was surprisingly enough a lot of humor in the American attitude toward the Nazis and the Germans during World War II. Life goes on even under the conditions of being prisoners of war, and people need to laugh. In such circumstances, they especially need to laugh. We can see that in some of the songs from that time and in this play from Donald Bevant and Edmund Trzcinski that Billy Wilder made into an unusually good movie. It should be realized that the full extent of the horror that the Nazis had visited upon Europe was not known until after the war was over and we saw the films of the concentration camps.
William Holden stars as Sgt J.J. Sefton whose amoral cynicism and gift for the cheap hustle allow him to feather his nest even while a prisoner of war. He's the guy who always had a storehouse of cigarettes, booze, silk stockings, candy, etc. under his bunk, the guy who always won at cards, whose proposition bets always gave him the edge. We had a guy like that when I was in the army. We called him "Slick."
But William Holden's Sefton is more than Slick. He is outrageously cynical and uncommonly brave. He takes chances because he doesn't have the same kind of fear that others have. Most people would feel self-conscious (and nervous) eating a fried egg while everybody else in the barracks had watery-thin potato soup. Others might feel uncomfortable with bribing German guards for bottles of Riesling or tins of sardines. Not Sefton. He flaunts his store of goodies.
Perhaps that is overdone. Perhaps the real hardships that prisoners went through are glossed over in this comedic drama--a comedy, incidentally, that plays very much like a Broadway musical without the music. Perhaps it is the case that from the distance of 1953 the deprivations of Stalag 17 have faded from memory and it is the "good times" that are recalled.
At any rate, I think it is this kind of psychology that accounts for the success of this unusual blend of quasi-realism and burlesque. Certainly Stalag 17 has been widely imitated, most familiarly in the TV sit-com "Hogan's Heroes" and to some extent on Rowan and Martin's "Laugh-In." Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful, on the other hand, which also finds humor in the horrific, is of a different genre. Like Ionesco's Rhinoceros, Benigni's movie is from the theater of the absurd, not the Broadway stage.
Holden won an Oscar for his performance and Robert Strauss who played Animal was nominated in a supporting role. Otto Preminger, the legendary director and producer, was excellent as the two-faced Col Von Scherbach, the ex-calvary commander and camp commandant who can only take a phone call from the high command with his boots on so he can click his heels. I also liked Sig Rumann as Sgt Johann Sebastian Schulz ("always making with the jokes, you Americans") whose previous career as a wrestler in the US accounts for his English-language skills. Gil Stratton, who for years did the sports for CBS Channel 2 in Los Angeles, is interesting as Sefton's sidekick and flunky. Indeed, what is responsible for the success of this movie as much as anything is this fine cast playing well-defined character roles. By the way, Strauss and Harvey Lembeck ("Sugar Lips" Shapiro) were reprising their roles from Broadway.
Important is the fine plot line in which Sefton is accused of being a spy for the Nazis while the real spy is exposed step by step. At first we don't know who it is, and then we do, and then the prisoners find out.
This should be compared with Sunset Boulevard (1950). While very different movies they have similar elements which reveal part of the psyche and methods of director Billy Wilder. First there is the anti-hero as the protagonist, in both cases played by William Holden. Then there is a lot of the old Hollywood crowd appearing in both films including directors appearing as actors, Erich von Stroheim (not to mention Cecil B. DeMille in his memorable cameo as himself) in Sunset Boulevard, and Otto Preminger here. Sig Rumann has over a 100 credits going back to at least the early thirties. Finally there is the discordant mix of comedic and dramatic elements, a mix that works on our psyches because life is to some very real extent filled with tragedy in close congruence with the laughable.
But see this for William Holden who was the kind of actor who was best playing a compromised character as here and as the failed writer/reluctant gigolo in Sunset Boulevard, an actor who drank too much and tended to the undistinguished, but when carefully directed could rise above his intentions and give a sterling performance.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2000
There are so many movies out there based on World War II it's astounding. Some are well made and some are not. Along with "The Great Escape", "The Longest Day" and "The Bridge over the River Kwai", Stalag 17 ranks among the former.
William Holden gives a great performance as a misjudged prisoner simply trying to survive. This is not to exclude his supporting cast. They are just as credible.
Peter Graves is wonderful as Price. Robert Strauss and Harvey Lembeck are fun to watch as Animal and Harry, the two clowns from New York City (judging from their accent) trying to make the best of things.
If a filmmaker can add a touch of humor to life in a prison camp then he has accomplished something which is not always easy to do. But behind the comedy lies the graveness and tragedy of this period in history. Stalag 17 portrays it well. I try and rent this movie at least once or twice a year. It is and always will be one of my favorites.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2006
IN A NUTSHELL: A FILM THAT CAN BE SEEN AND ENJOYED OVER AND OVER AGAIN!
Based on a stage play written by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski, this sensational film adaptation, written by Billy Wilder and Edwin Blum, takes place almost entirely within a single P.O.W. barrack populated by American sergeants. Yet, despite the seeming lack of variety, there seems to be plenty of action and never a dull moment.
The acting, led by William Holden, Robert Strauss and Otto Preminger, is mesmerizing and is aided by a very tight script and fast-paced action. Situational comedy is interjected into the action to illustrate how the various prisoners cope with the stress of P.O.W. life. Robert Strauss and Harvey Lembeck are a pair of wisecracking comic relievers named "Animal" and "Harry Shapiro." So effective were the pair at providing meaningful and scene-stealing comic relief that Strauss was nominated for a much-deserved "Academy Award" for "Best Supporting Actor." The importance of this seemingly-trite comic relief was twofold; to provide contrast from the pervasive bleakness of P.O.W. life and death, and as a means of emphasizing the mindsets and trials that the prisoners were motivated by and forced to endure.
THE ANIMAL & SHAPIRO IN ACTION - a few examples [warning plot spoilers below]
When there are "new dames in the Russian compound," the Animal & Shapiro devise a scheme utilizing a can of paint and a brush to get themselves up close and personal with the female Russian prisoners. In the end, they paint a German interloper's eyeglasses and hightail it back to their barracks, leaving the paint, brush, and screaming-and-freshly-painted, nearsighted German behind.
Sefton [Holden], on the other hand, can walk right into the Russian female compound "like some kraut Field-Marshall" according to Duke [Neville Brand]. So we see some entertaining comedy and we see the contrast in outcomes that led the other P.O.W.s to believe that Sefton was the traitor. After all, throughout the film Sefton got away with things that no one else could, making it logical that he was the informant.
WHAT "STALAG 17" IS ALL ABOUT:
"Stalag 17" focuses on how men behave under real stress. In this case, the story begins as Cookie (Gil Stratton) narrates the theme of the next two hours -- the story about the informant/traitor among them who aided their German jailers. Like all good stories, this one opens as closely as possible to the end. We, the audience, arrive in time to see two of the inmates attempt to escape and subsequently to get slaughtered by a waiting machine-gun nest after Sefton [William Holden] wagered that neither escapee [Manfredi or Johnson] would make it out of the compound alive.
Over the next two hours we are given a series of clues: some real, some red herrings, and some impossible to decipher until the end. Through it all, we get to enjoy a tight story, terrific dialogue, excellent performances all-around, and a torrid pace that makes this 2-hour film seem like a very short movie.
-----> THE CAST MEMBERS <-----
William Holden - Sefton
Don Taylor - Lieutenant Dunbar
Otto Preminger - Von Scherbach
Robert Strauss - "Animal" Stosh
Harvey Lembeck - Harry Shapiro
Peter Graves - Price
Sig Rumann - Schulz
Neville Brand - Duke
Richard Erdman - Hoffy
Michael Moore - Manfredi
Peter Baldwin - Johnson
Robinson Stone - Joey
Robert Shawley - Blondie
William Pierson - Marko
Gil Stratton - Cookie/Narrator
Jay Lawrence - Bagradian
Erwin Kalser - Geneva Man
-----> PRODUCTION CREW <-----
Billy Wilder - Director / Producer / Screenwriter
Donald Bevan - Play Author
Edwin Blum - Screenwriter
Edmund Trzcinski - Play Author
Ernest Laszlo - Cinematographer
Franz Waxman - Composer (Music Score)
Doane Harrison - Editor
George Tomasini - Editor
Franz Bachelin - Art Director
Hal Pereira - Art Director
Sam Comer - Set Designer
Ray Mayer - Set Designer
Ray Moyer - Set Designer
Gene Garvin - Sound/Sound Designer
Harold Lewis - Sound/Sound Designer
Wally Westmore - Makeup
Gordon Jennings - Special Effects
-----> THE MAJOR AWARDS <-----
Best Actor (win) William Holden 1953 Academy
Best Director (nom) Billy Wilder 1953 Academy
Best Supporting Actor (nom) Robert Strauss 1953 Academy
Best Director (nom) Billy Wilder 1953 Directors Guild of America
Best Picture (nom) 1953 National Board of Review
ABOUT THE DVD: EXCELLENT TRANSFER OF AUDIO AND VIDEO BUT NO FEATURES
Arguably as good a film about World War II as ever there was creates a true anti-hero in William Holden as the film's star.
THE GREAT ESCAPE, JOHN STURGES, 1963
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2006
This film is a typical Billy Wilder ride, serious subject dealt with great writing. If I had to pick a category for this film I would say it's a dramatic comedy. It's my favorite P.O.W. movie and I love the black and white because it add a claustrophobic ambiance + Billy Wilder knows how to play with lights and shadows as we can see on Double Indemnity for example. For my part I cannot see this film in color it's like Gone with the wind in black and white. The tempo is fast and the action don't stop for 2 hours, time goes very fast and you meet a good amount of characters all different and even if William Holden is the central character, everybody as great dialogue and lines which contributes for a team effort more than a solo piece (like The Great Escape where McQueen is obviously the star). You can see by watching this film the great direction of Billy Wilder, there's not a false note anywhere and Wilder knows where to put the camera. The photography (like in most Billy Wilder films) is not the main thing but it's beautifully photographed and like I said before he knows how to shoot black and white. About this new version now, I noticed that the image is more sharper and richer than the other version, some reviewers said that the improvement is not that great but I don't agree, I think the image is much better than the other version meaning it's sensationnal because the image was also great in the other version. The extras are quite good with 2 featurettes and a very good audio commentary with 2 actors of the film and the co-writer. There's a lot of new informations and anecdotes told by those 3 old men that are still energetic and interesting even if they are in their 80's. So throw away your old version this is way better and even if it's frustrating to buy 2 times the same film, this one is a must if you're a fan of this movie.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2004
I know he won an Oscar for his performance in this role, but has any great Hollywood star been shunted to the background of history as much as William Holden? The list of films in which the man made his character memorable runs the gamut from Sunset Boulevard to Picnic to The Wild Bunch to Network. And while I don't think it's his overall best role, Stalag 17 will be remembered not just as a great film but the one that got Holden his due.
As the opening voiceover says (and I'm paraphrasing), there have been a lot of war movies about submarines, flying leathernecks, tank commandos, etc. but none about the P.O.W. camps. Leave it to the late great Billy Wilder to rectify that. Certainly there's no glory of war here, or at least not the kind we're accustomed to. Wilder creates an insular world of desperate and downtrodden men thrown together in confinement and heaps on the stark reality of war's "other side".
Holden is the barracks' con man/horse trader and, thanks to the already poor relationship with his fellows, the immediate suspect when they determine someone on the inside is spying on them for the Germans. It's a testament to how well the film has held up over the years that even after seeing it long ago (and thus knowing who the spy is) that I was still riveted in anticipation of how he would be found out.
The Germans are a combination of menace and comedy, the former exemplified by Otto Preminger as the camp commander and the latter by the great character actor Sig Rumann as Sgt. Schulz. This film was the inspiration for Hogan's Heroes, but it's best to separate them in your mind if you can and appreciate the complexities of the situations and the characters.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
STALAG 17 was the film that revitalized Billy Wilder's career. His previous film, the highly underrated ACE IN THE HOLE (easily one of the most cynical movies ever to come out of Hollywood), was a bust at the box office. As a result, Paramount, the studio Wilder had worked for since breaking into the business as a writer in the 1930s, inserted a demand in his contract that he pay for any losses should this film fail at the box office. As it was, it was a smash both critically and financially. Wilder left Paramount in anger after finishing it.
This was the first of the great prison camp movies to be made in the U.S., and arguably the best ever made. The story revolves around the attempt to discover which soldier in the camp is a stoolie for the Germans. Suspicion falls upon the profoundly and justifiably hated Sgt. Sefton, played by William Holden in a performance that gained him an Oscar (his acceptance speech was the shortest in the history of the awards: "Thank you"). Gradually all the soldiers turn against him, but in the end he is able to prove who the real fink is. Not an especially great plot, but the setting was completely unique at the time, and Wilder does a great job of building the suspense over who the real informant is.
The all-male cast (tough to talk the studio into at the time, since studio heads were convinced you had to have love interests in the film to interest both sexes) is memorable, filled with a bevy of great character performances. A couple of the performers are a bit on the annoying side, especially as they try to strike a note of gaiety despite their confinement, but by and large the cast is rock solid. Especially memorable is famed director Otto Preminger, who despite being both anti-Nazi and a Jew, excelled at portraying Nazi officers in both the 1940s and this film. He steals every scene he is in. The great Sig Ruman, memorable from a host of films from DUCK SOUP to NINOTCHKA, is outstanding as Sgt. Schultz. Gravelly voiced Robert Strauss stands out among the soldiers, and received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Neville Brand was always utterly convincing as a tough guy (in WW II he was in fact one of America's most decorated soldiers, winning only slightly fewer medals than luminaries such as Audie Murphy and Footsie Britt), and he provides some menace in this film when needed. Peter Graves has had a long and unusual career as movie actor, television actor, and TV host, but he was never better than in this.
The film, because of when it was made and Wilder's own political convictions, is one of the greater "stealth" political films made in the heyday of McCarthyism. Today it has become commonplace to speak of Hollywood as a bastion of political liberalism, but that was hardly the case in the early 1950s, where not only all studio heads but most directors and actors were riding a wave of reactionary conservativism (the writers were another matter). Wilder and John Huston were two directors who never gave up their leftist political convictions. For the most part, Wilder avoided politics in his movies, but in this one he presents a perfect parable of irrational persecution comparable to that produced by playwright Arthur Miller in THE CRUCIBLE, in which he portrays the McCarthy right-wing hysteria in terms of the Salem witch trials. Likewise, Wilder has Sgt. J. J. Sefton as the object of paranoia, a supposed enemy of the other soldiers, when in fact the real enemy was one of the "good guys," just as Wilder was suggesting that McCarthy was. In context, STALAG 17 has to be viewed as one of the finest political films ever made, though it can be viewed with thorough enjoyment by anyone either unaware or intentionally oblivious of the political structure of the film.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2002
Unusual War Flick, Great Ensemble Cast
Reviewer: cornhoolio from San Antonio, Texas USA
Billy Wilder's "Stalag 17" represents the director (may he rest in peace) at the top of his form. Austrian Jew Wilder safely got
out of Europe after the Reichstag fire, but his mother perished in the Holocaust at Auschwitz. But, as with 1948's "A Foreign
Affair," Wilder used comedy to skewer the Nazis.
William Holden's performance as Seften, the streetwise black-marketing POW, is equal to his portrayal as Joe Gillis in "Sunset
Boulevard," and he deservedly won the best actor Oscar for this ascerbic, witty and intense performance.
Robert Strauss and Harvey Lembeck as the Animal and Harry are nonstop comic relief in this movie, and turn an otherwise
"serious" film into great slapstick, screwball comedy.
But, best of all are Otto Preminger as Von Scherbach and Sig Ruman as Sergeant Schultz. Preminger really hams it up with an
overblown Prussian accent as the Camp Commandant who has his enlisted aides lay down planks in his path, so that his boots
won't get muddy. The famed German comedian Ruman, who always plays goofy foreigners, is perfect as a foil to Harry and the
Most interesting casting is Peter Graves as Price. His is a pivotal role, but I still can't see him in a movie without thinking of his
famous line from "Airplane!": "Have you ever seen a grown man naked?"
Altogether, "Stalag 17" is cinematic perfection, perfectly cast, brilliantly written and never for a moment schmaltzy.