In 1943, the Germans opened Stalag Luft North, a maximum-security prisoner-of-war camp, designed tohold even the craftiest escape artists. In doing so, however, the Nazis unwittingly assembled the finest escape team in military historybrilliantly portrayed here by Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson and James Coburnwho worked on what became the largest prison breakout ever attempted. One of the most ingenious and suspenseful adventure films of all time, The Great Escape is a masterful collaboration between director John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven), screenwriters James Clavell (Shogun) and W.R. Burnett (Little Caesar), and composer Elmer Bernstein. Based on a true story, The Great Escape is epic entertainment that "entertains,captivates, thrills and stirs" (Variety).
It took three years to release the special edition of this seminal war adventure. The remastered 5.1 Dolby sound and picture make it the best presentation on the home market, although there is room for improvement. The vast extras are pieces made over the years, and because they are from different sources, look for lots of overlaps and the same clips. The four-part History Channel show from 2001 does an excellent job of separating the facts and reality of the film (the verdict: the set-up is spot-on, the escape escapades are Hollywood magic). Showtime's "Return to The Great Escape" (1993) gives us the same, but at least it interviews some of the cast. The hour-long docudrama "The Untold Story" (2001) interviews real prisoners and follows the gruesome aftermath of the escape. "The Real Virgil Hilts" is an entry in "the greatest generation" sweepstakes following an American flyer, David Jones, who shares some aspects with the Steve McQueen character, but had an even more varied life. Best is the new commentary track hosted by fan/author Steven Jay Rubin. A free-wheeling oral history of the movie has reminiscences with many actors, crew, and other sources, and luckily it was made just before the affable James Coburn died. One demerit for the awful cover art. --Doug Thomas