Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Great Escape (1963)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Great Escape (1963)

In this WWII prison-camp escape action-film from John Sturges, an epic film about the building of a tunnel in 1943 for a 'great escape' from the Stalag Luft North:

  • the introduction of the character of an Allied POW loner - the irreverent, "hot-shot pilot" USAAF Captain Virgil "Cooler King" Hilts (Steve McQueen), who was shot down, imprisoned, and had developed a troublesome reputation for numerous attempts to escape from prison camps 18 times
  • the early scene of Hilts' complaint and explanation to prison-camp officer Strachwitz (Harry Riebauer) that his baseball had rolled under a barbed-wire perimeter fence ("But my baseball rolled over there. How am I gonna get my baseball?") - although he was actually testing the prison camp's defenses - and as a result, he received a barrage of machine-gun fire to stay clear; the officer had warned: "You fool! To cross the wire is death!...The warning wire! It's absolutely forbidden to cross it. You know that" - and then Hilts admitted the real truth to superior Luftwaffe Commandant von Luger (Hannes Messemer): "I was trying to cut my way through your wire, because I wanna get out" - he turned over his wire cutters, and then insolently noted: "I haven't seen Berlin yet, from the ground, or from the air. And I plan on doing both before the war's over"; Hilts was punished with twenty days of isolation in "the cooler" for rule-breaking and for being irreverent and "ill-mannered"
  • the scenes of Hilts' "cooler" punishment, where he wiled away the time by tossing a baseball against the concrete wall and catching it with his mitt
  • the meticulous plans of a mass escape from the high-security POW camp, by building three different tunnels (nicknamed "Tom," "Dick," and "Harry") to provide a way out for about 250 of the prisoners, organized and led by RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett (known as "Big X") (Richard Attenborough); fortunately, the defiant Bartlett had been imprisoned by "every escape artist in Germany" - a team of experts all with descriptive nicknames: "The Scrounger," "The Manufacturer," "The Tunnel Kings," and "The Tailor," among others
  • the scene of the demise of Scottish RAF Flying Officer Archibald "Archie" Ives, who became so desperate when the main escape tunnel was discovered, that he walked in a daze to the barbed wire surrounding the camp, climbed up in full view of guards, and was shot dead (Hilts was too late in saving him); Hilts was motivated to inform Bartlett that he was going to engage in a reconaissance mission: "Sir, let me know the exact information you need. I'm going out tonight.
Discovery of a Tunnel by Germans
Ives in a Daze Walking Towards the Fence Perimeter
Ives Shot Climbing the Barbed Wire Fence
  • the memorable sequence of Hilts' (actually stuntman Bud Ekins) exciting, unexpected attempt to escape from a German checkpoint as he daringly vaulted a stolen German motorcycle (a Triumph TR-6 Trophy 650CC, actually a British model and not a German made BMW) over a first-line, six-foot barbed-wire fence at the German-Swiss border; but before he was able to jump a higher second-line fence, his motorcycle was shot from under him, and he become entangled and ensnared - and was captured
Hilts' Famed Motorcycle Jump
Over One Barbed-Wire Checkpoint Fence
  • the closing scene of Hilts' dramatic entrance back into the prison in handcuffs, where he was told by the recently-relieved Commandant, Luftwaffe Colonel von Luger (due to having failed to prevent the breakout) that he was "lucky" because "fifty" other POW friends of his who had been recaptured were murdered (under the pretense that they were trying to escape); the commandant added: "It looks, after all, as if you will see Berlin before I do"
  • the ending scene of Hilts' return to the "cooler," where he was again heard by the guard, who paused to listen to him endlessly bounce a baseball against his cell wall into his mitt
  • the film's final dedication to the "Fifty" who lost their lives

Hilts Questioned by Strachwitz

Hilts Punished by Commandant von Luger

In the Cooler, With His Baseball Mitt

RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett

Secretly Digging One of the Tunnels

Hand-Cuffed Hilt's Return to Prison, and Words for the Commandant: "It looks, after all, as if you will see Berlin before I do"


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