The Great Escape (1963) appears on the all-time favorite movies list of many people. Whether it is Steve McQueen attempting to leap the barbed-wire barricades on a motorcycle or James Garner and Donald Pleasance crash-landing their plane in sight of the mountains of Switzerland and freedom, the movie evokes a spirit of rugged defiance. Over the years however, scenes such as these added for dramatic effect fueled criticism of the movie. But regardless of such creative embellishments, it was important that the film should be made for the men who had been subjected to live as a POW in Stalag Luft III. It is especially significant to those among them who had served in the RAF’s Bomber Command, as even the smallest token of recognition, wrapped in Hollywood tinsel or not, was better than none. In England, no sooner was the war over than revisionist historians were already at work, condemning the men of Bomber Command to an almost pariah-like status.

It was also important for future generations to know that men were prepared to risk their lives crawling over 100 yards through a makeshift tunnel deep underground, with the wrath of the Third Reich more than likely set to meet them. Above and beyond all, The Great Escape is a movie about courage. Perhaps no-one has said it better than the legendary John Wayne – “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” The men who descended that perilous tunnel on 24 March 1944 were an exceptional example of that expression. So, if Steve McQueen had to pull a stunt on a motorcycle to ensure that the movie was made and widely seen, then it was a small price worth paying.

The making of The Great Escape (1963)


Steve McQueen…. Hilts ‘The Cooler King’
James Garner…. Hendley ‘The Scrounger’
Richard Attenborough…. Bartlett ‘Big X’
James Donald…. Ramsey ‘The SBO’
Charles Bronson…. Danny ‘The Tunnel King’
Donald Pleasence…. Blythe ‘The Forger’
James Coburn…. Sedgwick ‘The Manufacturer’
Hannes Messemer…. Von Luger ‘The Kommandant’
David McCallum…. Ashley-Pitt ‘Dispersal’
Gordon Jackson…. MacDonald ‘Intelligence’
John Leyton…. Willie
Angus Lennie…. Ives ‘The Mole’
Nigel Stock…. Cavendish ‘The Surveyor’


Director…. John Sturges
Screenplay…. James Clavell and W. R. Burnett
From a Book by…. Paul Brickhill
Producer…. John Sturges
Cinematography…. Daniel L. Fapp
Music…. Elmer Bernstein
Art Director…. Fernando Carrere
Editing…. Ferris Webste
Makeup…. Emile LaVigne