The Great Escape

The Luftwaffe are having a hard time looking after their RAF prisoners of war, so they build a new camp with high security to put 'All their rotten eggs in one basket' as the German commander says. Unfortunately this brings together the greatest escape artists around and they work together building three tunnels, hatching escape plans and forging documents in ingenious ways, each man with a different task led by Roger Bartlett (Richard Attenbourgh) to take 250 men out of the camp, the largest ever escape attempt. Meanwhile American Captain Hilts (Steve McQueen) tries other escape attempts which repeatedly end him up in solitary confinement, and heroically he finds local information out for the others then deliberately gets caught. One of the tunnels is found and the effort is put into one tunnel. On the night of the escape they find the tunnel is 20 feet short of the safety of the woods and slowly they get out avoiding the searchlights. However one man gets impatient waiting and goes out while a German is looking and gets caught - 76 men have already escaped. The escapees disperse in various ways and most get caught, including Bartlett and Hilts, but not before the latter has had a long motorbike chase. The Germans shoot 50 men including Bartlet and return several others including Hilts. The camp commander is also relieved of duty. Only three are seen to escape, the two tunnel diggers and the manufacturer. Based on a true story.

Factual error: Many of the prisoners are wearing watches, which is incorrect. Upon arrest a prisoner's watch was confiscated. This prevented them using them to bribe or barter with corrupt guards (and as this film acknowledges, there were plenty of those) as well as making coordination of meetings or escape plans difficult.

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Suggested correction: It is true that most prisoners had their watches confiscated when they were captured. However, British POWs could write to Rolex in Geneva through the International Red Cross requesting a watch. Rolex would supply one with an invoice to be paid at the end of the war. The watches sent were steel because gold watches would have been confiscated by the guards. At least some of the prisoners involved in the Great Escape had these watches. Corporal Nutting, one of the masterminds, requested and received an Oyster 3525 Chronograph - a more upmarket model than the ones favoured by most POWs, which he used to measure the frequency of German patrols. After the war he paid £15 for it. In 2007 this watch and the associated correspondence was sold at auction for £66,000.

Peter Harrison

They are not wearing Rolex watches and the newly arrived prisoners are all wearing watches, which would normally have been confiscated.

No, they are not all wearing watches. Having watched the first half hour to check, the only definite watch I can see is being worn by Steve McQueen. I can't see enough of it to say definitively whether or not it matches the watches Rolex were sending. Many of the others are either definitely not wearing watches (Charles Bronson, for example) or, if they are, it is hidden by their clothes.

Peter Harrison

More mistakes in The Great Escape

Col. Von Luger: Group Captain Ramsey, in the past four years the Reich has been forced to spend an enormous amount of time, energy, manpower and equipment hunting down prisoner of war officers.
Group Capt. Ramsey: At least it's rather nice to know you're wanted, isn't it?

More quotes from The Great Escape

Trivia: While Steve McQueen performed most of his own stunts, the only stunt he didn't perform was the 60 foot jump over the Austrian-Swiss border fence. The jump was performed by stuntman Bud Ekins, who later doubled for McQueen in "Bullitt."

More trivia for The Great Escape

Question: At the scene where Bartlett is running away from the pursuing Germans in the town, a car stops him. Bartlett says something in a foreign language to the German who steps out the car which makes the Germans drive away. Could someone please tell me what is said in the Bartlett/German conversation and what language does Bartlett speak in.

Answer: It's German, although I can't quite make it all out. The Germans tell him to stop (sounds like one says "hey you" in English). He asks what this is all about and, in English, the soldier accuses him of being English. Bartlett acts offended at the idea, and at being threatened with a pistol. The soldier then asks if he's German, he says something in the affirmative, and the soldiers apologize as they climb back in the car.

It sounds like the last line from the German Officer is" Free to Go" in English.

Answer: I am German and just watched the movie. From memory the conversation went something like this: German guard talks in English and Bartlett responded in German "English? What are you thinking?" German guard: "Oh so you're German?" Bartlett: "Yes why! Of course I am German. What is the meaning of this? Threatening me with this pistol?" German guard: "Well all right then." And they leave him alone. Although his accent would have given him away, it's a lot less strong than most English people's German, but still noticeable.

More questions & answers from The Great Escape

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