FF79 - The Great Escape

This episode was guested by Chuck Bryant and was also released as a cross-over on the Movie Crush podcast.

Intro by Adam Pranica

Prison camp is a war movie subgenre we have been sentenced to several times, most often within the context of World War II and it is not a perfect fit in the category of war films because these films take place so far from any battlefront and don't occupy the same emotional realm. We are not finding out if it is possible for an atheist to be in a foxhole or a gripping the edges of our seats while a pilot initiates a barrel roll to avoid a missile.

These films about prisoners of war rarely break out into combat and explosions unless John Rambo shows up to take some photos. They, by their very nature, unfold at a different pace and explore a different kind of drama-experience during war. It is not the sudden impact of combat but the slow burn, the building pressure of captivity at the hands of an enemy that creates the tension.

And we have already hit some of the high points of this subgenre on previous episodes of Friendly Fire, but it is been impossible up to now to have had a comprehensive conversation about POW films without talking about today's 1963 John Sturges classic. With a cast led by Cool-as-Hell Steve McQueen, stunningly good-looking James Garner and absolute unit Charles Bronson, the film follows British Anzac and American officers of their respective air corps who have re-specialized in their captivity as an ingenious squadron of escape artists.

They have reimagined the command structure to include new jobs like manufacturer, scrounger, forger, and tunnel King. Sir Richard Attenborough serves as Big X who oversees the construction of three tunnels at a camp, through which the plan is to send out dozens if not hundreds of men. To achieve this objective would mean the Nazis would have to use their resources to round up the escapees, drawing their focus away from the frontlines.

During its nearly three hour runtime the film pits Luftwaffe prison guards in charge of this freshly constructed prison camp against a hyper-resourceful group of prisoners, depicting their relentless demonstration of Prison Break tradecraft. It is like they have imprisoned a camp full of MacGyvers! It is one of those rare films with 40 white guys with speaking parts with roughly the same haircut where we are able to follow who is who and what is going on at all times. People are doing interesting specialized work in devising ways to hide tunnels or how to dig them or ways to blend into the population of Germany and France once their escape is made.

And much like a heist film, half of the math is about how to get away once the deed is done and after the two hours of prison camp time this film fractures into a half a dozen storylines as the various groups take different paths out of Germany. The enemy is the Germans, but it is also claustrophobia and homesickness and the toll imprisonment is taking on all of their bodies, but in spite of these odds we watch them teach themselves enough German to fool a border guard or tailor suits out of bedclothes.

It is a ton of fun and it is a very special movie, so we have a very special episode about it with our good friend Chuck Bryan, host of the excellent Movie Crush podcast! Well, like I told Max, I was trying to cut my way through your wire because I wanted to get out. Today on Friendly Fire: The Great Escape.

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