The Great Escape is a 1963 American film about an escape by Allied prisoners of war from a German POW camp during World War II. The film is based on the book of the same name by Paul Brickhill, a non-fiction account of the mass escape from Stalag Luft III in Sagan (now Żagań, Poland), in the province of Lower Silesia, Nazi Germany. The characters are based on real men, in some cases composites of several men. The film was released by United Artists, and produced and directed by John Sturges.
Steve McQueen, in a role based on a pilot named David M. Jones, has been credited with the most significant performance. Critic Leonard Maltin wrote that “the large, international cast is superb, but the standout is McQueen; it’s easy to see why this cemented his status as a superstar.”
Richard Attenborough was cast as Sqn Ldr Roger Bartlett RAF (“Big X”), a character based on Roger Bushell, the South African-born British POW who was the mastermind of the real Great Escape. This was the film that first brought Attenborough to wide popular attention in the United States.
The film is accurate in showing that only three escapees made home runs, although the people who made them differed from those in the film. The escape of Danny and Willie in the film is based on two Norwegians who escaped by boat to Sweden, Per Bergsland and Jens Müller. The successful escape of Coburn’s Australian character via Spain was based on Dutchman Bram van der Stok.
Based on a true story, “The Great Escape” deals with the largest Allied escape attempt from a German POW camp during the Second World War. The first part of the film focuses on the escape efforts within the camp and the process of secretly digging an escape tunnel. The second half of the film deals with the massive effort by the German Gestapo to track down the over 70 escaped prisoners who are at this point throughout the Third Reich attempting to make their way to England and various neutral countries.