A frustrated former big-city journalist now stuck working for an Albuquerque newspaper exploits a story about a man trapped in a cave to rekindle his career, but the situation quickly escalates into an out-of-control circus.
It's a dreary Christmas 1944 for the American POWs in Stalag 17. For the men in Barracks 4, all sergeants, have to deal with a grave problem - there seems to be a security leak. The Germans always seem to be forewarned about escapes and in the most recent attempt the two men, Manfredi and Johnson, walked straight into a trap and were killed. For some in Barracks 4, especially the loud-mouthed Duke, the leaker is obvious: J.J. Sefton, a wheeler-dealer who doesn't hesitate to trade with the guards and who has acquired goods and privileges that no other prisoner seems to have. Sefton denies giving the Germans any information and makes it quite clear that he has no intention of ever trying to escape. He plans to ride out the war in what little comfort he can arrange, but it doesn't extend to spying for the Germans. As tensions mount and a mob mentality takes root, it becomes obvious that Sefton will have to find the real snitch if he is to have any peace and avoid the beatings Duke and ...Written by
After the scene where Sefton cooks the egg for breakfast, William Holden's character goes off on an extended rant on how futile escape attempts are. Holden ironically argued in favor of escape planning in his subsequent starring role as a POW in 'Bridge On The River Kwai.' As Sefton, he makes the point that a successful breakout will ultimately result in being shipped out to the Pacific and winding up in a Japanese prison camp. While he implies the two fates are equally damning, there was a considerable difference in the odds of survival. German POWs lived through their imprisonment at a 87% rate; conversely, Japanese held prisoners died in captivity at the staggering 87% rate. See more »
The prisoners need a telescope to view the women's shower, in fact Cookie says they are "about a mile away". However the men can apparently see Harry and Animal trying to sneak in with the whitewash simply by looking out the barracks window. See more »
[Duke wants to know who the German spy is]
It's no use, Schulz, you might as well come clean. Why don't you just tell them it's me, because I'm really the illegitimate son of Hitler, and after the Germans win the war, you're going to make me the Gauleiter of Zinzinnati!
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This is one of Billy Wilder's best films and still stands up very well today. Unlike the concentration camps of the Holocaust, prison camps for Allied prisoners were actually not all that bad in comparison (except for how the Russian prisoners were treated--they were often just shot). So, the prisoners enjoyed a little more freedom and were constantly trying to deal with the incredible boredom of being locked up with very little to do. As a result, films about these camps (such as this one and THE GREAT ESCAPE) are few and far between--they would just be too dull to merit a movie. However, in the case of this film, the monotony is disrupted because there apparently is a snitch within the prisoners' ranks--some rat is tipping off the Commandant (director Otto Preminger--in one of his few acting roles) about escape attempts, major rule infractions and who the actual perpetrator of a major act of sabotage was.
Naturally, prisoners begin to think that William Holden is the snitch. After all, he is living incredibly well compared to all the other Allied prisoners in the camp due to all his money-making schemes and black market activities. In addition, he is so cynical and apparently unpatriotic that he has no desire to escape--he's more than willing to sit tight until the war is over since he is safe and happy! In this role, Holden's character is VERY similar to the one he played in BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI--where he is also a schemer and mostly focused on saving his own sorry butt! However, the problem of the snitch isn't so simply solved and much of the film is about how Holden proves he was NOT the spy for the Germans.
The movie is odd in that it is a combination of both drama and comedy--with alternating moods throughout the film. Some of the ways the bored prisoners create their own fun are incredibly funny (especially the "MEIN KAMPF" scene) and some of the moments are poignant and exciting (such as the escape at the end of the film). All this comes together wonderfully in the marvelous ending of the film. The movie features exceptional acting, writing and direction and is one of the best WWII films ever made. See it--it's well worth your time.
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