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STEVE MCQUEEN AND JAMES GARNER MAKE 'THE GREAT ESCAPE'

Title: THE GREAT ESCAPE Year: 1963 Rating: ***1/2

While the World War II German-set Prison-of-War movie THE GREAT ESCAPE was being filmed, and would eventually make Steve McQueen a superstar, he was doing everything possible to ruin that potential since he wanted as many lines as other cast members, and would often storm off the set and at one point nearly flew back home... 

Being especially envious of James Garner as Scrounger, the token sneaky resilient fella who can get anything, and — teamed with Donald Pleasance as a completely vulnerable Forger slowly going blind — he's the most interesting and overall entertaining character, with the right combination of affable humor and focused determination...

Steve McQueen in THE GREAT ESCAPE

But McQueen didn't need more lines since, as The Cooler King, he's the intentional hero from the very start... always looking for a way-out while constantly being sent to solitary confinement i.e. the prison within the prison... and his inevitable motorcycle jump finale would adorn the posters, so, words didn't make his character any more important...

Especially since McQueen's always been a far better actor when he didn't try being the character, but simply is that person — yet neither he nor Garner are the genuine central leads...

Richard Attenborough in THE GREAT ESCAPE with James Donald

Director John Sturges's THE GREAT ESCAPE mainly belongs to Richard Attenborough by creating and leading the titular breakout (aided by superior ranking yet less confident James Donald), which first involves a lot of sneaky digging behind the German's backs and then, where most of the film takes place, horizontal tunnels that feel a bit too convenient for the dangerously claustrophobic reality to matter...

But don't tell that to Charles Bronson who, as a Polish Tunnel King teamed with British digger John Leyton, is the one guy who gets stuck — and it's Bronson the intensely-expressive character-actor here, not the future action star who would, unlike McQueen, prefer tough looks to dialogue... 

Bud Ekins as Steve McQueen in THE GREAT ESCAPE

Overall making THE GREAT ESCAPE pretty darn good if somewhat overrated, and, with an iconic yet overly cheerfully-patriotic Elmer Bernstein score, the Germans never seem like a real threat as the Allied prisoners treat Hitler's Nazis like teenage campers playing tricks on flabbergasted camp counselors...

Ironically, the best thing about this overall ESCAPE is afterward when the group — also including a laidback yet determined Australian James Coburn along with Brits David McCallum and Gordon Jackson — attempt to get away after the getaway, providing an edgy sense of tension and suspense, far exceeding the varied path of getting there. 

Charles Bronson and John Leyton in THE GREAT ESCAPE
Steve McQueen in THE GREAT ESCAPE
Steve McQueen in THE GREAT ESCAPE
Charles Bronson and James Coburn's hard times in THE GREAT ESCAPE
Richard Attenborough and Gordon Jackson in THE GREAT ESCAPE
Charles Bronson in THE GREAT ESCAPE
James Garner in THE GREAT ESCAPE
Steve McQueen in THE GREAT ESCAPE
Donald Pleasence in THE GREAT ESCAPE
Steve McQueen in THE GREAT ESCAPE
James Coburn in THE GREAT ESCAPE
David McCallum in THE GREAT ESCAPE
James Garner in THE GREAT ESCAPE

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