Making the Grades
What would you do with various prisoners of war who were determined to get away? In the movie The Great Escape, German officials faced with this dilemma decide to put all their "rotten eggs" in one basket: A brand new detention camp equipped with the best security measures available.
When the worst offenders arrive, the peace-seeking Kommandant (Hannes Messemer) urges the R.A.F. captives to sit out the remainder of the war with a minimal amount of disturbance. But his advice is met with the reminder that a captured officer's sworn duty is to attempt escape or do anything else which will keep the enemy busy and thereby distracted from their efforts at the front.
The cat and mouse game begins immediately, and just as quickly, Captain Hilts (Steve McQueen) and Flying Officer Ives (Angus Lennie) find themselves in the solitary confinement of the "Cooler." Meanwhile, serious plans start as soon as Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett (Richard Attenborough) is transferred in. "Big X", as he is known to his fellows, soon has the whole camp tunneling under their new digs, with a goal of breaking out 250 prisoners.
The elaborate plot includes not only an escape route, but also the creation of forged passports and civilian clothing. Keeping all this industry (and the excavated dirt) from being detected creates a great deal of tension, yet the film doesn't end there. When the convicts trade the barbwire enclosed camp for the barbwire enclosed country, the real suspense begins.
Based on a true story and starring some of the 1960's best-known actors, perhaps the only criticism of this movie would be the understated gravity of the situation. Initially, the prisoners' rebellious attitudes and escape attempts are reminiscent of schoolboys playing pranks. The portrayals become more realistic as the heroes face the risks associated with crossing the border. For families, the minimal violent depictions are likely an advantage, making the enthralling tale of The Great Escape a great WWII discussion starter.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Great Escape.
As the men make plans for the escape, they also question the possible costs. Do you think the disruption they created for the enemy was worth the price they paid?
What elements of true friendship did you see illustrated by the characters of Hendley “The Scrounger” (James Garner) and Blythe “The Forger” (Donald Pleasence)? What personal risks would you be willing to take in order to help someone else?