The Great Escape

One of the top adventure movies to come out of Hollywood, this 1963 film was directed by Academy Award Nominee John Sturges. The film was based on the 1950 book by Paul Brickhill, which details a plan to break out 250 Allied prisoners of war from a German POW camp. The book is based on Brickhill’s real-life experiences as an Australian fighter pilot who served in the British Air Force and was shot down and imprisoned by the Nazis.

The movie follows the POWs, all veterans of previous escape attempts from other camps, as they formulate a plan for escape. They settle on digging three tunnels under their barracks and out of the camp. We watch them put their plan into action. While the original plan called for a mass escape of some 250 men, only 76 made it to freedom.

The movie has an all-star cast including Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Richard Attenborough, Donald Pleasence, David McCallum, and Gordon Jackson.

But perhaps the most memorable scene is when Captain Virgil Hilts, played by Steve McQueen, dons a German uniform, steals a motorcycle and attempts to flee Germany by jumping his motorcycle over the barbed wire laced border separating Germany from the freedom of neutral Switzerland. All the while Hilts is being chased by German soldiers, on their own motorcycles, who are intent on preventing his escape.

Filmed on location in Germany, the scenery is spectacular, as is this scene. Most of the stunt riding is actually done by McQueen, who was an accomplished motorcycle rider. Many have called this the greatest motorcycle movie scene of all time.

This movie is long, coming in at just under three hours. But it is worth watching, not only to see these iconic actors and what they looked like 60 years ago, but for the beautiful scenery of Southern Germany. It takes us through many subplots as we follow the escapees through their various bids for freedom. However, this is a highly fictionalized account of the actual escape, which took place on March 24, 1944. Of the 76 who made it out of the tunnel, only three made it to freedom. Of those remaining, 23 were captured and returned to camp, while 50 of the escapees were rounded up and summarily shot.

The American Film Institute rated The Great Escape number 19 on their list of the top 100 most exciting movies in the last 100 years.

The Great Escape is available to buy or rent on multiple platforms and frequently screens on a variety of channels.


To watch the trailer, click here.

To watch Part 1 of a video series about the making of the movie, click here.

To watch Part 2 of a video series about the making of the movie, click here.

To watch Part 3 of a video series about the making of the movie, click here.

To watch Part 4 of a video series about the making of the movie, click here.

To buy the book on which the movie is based, click here.

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Steve Corbo

A founding member and corporate secretary of the Italian American Veterans Museum, Steve Corbo is the museum’s curator and a military consultant for Fra Noi. He has served for 25 years as president of S.A. Corbo & Associates Inc., providing professional liability insurance to health care providers. The son and nephew of World War II veterans and a passionate military historian for over 50 years, he has written and published articles on a variety of topics, including military history, and serves as the military consultant for Fra Noi, the Chicago-area Italian-American magazine.

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