Stalag 17 DVD|
Black comedy and suspenseful action inside a German POW camp during World War II--a setting that was later borrowed for the American TV sitcom Hogan's Heroes. The great director Billy Wilder adapted the hit stage play, applying his own wicked sense of humour to the apparently bleak subject matter. William Holden plays an antisocial grouse amid a gang of wisecracking though indomitable American prisoners. Because of his bitter cynicism, Holden is suspected by the others of being an informer to the Germans, an accusation he must deal with in his own crafty way. Holden, who had delivered a brilliant performance for Wilder in Sunset Blvd., won the 1953 Best Actor Oscar for Stalag 17. Very much his equal, however, is Otto Preminger, an accomplished director himself, who plays the strict, sneering camp commandant. --Robert Hortonfrom£4.05 | RRP:
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Please note this is a region 2 DVD and will require a region 2 or region free DVD player in order to play During World War II a group of GI&39;s are thrown together in the notorious German prison camp Stalag 17 For the most part they spend their time scheming ways to help each other escape But when two prisoners are killed in an escape attempt it becomes obvious that there is a spy among them William Holden was awarded an Oscar for his performance as a cynical sharp-tongued soldier who spends his time scheming up rackets and trading with the Germans for special privileges Actors William Holden Otto Preminger Don Taylor Neville Brand Peter Graves & Robert Strauss Director Billy Wilder Certificate PG Year 1953 Screen Fullscreen 43 Languages English ; French ; German ; Italian ; Spanish - Dolby Digital (20) Mono Subtitles Arabic ; Bulgarian ; Croatian ; Czech ; Danish ; Dutch ; English ; English for the Hearing Impaired ; Finnish ; French ; German ; Greek ; Hebrew ; Hungarian ; Icelandic ; Italian ; Norwegian ; Polish ; Portuguese ; Romanian ; Slovenian ; Spanish ; Swedish Duration 2 hours (approx)
William Holden and Don Taylor star in this classic Second World War drama directed by Billy Wilder. After two American prisoners are killed trying to escape from the notorious German camp Stalag 17, the blame for their betrayal falls upon the cynical, self-serving Sergeant Sefton (Holden), whose dealings with the enemy isolate him from his fellow inmates. But does Sefton's disinterest in team bonding and group morale necessarily mean he is the traitor in their midst?
Average Rating for Stalag 17  - 5 out of 5
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Stalag 17 Mark Harrison
It's almost obligatory to open a review of a Billy Wilder film by mentioning what a versatile director he was. Eureka's Masters Of Cinema Blu-ray series has included classics like The Lost Weekend, Ace In The Hole and Double Indemnity, all of which testify to the wit and panache that are synonymous with the director while all being vastly different from one another.
Even if you've only been catching up with Wilder's oeuvre through these remastered releases, it's not hard to imagine how he'd become your favourite director and Stalag 17 will top up your admiration nicely. Adapted from an autobiographical Broadway play about American airmen held in a German prisoner of war camp during World War II, this 1953 gem is at once a prison break movie, a whodunnit and even a prototypical summer camp comedy.
The plot centres on Barrack 4 in the titular prison, a barrack that appears to the rest of the compound to be cursed. There's a lot of loose information flying around between the prisoners, but somehow, this one seems to have the worst luck. A failed escape attempt leaves two men dead, which finally spurs a reckoning amongst the inmates- there must be a spy in their midst.
The prime suspect is J.J. Sefton, (William Holden) the barrack's resident spiv, for whom no luxury seems to be out of reach. He's the one who has a distillery to serve schnapps to the men, a telescope to peep on the neighbouring female Russian prisoners and a lucrative horse-racing racket where all the nags are mice- all open to any man who'll trade cigarettes to partake, even the Nazi guards.
Sefton is a cynic, but he's no spy, and it becomes all the more crucial to identify the real traitor when a new arrival, Lieutenant James Dunbar, (Don Taylor) is accused of sabotaging an ammunition train. One of the men in Barrack 4 is more than willing to sell Dunbar out to the SS, and as the only man under suspicion, Sefton is the one who has to smoke him out.
1953 was good timing for a POW movie, but it was no accident. Paramount Pictures held the film off from release for over a year, unconvinced that the subject matter would bring out audiences. When American prisoners from the Korean War were released, the studio decided to release the film and take advantage of good morale. As it stands, the film might have made a decent morale booster all by itself.
While the situation is very bleak, the film has a canny line of dark humour running throughout, pitching ahead of its time and landing somewhere between The Great Escape and Stripes. In particular, comic relief characters Harry Shapiro (Harvey Lembeck) and Stanislas "Animal" Kuzawa (Robert Strauss) provide a lot of laughs as Animal veers between obsessing over beautiful women and abject depression, while Shapiro is always on hand to cheer him up.
In one sequence that could have come straight out of a summer camp comedy from many years later, the motley duo sneak over to catch a closer look at the showering ladies on the Russians' side of the compound by painting a white line in the road, all the way past the guard. The resolution doesn't come with a summary punishment by firing squad but with a Looney Tunes-style flight from the bespectacled guard after slapping whitewash all over his face.
Layered on top of this, for contrast, is the absurdity of the Stalag guards' attitudes. The film is set in the week before Christmas 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, and the guards are keeping morale down amongst the Allied prisoners by withholding news but cheerfully telling them that German victory will soon be forthcoming. With hindsight, there's obviously plenty of dramatic irony there, but the Nazis themselves are ridiculous figures.
As Barrack 4's "alarm clock" and personal guard Sergeant Schulz, Sig Ruman keeps telling the inmates he's their best friend while also laughing in their faces, whether they're "visecracking" about their plight or showing barely veiled contempt for their captors. Otto Preminger wields a little more malice as camp commandant Colonel von Scherbach, but even he's made to look ridiculous in a scene where he puts his boots on just to answer the phone to a superior, clicking his heels with each barked affirmative response.
The best example of the film's dark sense of humour comes when a Dear John letter arrives in the post. Edmund Trzcinski (the original playwright, playing himself) receives a letter from his wife telling the implausible story of how she has found a baby on their doorstep, who just happens to have her eyes and nose. Trzcinski may have figured out what that really means when we did, but the film keeps cutting back to him, telling himself that he believes it. It's a bittersweet reminder of the cost of the men's internment, even while the tone is more upbeat and defiant elsewhere.
That branch of witty comedy never subsides, but it doesn't prevent us from taking the whodunnit seriously either. Holden won a Best Actor Oscar for playing Sefton (and famously delivered one of the shorter acceptance speeches of all time- "Thank you") and as our protagonist, we march to his beat. He's flippant when the film is messing about a bit earlier on, but after a brutal confrontation, he steels himself to find out the truth.
Unusually (and more expensively,) Wilder shot the film in sequence and made extensive rewrites during filming in order to preserve the identity of the spy from even the cast, and whether this helped or not, it makes for an effective air of mystery and paranoia. It's ambiguous enough that you can even suspect the most innocent inmates, so that when the truth comes out, the accumulated tension makes for an electric climax.
On top of that, the new Blu-ray restoration looks marvellous, making Wilder's crisp black-and-white photography look better than ever before. The camera moves as if Wilder was shooting a suspense thriller, particularly as and when plot twists arise, and there's one haunting shot of the men of Barrack 4 staring at Sefton as it's time for lights out, and the darkness doesn't even faze them.
Stalag 17 is yet another reminder of Billy Wilder's endless versatility, with his knack for dialogue and characters enlivening the bleakness of the setting and giving us one of the all-time classic prisoner-of-war movies.
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