The Fatal Flaw In The Great Escape

Yesterday I watched The Great Escape (John Sturges, 1963) on television, and I was struck by a scene about an hour into the film which fatally undermines the plot. Up to that point, we are rooting for the Allied prisoners of war who, as is usual in such dramas, say things like “OK, chaps, let’s form an Escape Committee and smoke our pipes”, and we accept their statements that it is their duty to try to escape and to otherwise make life as difficult as possible for their Boche captors.

But then comes the scene where Blythe, played by Donald Pleasence, gives an ornithology lecture to some of the men. He whistles the song of the warbler, and then shows them how to draw the masked shrike. We are asked to believe that sensible British chaps would rather risk gruesome death at the hands of the Gestapo when they could see out the war having bird-life explained to them by eerie-eyed Donald Pleasence. This seems to me utterly implausible, and for all the thrills and spills of the remaining two hours, I think the film would have been much better had it concentrated solely on Blythe’s ornithology classes.


2 thoughts on “The Fatal Flaw In The Great Escape

  1. You were watching that too, eh? So were we. We ended up having a really long conversation about the Real Great Escape, and how many got away and how many were shot and their great ingenuity with clothes and bot polish and … etc. Theres a very informative book, apparently, that I should read.
    Nonetheless, as you say, it probably still doesn’t have hardly anything in it about Blythe and his ornithology classes.

  2. This is a little late based on the dates of the two posts I see but I thought I’d still respond to them..

    I saw the Great Escape, after reading the book, at Ft. Sill, OK, in 1963…and I still enjoy watching it.

    I guess you guys do realize that the ornithology classes were simply a cover for the forgers who where taught how to forge documents needed to escape. They had to be some reason for that many men to gather ion one place. As soon as the Germans left the room the forging began.

    I don’t remember that being in the book but I also don’t remember the motorcycle scenes with Steve McQueen (although very exciting) being in the book either. Unfortunately, a good books made into movies get “Hollywooded” up so they’ll sell better.

    I’ve read every escape book I could get my hand on (The Great Escape; The Wooden Horse; Colditz {several books about that castle both German and American}; Eight Bailed Out; etc.). Out of the 2,000 to 5,000 POW’s in a Stalag, there were only a few hundred (if that) “escapers”…the rest were content to sit out the war by reading, playing chess, writing, gardening, or just lying around.

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