Epic World War II escape film opens film club’s 2016 season of great movies

February 24, 2016

North West Theatre Company Film Club traditionally begins each year with a big-hitting classic to set the tone for the program to follow.

Films such as “Citizen Kane”, “Newsfront”, “The Bridge over the River Kwai”, “Doctor Zhivago” and the Australian classic “Breaker Morant” have all proved to be popular season launches.

This year will be no different, as the club presents one of the greatest escape stories of all time. Set in 1943-44, “The Great Escape” tells the true story of the famous breakout of allied prisoners from the supposedly escape-proof prison camp in Poland known as Stalag Luft 111. The film is adapted from the 1950 book by Paul Brickhill, who was actually an inmate of the camp when the escape occurred.

“The Great Escape” was filmed in 1963, when the age of the “big” movie was upon us. It runs for just under three hours and hosts a cast of actors that has probably never been put together either before or since. It was to launch the career of Steve McQueen as the American airman Virgil Hilts – a perennial escapee and, back home, prominent dirt motorbike rider.

Others in the cast include James Garner, Richard Attenborough, James Donald, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance, James Coburn, David McCallum, Gordon Jackson, Nigel Stock and John Leyton. The film was produced and directed by John Sturgess.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the actual escape, lest I spoil it for anyone who hasn’t been fortunate enough in the past to see the film ( it WAS made 53 years ago!) or hasn’t seen it for a long time.

The practice the Germans made of putting all the consistent escape artists together in one camp, which was also practiced at Colditz Castle with similar results, proved to be a disaster for the captors. As Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett says in the film – “there’s madness in their method!”

Planning for the mass escape took more than a year, and involved 600 of the camp’s prisoners in digging the three tunnels and preparing civilian clothes and forged documents. How they achieved this while right under the eyes of the prison guards is the stuff of legends.

“The Great Escape” was mostly filmed in Bavaria, and with a budget of about 4 million dollars. It was a worldwide hit which went on to recoup nearly 12 million when released – a big box office result 53 years ago.

“The Great Escape” runs for 165 minutes and is rated PG. It is very highly recommended.

The 2016 Film Club program provides a rich mix of drama, comedy and foreign films, and is designed for all tastes. The common denominator is that each of the 10 movies is interesting, entertaining and, in many cases, different.

The club screens on the last Sunday of each month at 4pm – except in March, when the screening date is brought forward by one month to avoid Easter Sunday.

Each film is introduced, and members stay for a drink and a snack after the film. And the membership fee for the year? Sixty dollars is a bargain for movie lovers, and equates to less than $6 per film when the bonus Christmas screening is taken into account.

How to join? The simplest way is to visit the Bingara Information Centre, who can process your membership. Alternatively, speak to any Theatre Company Executive member, or direct your enquiry to John Wearne (0418 419684) or Ros Moulton (67241613). You can also pay your membership at the theatre before the film.

See you at the movies!