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What's the story?
This is the true story of the extraordinary courage and ingenuity of Allied men imprisoned in the Germans' special high-security WWII prison camp, and their plans for the greatest escape ever. Each man contributes his expertise. There are "tunnel kings" to dig the three tunnels, a "forger king" (Donald Pleasence) to forge the papers the soldiers will need when they escape, a "scrounger" (James Garner) to obtain required materials, and others. An American loner, Hilts (Steve McQueen), becomes the "cooler king" for his long stints in solitary, as a result of his own escape attempts. When "Big X" (Richard Attenborough), the British officer supervising the escape, asks Hilts to go through the tunnel to get important information, and then allow himself to be recaptured so he can give them the information, he refuses. But when his friend is killed trying to escape, Hilts changes his mind. Seventy-five of the prisoners are able to escape before the tunnel is discovered. The Germans track almost all of them down, and fifty are killed, including Big X.
Is it any good?
As in Stalag 17 and other films about prison camp, the prisoners in this remarkable drama adapt to the direst of circumstances with differing approaches. Hilts works on his own, or with one man, while others work on a massive group escape. Two men begin to unravel under the stress, not so much a "choice" as an involuntary response. Unlike other prison camp movies, this one does not dwell on disputes between prisoners or on the deprivations, which seems almost comfortable. It is about the professionalism, courage, resourcefulness, teamwork, and loyalty of every one of the prisoners.
Like a traditional "heist" film, the story focuses on defining a problem and then solving it. They examine the restrictions imposed by their conditions, change the ones they can, and adapt to the ones they cannot. They must also adapt quickly and calmly when the plan does not go as they expected. The story gives us an exceptional example of teamwork and loyalty, and the prisoners protect each other.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why the experts are called "kings." What makes Hilts change his mind about getting the information they want? Who was right about taking the Forger out through the tunnel, Big X or the Scrounger?Given the results of their action in this story, should officers who have been taken prisoner feel duty-bound to try to escape?
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