As a widely acknowledged classic with a virtually unrivaled ensemble cast, John Sturges’ The Great Escape (1963) honestly hardly needs my endorsement. Still, The Great Escape brings together Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, Donald Pleasance, James Garner, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn in an action film that is every bit as harrowing as it is exciting. Based on the real-life account of a great escape from the Nazis’ Stalag Luft III in the novel of the same name by Paul Brickhill, the film follows the prisoners of a German POW camp who devise a complex plot to release 250 POWs from their camp, constructing an array of tunnels right under the Nazis’ noses. Rivaled perhaps only by Gunfight at the O.K. Corral or The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape stands easily amongst Sturges’ greatest films, at times offering seemingly light, carefree fare and at others shaking you to your very core when the excitement of the escape gives way to the Nazi horrors.
The Great Escape has at last made its debut on high definition home video from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment in a 50th anniversary Blu-ray release. Although it’s admittedly a problematic release in and of itself, it’s certainly an improvement over previous DVD releases. With the exception of a hair here or there onscreen that would have obviously been in-camera debris rather than debris on the print itself, I spotted no damage or debris on the image. However, the image clarity fluctuates wildly throughout, the film grain appears to have been scrubbed (or the transfer was sourced from something other than the original elements, I don’t know which), and while the reds appear fairly consistently rich, I can’t say as much for the rest of the colors, which, like the sharpness, varies from scene to scene. The special features on the Blu-ray are virtually the same as those on the 2004 Special Edition DVD release, and, with the exception of the original trailer presented in 1080p, these features are presented in standard definition. To that end, the Blu-ray includes the following featurettes: “The Great Escape: The Untold Story,” “The Real Virgil Hilts: A Man Called Jones,” “Return to The Great Escape,” “Preparations for Freedom,” “A Standing Ovation,” “Bringing Fact to Fiction,” and “The Flight to Freedom.” Also included on the disc is the commentary compiled from a series of interviews with key members of the cast and crew.
Unfortunately, this is another MGM/Fox Blu-ray with no main menu from which to access the special features, scene selection, etc. And this is of course something I’ve complained about regarding MGM/Fox Blu-rays many times before, as in my reviews of Some Like It Hot, Sid & Nancy, and Blue Velvet among a surprising number of others. You can only access the special feature and scene submenus from the pop-up menu that must necessarily and, I might add, disrespectfully appear over the film itself, subordinating the film to features in those instances. Still, in spite of its smattering of issues, the Blu-ray of The Great Escape demonstrates a marked improvement over previous releases by sheer virtue of its HD transfer.