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The Steve McQueen classic goes Blu, but this isn't the definitive high-def edition of the movie fans have been hoping for....
Fox / 1963 / 172 Minutes / Unrated / Street Date: May 7, 2013
Ripped off by almost every major action film made in the forty years since its initial release, the giddy fun of The Great Escape still has no trouble shining through. Unlike other barnburners from the mid-60s that haven't aged well - disaster movies and Bond flicks are almost all that have survived intact in their original volition - The Great Escape, in spite of its flaws, is still the quintessential 1960s actioner.
And while this writer's impulse is to give most of the credit to the uber-macho Steve McQueen, the regality of The Great Escape is the way everything - not just its star power - comes together. The camaraderie and charisma between characters, the excellent musical score, some kick-ass action scenes (yeah, so what if they're a little cheesy? Ease up!) - while The Great Escape doesn't have the directorial virtuosity that, say, John McTiernan brought to Die Hard, it delivers the goods nonetheless.
It's one of those rare movies I remember watching as a kid with my dad that wasn't immediately uncool. Perhaps this is something that adds to The Great Escape's atypical timelessness: Where stuff like The Lone Ranger or old John Ford westerns took a while to sink in to my blossoming movie-watching as a kid (then again, when I was little, anything that wasn't Star Wars, Flash Gordon or The Black Hole I considered uncool), The Great Escape had instant power over me. Like The Bridge on the River Kwai, only painted with broad brush strokes rather than intricate watercolors, The Great Escape is a wonderful action film: It has both a nuance and cheekiness that affects its overall flow as well as a keen sense for wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am instant cinematic gratification.
Talk about an action hero to look up to. Though his films were never as consistently terrific as his fans wanted, Steve McQueen was always able to bring a kind of rugged sensitivity to the roles that he played, and his part in The Great Escape may be his all-time greatest. Muscular and brawny enough to defeat the bad guys and introspective and moody enough to woo the ladies at the end of a long day of kicking ass, McQueen occupies a very distinct place in the mid-century movie pantheon. Where beefier, dumber stars definitely have more pizzazz at the box office, the genius of McQueen was that he brought a universality to the roles he played: All across the world, people (especially guys) were watching him do his thing and saying, "I might be able to do that."
McQueen was an enabler, an icon who wasn't in some far-off distant land of physiological intensity (Arnold Schwarzennegger he ain't) - he was one of us. We knew guys like McQueen from our dad's work barbeques. He seemed like a benevolent uncle who would always sneak you a swig of his beer when your mom wasn't looking. There's a familiarity to the caricature McQueen creates - especially in The Great Escape - that makes him (all cliche aside) an everyman hero. And especially in 1960s cinema, that's a rarity.
But don't fall victim to overanalyzing the merits of The Great Escape - while it's aged impeccably in certain respects, other facets of its style and presentation are lacking in big ways. However, over the course of this 3-hour action piece, this inconsistency becomes incidental. The Great Escape is extraordinary, goofy and effortlessly engaging - a jailbreak picture with not a whole Hell of a lot going on upstairs, but one with enough of a bent for bodily thrills to shut your brain up for a while. Yee haw!