I first came across Stalag 17 sometime early in high school when AMC was running it for what seemed like twice a day for a couple weeks straight (I mean seriously, they get a hold of a film and play it to death, right?) My dad was watching it on TV and I came by and thought, “Oh look, a black and white war film. Booorrring.” Except that soon I found myself asking questions and getting interested in the plot. A couple years later, I added the film to my personal collection and was finally able to watch the whole thing through.
The film takes place in the German prisoner-of-war camp, Stalag 17, during World War II. At the beginning of the film, two men from Barracks 4 have planned an escape but are caught by guards who, as the prisoners conclude, seem to have been informed of the plan. The likely suspect is William Holden’s character, Sefton. Sefton is cynical, selfish, and willing to make a profit any way he can so he seems like a natural traitor. The stakes are raised when the men decide to try and help a new prisoner, Lieutenant Dunbar, who the Nazis have decided to send to Berlin for questioning, escape. Who is giving the inside information to the guards and will he be caught in time for Dunbar to make his escape? You’ll have to watch the film to find that out.
What I like about the film
Like most Billy Wilder films, the writing is snappy and at times comical. An example is when Animal, one of the men in Barracks 4 who has an obsession with Betty Grable, finds out a new prisoner does impressions:
Animal: Hey… do Grable.
Bagradian: Now see here, Scarlett… I’m crazy about you and always have been. I gave you kisses for breakfast, kisses for lunch, and kisses for supper… and now I find that you’re eating out.
Animal: Not Gable – GRABLE.
Even with the bits of comedy the film is still quite suspenseful. Wilder’s work behind the camera draws the viewer in and makes them feel like they too are in the barrack and have a stake in finding the informer. The film was shot in sequence and supposedly none of the actors knew which character was the mole. William Holden is especially excellent as Sefton and won an Academy Award for the part. Check out director Otto Preminger in a rare appearance in front of the cameras as the German commander of Stalag 17.
Join us for our next installment of The War Room which will be on the British film, The Man Who Never Was (1956).
You were wrong, Albert Hammond – it does rain in Southern California. But that’s okay because some films are better viewed during gloomy weather.
Lindsay chose: The Big Sleep (1946)
The whole might not be greater than the sum of its parts, but the parts are stellar enough to warrant repeated viewings. Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Howard Hawks, Raymond Chandler, and a noir-iffic Los Angeles combine to make an excellent rainy day film. I won’t supply a story overview because frankly, the almost incomprehensible plot is not a reason to watch. It’s the Bogie/Bacall chemistry and darkly alluring atmosphere of seedy characters and constant rain present in all of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe books that give the film its pizazz.
Alix chose: Sunset Boulevard (1950)
The Billy Wilder masterpiece Sunset Boulevard (also set in Los Angeles) tells the story of a struggling young screenwriter, played by William Holden, who becomes ensnared in the bizarre and deranged world of a former silent film star. The cinematographer deftly uses shadows to create the classic noir atmosphere, complimenting the mysterious plotline.
Our first ever live blog has been posted!
Sunday night we watched Witness for the Prosecution and “live blogged” it via instant messenger. To read the transcript, just click on the new “Live Blog” heading in the navigation bar. If you’re interested in joining us for the next one (date not yet chosen) please let us know!
*SPOILER ALERT* If you are planning on seeing this film, we strongly recommend you skip our live blog post. It’s for your own good.