Escapism

It’s true that Netflix has a lousy classic film selection, except that there are some oddities like EROTIKON and some commedia al’Italia you would expect to find, which we should be thankful for.

But I clicked on THE GREAT ESCAPE because I was in the mood for the smooth and unchallenging. I intended just to watch a little bit, but it’s been ages since I ran it and of course I ended up watching the whole thing. It’s kind of perfect. Of course, it shows war as being schoolboy fun, but escaping from a German POW camp — unlike suffering in a Japanese one — probably had aspects of being at school. Plotting to defeat the system was likely to be fun, with an undercurrent of terror.

We had to pause it at what felt like twenty minutes in, but turned out to be forty-nine minutes in. That’s how smoothly and efficiently and entertainingly it goes.

Elmer Bernstein’s theme is great, but all his scoring is great — when he’s not doing the march or the snare-drum suspense, he does oddly beautiful and tender things for Steve McQueen and Angus Lennie, or James Garner and Donald Pleasence. Harp arpeggios — well, we know he was a Bernard Herrmann fan. Did John Sturges temp-track these bits with tracks from Herrmann’s score for his own UNDERWATER? Probably not. (NB DEFINITELY not: see comments.) The only thing I’d question is the sudden happy music introducing fresh scenes right after tragic ones — but I bet they thought about that very seriously, and decided they couldn’t smooth things over, they had to make hard transitions to let everything play out with its full value.

Lots of Scots in this — four of them, to be precise, meaning that you rarely get a scene without some Scottish presence. James Donald and David McCallum have suppressed it, of course, but Angus Lennie and Gordon Jackson let it all hang out, and do a song and dance about it. Weird that Lennie, who’s magnificent, and John Leyton, who’s blander but very sympathetic, didn’t capitalize on this to find fame and fortune.

I like to think Leyton and McCallum meet up for regular cast reunions, the only ones left.

15 Responses to “Escapism”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Elmer Bernstein is the greatest of all film composers.

    PERIOD.

    Bennie Herrmann is wonderful but he can’t beat a filmography that that encompasses such masterpieces as “The Ten Commandments,” “Robot Monster,” “The Man With a Golden Arm,” “Sweet Smell of Success,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “A Walk On the Wild Side” “The Age of Innocence” and his grand finale “Far From Heaven”

    Cue the Cat!

  2. Roy Webb wrote the music for UNDERWATER. Herrmann wrote the score for BENEATH THE 12 MILE REEF. The two films are definitely similar.

  3. Oh, thank you! Yes, easy muddle — made easier by the fact that I haven’t seen either film but I know the Herrmann score somewhat!

  4. Leyton dd go Hollywood after this, Von Ryan’s Express and a lead n the MGM/CBS ww2 TV Series Jericho

  5. bensondonald Says:

    Lately came across the first two seasons of “Foyle’s War” and am revisiting. Yes, it’s whodunits in period trapping, but the focus on less-than-finest hours is fascinating.

    Have you found “Nazi Titanic” yet?

  6. David Ehrenstein Says:

    I’ve always wanted to see the Nazi “Titanic” — in which the entire disaster is blamed on the British. The female lead , Sybille Schmitz , was featured in Dreyer’s “Vampyr” Her decline and fall is recreated in Fassbinder’s “Veronika Voss”

    The credited director of “Titanic” — Herbert Selpin — was taken off the set midway though production and executed a he had been heard saying disparaging things about “Der Fooey”

    Talk about “Creative Differences” !

  7. bensondonald Says:

    I was referring to the documentary “Nazi Titanic”, which details the making of a mock-Hollywood spectacle intended to sell Germans on the idea the British were deserving of conquest. The director was indeed ratted out by one of his staff for impolitic remarks and died in a cell, officially a suicide. But up to that moment they gave him seemingly unlimited resources at a time the Nazis could ill afford them. It’s fascinating stuff, morbidly funny and horrifying at the same time.

  8. I’ve seen the movie — which is pretty impressive, pictorially — but still to catch up with the doc. They should make a drama version!

  9. Ah, OK. Evidently he and LA didn’t hit it off.

  10. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Read David Stewart Hall’s “Film and the Third Reich” for the whole story of the Nazi “Titanic”

  11. I’ll check the library system! Abebooks only offers The Third Reich’s Celluloid War, Tainted Goddesses, Dietrich’s Ghosts, and other enticing items.

  12. Andreas Flohr Says:

    Ennio Morricone is the greatest of all film composers. PERIOD.

  13. Both are good.

  14. Chuck V. Says:

  15. The irony is in the US, Leyton was very much seen as a lowrent McCallum.
    Jericho was basically the Man from UNCLE in WW2, but with 3 leads – Leyton, Canadian perennial Don Francks and Italian Marino Masé, the link between 80s Eastenders and the Black Emanuelle films/Alien contamination.

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