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Stalag 17 (1953)

Jan 14, 2000
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:cast, direction, script, sets, Holden, Preminger

Cons:some characters and comic relief overdone

Billy Wilder produced, directed and co-wrote the screenplay for "Stalag 17", a drama and comedy based on a World War II prisoner of war camp in Germany. The characters of Duke, Dunbar, and Joey are sometimes overly dramatic, and the comic relief of Animal is sometimes overdone (this idiot made sergeant?). Still, Holden and Preminger give fine performances, and one has to admit that Strauss is often funny.

Stalag 17 is a camp that holds only American sergeants. Two prisoners attempt an escape through a tunnel, but are immediately shot. It is as if the Germans knew all along. There must be a spy for the Germans among the prisoners.

Sefton (William Holden) is the chief suspect. He is an unsympathetic, cynical man who, through various rackets, hustles his fellow soldiers out of their Red Cross rations. Cookie (Gil Stratton) is his gentle assistant. Hoffy (Richard Erdman) is the prisoners' elected leader. Loud mouthed Duke (Neville Brand) and security chief Price (Peter Graves) despise Sefton, who becomes an outcast.

Frequent comic relief is provided by Animal (Robert Strauss), a hulking, stupid, childlike man who is obsessed with pinup girl Betty Grable. Harry (Harvey Lembeck) is Animal's sidekick, who helps him to get into trouble. Joey (Robinson Stone) has become autistic from seeing his buddies die in battle.

The sarcastic, cruel camp commandant is Von Scherbach (Otto Preminger, who was also a noted director). He is fond of punishing the inmates; by hosing them down with cold water, or making them stand at attention for hours. Heroic, campy American saboteur Lt. Dunbar (Don Taylor) is brought to the camp for interrogation by Von Scherbach. Dunbar will be executed unless the camp prisoners can somehow organize a rescue.

"Stalag 17" was based on a Broadway play written by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski. Strauss reprised his role from the Broadway production. Wilder gave a small part to Trzcinski. He plays the man who 'believes' his wife's 'Dear John' letter about finding a baby on her doorstop (that coincidentally has her eyes and nose).

Strauss and Holden would be soon reunited in the Korean war epic "The Bridges at Toko-Ri". Holden would also play a WWII prisoner in "The Bridge on the River Kwai". Holden was one of Wilder's favorite actors at the time, also starring in Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" and "Sabrina".

Holden won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role as Sefton. Strauss was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, while Wilder was again nominated for Best Director. Wilder would receive 21 Oscar nominations during his career. (67/100)


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