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Stalag 17 (1953)
Reviewed on 2010 May 30
This is based on the Broadway play written by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski, two former Prisoners-Of-War in the real Stalag 17B in Austria, and spun into an amazing screen adaption by Edwin Blum and Billy Wilder (who also directed). It took a few moments to pull me in but after about fifteen minutes nothing could have dragged me away from the screen.
Sargeant. J.J. Sefton (William Holden) is a calculating, scheming POW, always able to get his hands on extra cigarettes and even the occasional fresh egg for breakfast. Between his black market wealth and escape attempts of other POWs being thwarted, the other prisoners suspect Sefton is blabbing to the Germans, especially to the dopey Colonel von Scherbach (Otto Preminger, obviously delighting in the chance to make a Nazi look like a buffoon). The other men ostracize Sefton, who maintains his innocence and cynically invites the men to slit his throat; they’ll just be doubling their workload when the information leaks continue and they have to kill the real snitch. For 120 minutes we’re hanging, wondering who the rat is — Sefton says he’s innocent but he sure brings in a haul of high-end contraband — and how the men will flush him out.
I have to admit when I started watching this, I was a little taken aback by some of the slapstick; it was an unusual juxtaposition given the setting of a POW camp and could have easily been offensive if it had been handled poorly. I never really liked “Hogan’s Heroes” for that reason, but whether it’s the writing, the direction, or William Holden’s sour, brilliant portrayal of Sefton, this is different. Animal and Shapiro (Robert Strauss and Harvey Lembeck) especially seemed bizarre at first, but those two clowns grew on me, especially Animal. Watch his face as Sefton cooks himself an egg.
Four chocolate morsels.