Monday, May 18, 2015

Sunset Cinema: The Great Escape

This summer has already yielded seeing five new releases so it was time for our first repertory screening. It would be our third movie in as many days and my favorite of all time, The Great Escape! I've seen the World War II tale of POW's on the big screen twice from a Digital Print but this viewing was coming at you courtesy of The New Beverly Cinema owner Quentin Tarantino's personal 35mm print! A Steve McQueen trailer reel was also touted and the classic men on a mission flick played for a surprising four nights. In an awesome touch there were Japanese programs being handed out along with a giant French poster in the lobby. I was happy to see such a full house for the film that included a former co-worker and an actor I did an interview with the day previously (more on that later).

Why is this my favorite movie? I dunno, it's one of those perfect storm kind of movies. Director John Sturges is my favorite of all time, his The Magnificent Seven comes pretty close behind The Great Escape on my list. Then you have the marvelous cast that includes Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, James Donald, Donald Pleasence, David McCallum, Gordon Jackson, John Leyton and Angus Lennie among many more. The World War II setting is one of my faves and the simple tale of men doing something because they can and because it's their duty in the face of danger and death always spoke to me. It's also a pretty great thing when a movie makes you read a book. While I've actually never read the real life account the film is based on (no clue why not actually) by Paul Brickhill, I've devoured hundreds of pages by the likes of Sturges, co-producer Robert Relyea, producer Walter Mirisch and co-star Garner.

The print was Damme near gorgeous with the colors popping on the over 50 year old flick. A little scratchy in parts but nothing too distracting. Even though Steve McQueen had top billing, I feel this is more or less James Garner's movie. He's so suave and cool as Hendley the scrounger in his white turtleneck while McQueen is a little rougher and goofier as loner Hilts. Behind the scenes it was revealed that McQueen wanted to be the hero but not do anything heroic. Leading to being a bit of an outsider with many scenes focused on him instead of part of the committee. Attenborough has a great part and does a fantastic job as X, leader of the whole escape effort. The camaraderie among the prisoners and cleverness in the diversions and digging methods never gets old. In fact, I enjoy the film's first two hours in the camp more than the last hour when they're all on the run. Something I noticed this viewing I hadn't before was several characters have verbal cues to differentiate them among the physical. McQueen bounces his baseball, Bronson is revealed to be claustrophobic sure but this time out I realized that Pleasence says "splendid" a lot, Garner responds, "of course" in a funny-sarcastic way, Jackson has "brilliant" and Coburn says "bloody" more than a couple times.

After the film and a short break, trailers in various shape for flicks like Love With the Proper Stranger, Bullitt, The Reivers, Junior Bonner, The Getaway, The Towering Inferno and Papillion played back to back. My dad always had a copy of prison escape epic Papillion nearby and apparently it's one of Jean-Claude Van Damme's favorite books. Guess I'll have to add that to the list too.

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