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The Great Escape


The very first UMC (Unrandom Movie Club) was a lot of fun. We had a great group, lots of snacks, and Joe Peeps pizza.

Note: UMC is the same as RMC, except the movie is pre-selected so you know what it is ahead of time. UMC can meet on any day of the month.

The Preshow Entertainment was an episode of The Ron Reagan Show, the short-lived talk show from 1991. That's right, the now dead president's ballet dancing, Bud Bundy-looking son had a late night talk show. Ron's guests for this episode were Steve Allen, A. Whitney Brown, Harry Shearer, Will Durst, and Merrill Markoe (who in her breakup with Letterman got the dogs while he got the show).

For a show spattered with comedians, it wasn't very funny. Or too informative. What it was though was a great time capsule of the state of comedy then (Andrew Dice Clay was huge). They spoke of the glut of stand-ups and how it exploded (remember the brick walls?). And then someone in the audience asked, "Do you ever think of what an audience wants to see you wear?" It must have been a live show.

There were also some commercials from 15 years ago (which isn't that long, yet they seemed archaic), none featuring a young Ben Affleck (you had to be there).

We were all talking and laughing before it started, and I had a feeling we'd talk through the show, but somehow it grabbed our attention.


The unrandom movie, as you know from the invite, was THE GREAT ESCAPE. You know, when you pre-select a movie, you can choose a really wonderful film, and on DVD too. I knew it was a fantastic movie, although I only saw it once when I was maybe 10, and remembered very little of it.

An ensemble cast in capable hands tells the true story of a German POW camp and its prisoners hellbent on escaping. This is proven on the very first day as several attempts are made. The English commander even informs head Luftwaffe dude Von Luger they will do everything they can to escape. Now you'd think with that gauntlet thrown at his head Von Luger would put the camp on lockdown and maybe assign a guard for each prisoner. But no. They pretty much left the prisoners alone. A lot. It was Club Med - there were sports areas, singing, and no TV or phone.

Immediately, they begin plotting TGE. The plan involves the digging of three tunnels- Tom, Dick and Harry. And this time they're really going to show those Germans; they're planning an escape for 250 POWs. The plan is carried out with a matter-of-fact cockiness akin to a frat boy drinking game. They are actually having fun. At times, with the mix of self-assured allies and incompetent Germans, ESCAPE is closer to HOGAN'S HEROES than STALAG 17. But in real life, there were instances of friendly guards and mutual respect, as well as lax camp attitudes, and, well, I wasn't there...

Steve McQueen
Chad McQueen's dad Steve plays Captain Hilts, who represents America by carrying a mitt and a baseball. I'm sure he must have had some apple pie too. The rebel of the camp in Standard Issue Fred Segal, Hilts wants no part of the "great" escape. He's so cool he's going sooner. Or maybe not.

Each character plays a part in the escape, like the IMF (of the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE TV show, not the movies). Among them you got James Garner who is "The Scrounger " (he can get anything for anyone, it seems), Donald Pleasence's "The Forger" (for the documents, once they've escaped), Charles Bronson as "The Tunnel King", and Richard Attenborough (you younger kids will know him as John Hammond, the mastermind behind JURASSIC PARK) is the senior officer in charge named Big X . David McCallum, James Coburn, and some real POWS (both American and German) round out the cast.

Part of the trick of TGE is making each scene, even the ones where people are caught or killed, seem triumphant. A credit in part to fellow NYU-er Elmer Bernstein's haunting, catchy though repetitious score.

SPOILER ALERT: But here's the thing. As cool as this escape was, and as difficult as it may have been to pull off, was it worth it? I suppose they had no idea the ones captured would be killed. But out of the 76 that escaped the camp, only 3 made it. 11 went back to the camp, and 50 were "killed while trying to escape." Admittedly, THE NOT SO GREAT ESCAPE is a terrible name for a film. In the end, was it worth it? According to one of the characters, "It depends on your point of view." And he's right.

There are many "Cool Facts" about the movie. Here are two: Wally Floody was the film's tunnel advisor. Easy for him, having been the guy who actually designed Tom, Dick and Harry. He never got to use them. One was discovered and Wally was sent to a different POW camp. Paul Brickhill, the author of the book the movie is based on, was also one of the prisoners involved in the tunnels, but never made it out because of his claustrophobia.

There is a moment in THE GREAT ESCAPE that apparently always makes every single viewer gasp (all of us did). And it's only two words- "Thank You." If you know the movie, you're reading this saying, "Damn right!" You won't have any idea what this means if you haven't seen the movie. And should that be the case, go add it to your Netflix queue right now. That way you can see the gaspworthy moment and enjoy a truly great movie at the same time.

Thank you.

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