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USA 1953
Directed by
Billy Wilder
120 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1 stars

Stalag 17

William Holden won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Sgt. J. J. Sefton, an inmate of a German P.O.W. camp somewhere near the Danube River, but it was more for playing against type as cynical hustler than any intrinsic merit and overall, the film is woefully dated.

Wilder with co-writer Edwin Blum, rewrote a large part of the hit Broadway play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski and came up with a film that lies somewhere between serious P.O.W. drama and Hogan’s Heroes, complete with Sig Ruman as the buffoonish German sergeant and Otto Preminger as the pompous camp commandant.

The film opens with the attempted escape of two of the Americans, who are mowed down within minutes of escaping their hut. The cynical Sefton wins a bundle of cigarettes as he ran a book on them failing. The rest of the men in his hut believe he is a stooge and tipped the Krauts off. Right there you have the two main problems with the film. Firstly it trivializes the killings, second it requires everyone to tolerate Sefton even though he is supposed to have just been complicit in killing his fellow countrymen. If this means the film cannot be taken seriously, the comedy is of the male juvenile sort so favoured in 1950s America, complete with pratfalls and men dressed up as women, but badly, of course. The outcome is film that is neither dramatically engaging nor funny and at 2 hours, Holden's Oscar aside, solely for the desperate.




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