The Great Escape
Wait a minute. You aren't seriously suggesting that if I get through the wire... and case
everything out there... and don't get picked up... to turn myself in and get thrown
back in the cooler for a couple of months so you can get the information you need?
Upset by the men and resources being wasted recapturing escaping Allied prisoners of war, the Nazi German High Command moves the most determined and successful of these captives to a brand-new, high-security prison camp, which the Commandant Colonel, Von Luger, proclaims escapeproof.
The most dangerous of all, Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett, known as "Big X", is dropped off by the Gestapo, who warn him that if he ever escapes again he will be shot. Finding himself locked up with "every escape artist in Germany", Bartlett immediately begins planning the largest escape ever attempted — construction of a tunnel system capable of sneaking out 250 men.
Teams of men are organized to survey, dig, hide dirt, manufacture civilian clothing, forge documents, provide security and distractions, and procure contraband materials. The distraction was mainly from people singing. Flight Lt. Hendley, "the scrounger", finds ingeniously devious ways to get whatever the others need, from a camera to identity cards. Flying Officer Louis Sedgwick, "the manufacturer", makes many of the tools they need, such as picks for digging and bellows for pumping breathable air into the tunnels. Flight Lieutenant Danny Velinski, "the tunnel king", is in charge of digging, while forgery is handled by Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe. Meanwhile, Cptn Virgil "Cooler King" Hilts manages to irritate the German guards with a combination of his frequent escapes and his smart-aleck behavior. Bartlett persuades Hilts to reconnoiter during one of his escapes and then let himself be recaptured, so that they will have knowledge of the surrounding countryside, and can create maps to guide the escapees out of German-held territory.
The prisoners work on three escape tunnels ("Tom", "Dick" and "Harry") simultaneously. After the first tunnel is discovered, they put all their efforts into completing the third. The last part of the tunnel is completed on the night of the escape, but is found to be twenty feet short of the woods that would provide cover. Nevertheless, seventy-six men escape before one is finally spotted coming out of the tunnel.
After various attempts to reach neutral Switzerland, Sweden, and Spain, almost all of the escapees are recaptured or killed. Hendley and Colin attempt to fly to Switzerland, but their plane runs out of fuel and crashes. Soldiers arrive at the site, and Colin is shot while Hendley surrenders. Flight Lieutenant Cavendish, attempting to sneak by in the back of a truck, is captured. Hilts embarks on his famous motorcycle chase, but is captured after crashing into the only barbed wire fence standing between him and freedom. Bartlett, along with Mac, are stopped at a train station, but manage to escape after a fellow POW sacrifices himself by shooting the Gestapo leader, and he is then killed by a Nazi officer. Bartlett and Mac are soon captured in the streets of a nearby German town.
Only three evade capture and make it to safety. Danny and Flight Lieutenant Willy Dickes (the tunnel kings) successfully board a ship in a German harbor after safely rowing down a river. Sedgewick evades the capture by soldiers in France after a local resistance group stages a drive-by shooting of an outdoor coffee-shop. After realizing he is with the Allies, the local bartender enlists the help of a guide to get Sedgewick into Spain.
As for everyone else, instead of being returned to camp, fifty of the captured prisoners, including Bartlett, Mac, and Cavendish, are taken to an open field and shot. Hendley and 21 others are brought back to the camp. Senior British Officer Group Captain Ramsey learns of the massacre from von Luger, who has been relieved of command.
Hilts returns to the camp, and subsequently to the "cooler". His fellow American officer throws him his baseball and glove as he walks into confinement. The movie ends with Hilts being locked away, and as the soldier walks away, he hears the baseball being tossed against the wall repeatedly.
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