He's a Nazi, Price is. For all I know his name is Preissinger or Preishoffer. Oh, sure, he lived in
Cleveland. But when the war broke out, he came back to the Fatherland like a good little Bundist.
He spoke our lingo, so they sent him to spy school and fixed him up with phony dog tags.
Stalag 17 begins on "the longest night of the year" in 1944 in a Luftwaffe POW camp located somewhere along the Danube River. The story of a Nazi spy in Barracks Four is narrated by Clarence Harvey "Cookie" Cook. Prisoners Manfredi and Johnson try to escape through a tunnel the inmates have dug under the barbed wire. They are immediately shot when they emerge from the other end. The prisoners believe there is a spy in their midst since the Germans obviously knew about the tunnel, but the barracks security officer, Price, fails to uncover his identity.
Sefton is the main suspect; he barters openly with the German guards for eggs, silk stockings, blankets and other luxuries. He also organizes mouse races and various other profitable enterprises. The other prisoners are suspicious of his fraternization with the enemy, as well as envious of his success. Sefton himself is rather cynical, cold, and impersonal; he bets on whether Manfredi and Johnson will actually escape, then trades the cigarettes he wins to the Germans for an egg the next morning.
The lives of the prisoners are depicted, although in a somewhat sanitized way. They receive mail, eat terrible food, wash in the latrine sinks, and collectively do their best to keep sane and defy the camp's cruel and ruthless commandant, Oberst von Scherbach. They use a clandestine radio (shared by all the barracks) to pick up the BBC and the war news. (The antenna is their volleyball net.) Their German guard, Sergeant Schulz, confiscates the radio, another success for the "stoolie", whoever he is.
Sefton bribes the guards to let him spend the day in the women's barracks in the Russian section of the camp. The other prisoners spot him through Sefton's own telescope and conclude that this is his reward for informing the Germans about the radio. When he returns, he is accused of being a spy. At that moment, von Scherbach pays a visit to the barracks to apprehend new prisoner Lieutenant James Dunbar, whom the Germans correctly suspect of blowing up a German ammunition train while he was being transported to the camp. The men are now convinced that Sefton is the spy and viciously beat him, after which he is ostracized. His considerable property is taken and redistributed to the rest of the prisoners. Sefton decides to investigate and uncover the identity of the spy to clear his name.
On Christmas Day, the men find out that SS men are coming to take Dunbar to Berlin, to be interrogated for his act of sabotage. The entire camp creates a distraction and Dunbar is freed and hidden. The guards search the camp thoroughly, but cannot find him. Later, the men of Barracks Four, excluding Sefton and Joey (who suffers from shell shock), plan to draw a name from a hat to see who will try to get Dunbar out of the camp, but Price volunteers first. At this point, Sefton reveals that the spy is Price (Sefton had stayed behind in the barracks during a fake "air raid" and eavesdropped on Price speaking with Schulz). Sefton shows how messages were passed between Price and Schulz, then asks him, "When was Pearl Harbour?" Price knows the date of course, but Sefton traps him by quickly asking what time he heard the news. Without thinking, Price betrays himself by answering 6 p.m. — the correct time of the attack in Germany. After that, Sefton reaches into Price's jacket pocket and extracts the "mailbox" used to exchange messages with the Germans, a hollowed-out black chess queen.
With his fellow POWs convinced of Price's guilt, Sefton decides to take Dunbar out of the camp himself, partially because he likes the odds and the reward he can expect from Dunbar's rich family. The men give Sefton enough time to get Dunbar out of his hiding place, the water tower above one of the camp latrines, then to distract the guards in the gun towers, they throw Price out into the yard with tin cans tied to his legs. The ruse works: Price is killed in a hail of bullets (to the great annoyance of von Scherbach and Schulz) while Dunbar and Sefton cut through the barbed wire and make their escape.
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