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Stalag 17 1953
Description: It's a dreary Christmas 1944 for the American POWs in Stalag 17. For the boys in Barracks 4, all sergeants, have to deal with a grave trouble - there seems to be a safety leak. The Germans everytime seem to be forewarned about escapes and in the most newest attempt the two men, Manfredi and Johnson, walked straight into a trap and were killed. For some in Barracks 4, especially the loud-mouthed Duke, the leaker is obvious: J.J. Sefton, a wheeler-dealer who doesn't hesitate to trade with the guards and who has acquired goods and privileges that no another prisoner seems to have. Sefton denies giving the Germans any notification and makes it quite clear that he has no intention of ever trying to escape. He plans to ride out the fight in what tiny comfort he can arrange, but it doesn't extend to spying for the Germans.
Released: 10 Aug 1953 Director: Billy Wilder Writers: Billy Wilder (written for the screen by), Edwin Blum (written for the screen by), Donald Bevan (based on the play by), Edmund Trzcinski (based on the play by) Actors: William Holden, Don Taylor, Otto Preminger, Robert Strauss Genres: Comedy, Drama, War
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Stalag 17 Reviews:

William Holden is everytime in the shadows in `Stalag 17', he's everytime behind the characters or off to the side of the camera. You see, despite Holden's hero Sgt. J.J. Sefton being the film's main character, he is only seen through the eyes of his fellow POWs, rarely ever alone. When they begin to think he's the spy so do we. Oh, sure, we know he isn't the rat (movies don't do things like that), but since the storyline is said by all of the POWs who think Sefton is the rat, we begin to think like them too. That is the mastery of Billy Wilder's `Stalag 17', it takes the film's most interesting hero and sets him apart from the rest for most of the film, letting us learn about him as the characters do.The storyline focuses on a group of POWs living in the American section of Stalag 17, supposedly the 's greatest POW camp. Among them are barracks chief Hoffy (Richard Erdman), Price (Peter Graves), Shapiro (Harvey Lembeck) and Animal Casava (Robert Strauss). They all have their own unique job when their fellow prisoners test to escape, Price, for instance, is ‘security'. The movie begins when two prisoners test to escape the barracks. Everyone inside is enthused, thinking the two will create it very far, except Sefton, who bets precious cigarettes that they wont create it past the outer forest. When he turns out to be right the POWs begin thinking there's a rat and that rat is Sefton. And as the first hour passes we think so too, it's only logical, Sefton has any luxuries because of his deals with the s.The POWs begin to bully Sefton, and once they beat him to a pulp he decides to explore who the true rat is (at this point, of course, we know he is ). His investigation isn't handled with dialogue though, we receive this by seeing his facial expressions and his lurking in the shadows of the barracks.So, what begins as a light, `gung-ho' kind fight film (there's lots of comedy in the first hour) turns into a dark, sort of gritty thriller with a twist that left me with my mouth open. I wont reveal it, but I'll just tell that Sefton smartly solves the mystery and redeems himself to the rest of the barracks (I didn't spoil anything, come on, it's expected).As I said, there's lots of comedy in the first hour and some in the second, mostly from Strauss and Lembeck's characters. Some of the comedy is key in showing how these characters cope with their nearly hopeless situation, handled well by Wilder and the actors (Strauss' performance even gained him an Oscar nomination) but some of it just seems tacked on and out of place, like when a drunken Strauss thinks that Lembeck is a hell.But that is a tiny qualm, and the rest of the movie is excellent. The direction and writing are nice in showing us a fight film, a mystery, a thriller and a dark comedy all at once. I'd have to tell I like the acting the most though, Holden (who won a leading Oscar for his work in this) is suave and charming, as well as mischievous and cynical, he creates a true `cool' hero without trying too. And the rest of the cast - Graves, Otto Preminger - are admirable as well. The POWs aren't clichés or caricatures, they're all their own separate people.`Stalag 17' is nice as a fight movie, a mystery, a thriller and a dark comedy. It's a classic film, for all who appreciate nice cinema, 8.5/10.


In his lengthy and eventful career, Billy Wilder created many movies that have rightly attained classic status, but his WWII prisoner of fight comedy-drama Stalag 17 is arguably one of his best. The scripting is a excellent example of how to marry a tight plot with sharp dialogue and nice characters, and the acting is flawless on all counts. While William Holden's performance as the cynical American sergeant rightly won him an Oscar, it is the comic antics of Robert Strauss and Harvey Lembeck that steal the show. And if there was ever a more entertaining ensemble of previously unseen (and sadly subsequently unheard of) helping users - with the possible exception of Casablanca - I would love to see it. This movie predates the more popular WWII pow movie The Nice Escape by more than a decade, but had Wilder, Holden and company not caused havoc in Stalag 17, the globe would never have seen Steve McQueen enjoy the cooler lord with such wry aplomb. Stalag 17 is easy one of the finest movies of its time, if not of all time, and I would encourage anyone who has never experienced its special blend of cynicism, comedy, suspense and drama to check it out at the earliest accessible opportunity.


There was surprisingly enough a lot of humor in the American attitude toward the Nazis and the Germans during Globe Fight II. Life goes on even under the conditions of being prisoners of war, and folks need to laugh. In such circumstances, they especially need to laugh. We can see that in some of the songs from that time and in this enjoy from Donald Bevant and Edmund Trzcinski that Billy Wilder made into an unusually nice movie. It could be realized that the full extent of the horror that the Nazis had visited upon Europe was not known until after the fight was over and we saw the movies of the concentration camps.William Holden stars as Sgt J.J. Sefton whose amoral cynicism and gift for the cheap hustle let him to feather his nest even while a prisoner of war.He's the guy who everytime had a storehouse of cigarettes, booze, silk stockings, candy, etc. under his bunk, the guy who everytime won at cards, whose proposition bets everytime gave him the edge. We had a guy like that when I was in the army. We named him "Slick."But William Holden's Sefton is more than Slick. He is outrageously cynical and uncommonly brave. He takes possibilities because he doesn't have the same type of fear that others have. Most folks would feel self-conscious (and nervous) eating a fried egg while everybody else in the barracks had watery-thin potato soup. Others might feel uncomfortable with bribing German guards for bottles of Riesling or tins of sardines. Not Sefton. He flaunts his shop of goodies.Perhaps that is overdone. Perhaps the true hardships that prisoners went through are glossed over in this comedic drama--a comedy, incidentally, that plays very much like a Broadway musical without the music. Perhaps it is the situation that from the distance of 1953 the deprivations of Stalag 17 have faded from memory and it is the "good times" that are recalled.At any rate, I think it is this type of psychology that accounts for the success of this unusual blend of quasi-realism and burlesque. Certainly Stalag 17 has been widely imitated, most familiarly in the TV sit-com "Hogan's Heroes" and to some extent on Rowan and Martin's "Laugh-In." Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful, on the another hand, which also finds humor in the horrific, is of a various genre. Like Ionesco's Rhinoceros, Benigni's film is from the theater of the absurd, not the Broadway stage.Holden won an Oscar for his performance and Robert Strauss who played Animal was nominated in a helping role. Otto Preminger, the legendary director and producer, was perfect as the two-faced Col Von Scherbach, the ex-calvary commander and camp commandant who can only take a smartphone call from the high command with his boots on so he can click his heels. I also liked Sig Rumann as Sgt Johann Sebastian Schulz ("always making with the jokes, you Americans") whose previous career as a wrestler in the US accounts for his English-language skills. Gil Stratton, who for years did the sports for CBS Channel 2 in Los Angeles, is interesting as Sefton's sidekick and funky.Indeed, what is responsible for the success of this film as much as anything is this fine cast testing well-defined hero roles. By the way, Strauss and Harvey Lembeck ("Sugar Lips" Shapiro) were reprising their roles from Broadway.Important is the fine plot line in which Sefton is accused of being a spy for the Nazis while the true spy is exposed step by step. At first we don't know who it is, and then we do, and then the prisoners search out. This could be compared with Sunset Boulevard (1950). While very various films they have related elements which reveal part of the psyche and ways of director Billy Wilder. First there is the anti-hero as the protagonist, in both situations played by William Holden. Then there is a lot of the old Hollywood crowd appearing in both movies including directors appearing as actors, Erich von Stroheim (not to mention Cecil B. DeMille in his memorable cameo as himself) in Sunset Boulevard, and Otto Preminger here. Sig Rumann has over a 100 credits going back to at least the early thirties. Finally there is the discordant mix of comedic and dramatic elements, a mix that works on our psyches because life is to some very true extent filled with tragedy in close congruence with the laughable.But see this for William Holden who was the type of actor who was greatest testing a compromised hero as here and as the failed writer/reluctant gigolo in Sunset Boulevard, an actor who drank too much and tended to undistinguished, but when carefully directed should rise above his intentions and give a sterling performance.(Note: Over 500 of my film reviews are actually accessible in my ebook "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Trust I Swallowed the Remote!" Receive it at Amazon!)



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