Did you watch “The Great Escape” over Christmas?
Despite the fact the 1963 prisoner-of-war classic has as much to do with Santa Claus as raging myxomatosis has to do with the Easter Bunny, it’s a regular fixture in the Christmas schedules. This time around it was on Five USA.
TV executives could be accused of lazy programming, filling-up several hours with a 50-year old film. But what’s wrong with spending a cold winter’s afternoon settled on the sofa watching an old movie full of big name stars, action, excitement, humour…and that incredible motorcycle leap over the barbed-wire fence at the climax?
Whatever your feelings about war films, without doubt it’s a rock solid piece of screen entertainment with a brilliant screenplay and the sure hand of Hollywood veteran John Sturges at the helm.
I make a point of watching it every Christmas, not only because I love the film, but because, at a little under four hours screen time, including ad breaks, it’s the perfect length for timing my chicken in the oven.
But over the past few years, each viewing has been tinged with sadness as I note which of the stars had passed away since I last watched it.
We lost Steve McQueen (“Hilts – The Cooler King”) many years ago, since when Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence, Nigel Stock, James Coburn, Gordon Jackson and James Donald have all gone. At at the time of writing, only two of the stars are still with us.
David McCallum, who went on to fame as llya Kuryakin in “The Man From Uncle” TV series and who currently appears in another hit series “N.C.I.S.” – and singer/actor John Leyton who, at the age of 78 still tours with other veteran pop acts on the Solid Gold Sixties shows.
This year has been particularly bad for devotees of the film. We lost James Garner (“Hendley – The Scrounger”) and Sir Richard Attenborough (“Big X“ ) within a month, followed by Angus Lennie (“Ives”).
Then just this month, I read the obituary of Tom Adams (“Dai Nimmo”) who went on to be the face of DFS sofas in a series of self-deprecating advertisements – and more recently was the continuity voice for the E4 channel.
I often visit the multiplex so I won’t say that new films aren’t as good as old films. Clearly, some right old rubbish was churned out by Hollywood and Pinewood in the past. But all that many modern actors are required to do is react to CGI explosions, lead CGI armies into CGI battles; or take on CGI aliens.
When true giants of the screen, like James Garner and Richard Attenborough pass away, their unique qualities as unforgettable actors go with them.
So as I watched “The Great Escape” again and noted who was no longer with us, I realised what had happened.
Since the film was first released, they’d all escaped…one by one.
And they can never be recaptured!