Tuesday 28 July 2015

Donald Bevan & Edmund Trzcenski's "Stalag 17"

"Nobody has ever escaped from Stalag 17.  Not alive, anyway." (Von Scherbach)

In 1953, American cinema thought that the public would not be interested in a movie about World War II prisoners of war.  However, all that changed when the Korean prisoners of war were released later that year.  Paramoubnt Pictures decided to release Stalag 17, starring William Holden https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalag_17.

The movie was based on the 1951 play by the same name, written by former POWs Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcenski, who were prisoners in Stalag 17B in Austria.  The play traces the lives of several American sergeants who are prisoners in a Luftwaffe camp along with Poles, Czechs and Russian women.  The setting is Austria in 1944 on the "longest night of the year".

The play shows the lives of the average American inside the camp:  eating, sleeping, cleaning, and waiting for any chance to plotting an escape.  They abscond with a clandestine radio, an opportunity to hear the BBC news each day.  

Kuwaza is obsessed with pinup girl Betty Grable.  Sefton likes to bribe the Nazi guards in exchange for food and cigarettes.  One day he even is rewarded with a trip to the womens' barracks.  Price is the barracks security chief who plays it low key.  

One day American prisoners Manfredi and Johnson escape through a tunnel and are shot, the result of an informant.  The others brainstorm to find out who the informant is.  Maybe it's Sefton who likes to bribe the guards.  Maybe it's Dunbar, whom they are trying to usher out of the camp.  In the end, the Americans question Price.  

"When was Pearl Harbor?"  To which he responds:  "December 7, 1941."  Question two:  "Where were you on that date?"  To which he responds:  "I was eating dinner at 6 pm."  This time would fit in, if he lived in Berlin.  However, he claims he lives in Cleveland.  Backed into a corner, someone checks Price's pockets and finds a chess queen, used to hide messages for the Nazis.  As Dunbar is ushered out of the camp, Price goes down in a hail of bullets.

Stalage 17 ran on Broadway for 472 performances.  The movie debuted in 1953 starring William Holden, Don Taylor and Otto Preminger.  Von Scherbach, a sadistic Nazi captain, was added to the film script.  It grossed $10,000 at the box office.

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