Fan Movie Club: Stalag 17 (1953) Aug 4, 2012 1:02:14 GMT -5
Post by Tyger on the Radio on Aug 4, 2012 1:02:14 GMT -5
IMDB page for Stalag 17: www.imdb.com/title/tt0046359/
Essay on some of themes at play in Stalag 17: sensesofcinema.com/2000/feature-articles/stalag/
Main F.A.N. movie club thread: officialfan.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=offtopic&action=display&thread=434020
On Sgt J.J. Sefton trading goods with the Nazi guards:
Sefton: What's the beef, boys? So I'm trading. Everybody here is trading. So maybe I trade a little sharper. That make me a collaborator?
Duke: A lot sharper, Sefton. I'd like to have some of that loot you got in those footlockers.
Sefton: Oh you would, would you? Listen, stupe. The first week I was in this joint, somebody stole my Red Cross package, my blanket, and my left shoe. Well, since then I've wised up. This ain't no Salvation Army - this is everybody for himself, dog eat dog.
Director Billy Wilder's ("Some Like it Hot","Sunset Blvd.) W.W. II black comedy, based on a Broadway play, follows a series of strange events that befall Stalag 17, a prison camp for Allied POWs near the Danube. At the start of the film, the POWS attempt to help two of their number, Manfredi and Johnson, escape from the prison camp. Believing that the plan was to go without a hitch, the POWs watch in horror as Manfredi and Johnson get gunned down by prison guards and blame for the security breach goes all around. The POWS conclude that one of their own number tipped off the Nazis about the escape attempt and that a mole hides in their barracks. They have to discover who the mole is before they can help a newly transferred officer escape.
But who is it? Is it Cookie, the stammering narrator who's plane was shot down over Magdeborg, Germany? The Animal, a proto "Animal House" John Blutarsky-like character who complains about the food and obsesses over the screen actress Betty Grable? Is it the wisecracking Shapiro who gets more letters than anyone else in Stalag 17 or Joey, a victim of PTTS, who, zombie-like, plays the flute at all hours?
Blame falls on Sgt J.J Sefton (William Holden), a nihilist who trades contraband with the Nazis and bets on the lives of his fellow soldiers. Defiant, sarcastic, cowardly, Sefton is the worst of the worst and seemingly cares only about himself, but is he the true threat? Sefton's interactions with the rest of the POWs and the stance he takes in regards to his captivity at Stalag 17 creates the tension at the heart of the film.
"Stalag 17" boasts an ensemble cast that features William Holden ("The Wild Bunch", "Network"), in an Oscar winning performance as Sefton; Otto Preminger, most famous for directing such films as "Laura" and "The Man with the Golden Arm", as the ex pro wrestler and hilarious if terrifying Nazi Oberst von Scherbach; character actor Robert Strauss ("The Seven Year Itch", "The Brides at Toko-Ri) who was nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar as the Animal, a role he originated in the Broadway play; and Peter Graves (The "Mission Impossible" television series; Airplane!) as Sgt. Price, the representative for the POWS.
Points to Consider:
1. What does it mean to be American? How does Stalag 17 deal with individuality vs. the community? What does it say about McCarthyism?
2. I labeled the film a dark comedy, a genre that Billy Wilder visited often in his career. When is it funny? When is it tragic and, of course, when do these points intersect? What happens when a film with a serious subject (POWs being betrayed by one of their own) contains a lot of humor?
3. Vantage point: As Cookie says in the beginning: "I don't know about you, but it always makes me sore when I see those war pictures... all about flying leathernecks and submarine patrols and frogmen and guerillas in the Philippines. What gets me is that there never w-was a movie about POWs - about prisoners of war." What does it say about War to make a war movie with little action, far away from the front line, and dealing with people after their combat has concluded? Is it still a War movie or has it turned into something else? And if it still is a War movie, what does it do to maintain it's genre?
*****Tune in next time for Francis Ford Coppla's Vietnam War masterpiece "Apocalypse Now"*****