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I was really excited to see this, since I knew it was the seed of inspiration for my favorite series Hogan's Heroes. The similarities are astounding - from a tubby guard named Schultz to the "no escape" record of the Kommandant to the fraternizing and trading between prisoners and Germans. It was humorously incredible!
But the movie was as well, standing on its own. The opening scene with the overview of the huge prison camp really let us know what we were in for. I loved that they made a movie out of this concept. War and other dark subjects are frequently expounded and explained on film; the plight, struggles, hope, and humor of prisoners of war should get their share of attention from a civilian world that so often is ignorant of these military realities. A little introduction to this world can easily lead to more research, greater appreciation, and perhaps even a lifelong study (as what happened with me for my WWII appreciation, courtesy Hogan's Heroes).
But on with the movie - I was really surprised by the rich combination of drama and humor, laughter and poignancy, and of the brief character studies of many of the occupants of Barracks 4. Robert Strauss (as "Animal") and Harvey Lembeck (as Shapiro) really stole the show; their characters and acting really shine. The plot picks up about halfway through the film and doesn't let up from there. There are many memorable scenes (getting to the Russian women), laugh-out-loud moments (the reading of Mein Kamph), and heart-clutching moments (the lieutenant's interrogation).
The Collector Edition's accompanying mini-documentary on the real POWs of Stalag 17 puts the film in perspective and really made me appreciate what they went through.
Overall, a fantastic movie - rich and richly acted.
Some of the happiest and healthiest POWs ever seen, but who cares. Great film.
Underrated as hell!
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Currently in 6 official lists, but has been in 12