Steve McQueen in The Great Escape

My Favorite Scene: The Great Escape (1963) “Motorcycle Escape”

The Great Escape is both one of the best war films and prison films ever made, and remains the standard for a prison break movie 55 years after its release.  With an amazing ensemble with legends like James Coburn, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, and Charles Bronson, this is still Steve McQueen’s movie.  McQueen had a relatively short career for the impact he left, and it’s a testament to how iconic an embodiment of the “man’s man” that he was that his films still hold up today.  There are so many great scenes in The Great Escape (I nearly went with the McQueen holed up in the cooler with his baseball, because it’s pretty much how I view office jobs), but the film’s most memorable sequence is McQueen’s attempt to motorcycle his way to freedom.

The mad dash for the German border is an amazing sequence, made all the more amazing by the fact that McQueen did every bit of the riding himself except the jump at the end (only because the studio wouldn’t let him).  McQueen even plays his own German pursuers because it became clear to the actor, who was such a problem on the set that he quit at one point only to be talked back by co-stars Garner and Coburn, that no one they’d hired was capable of keeping up with him on a bike.  Director John Sturges went through six drafts of the script, 11 rewrites, and began shooting without a finished script, but, in the end, produced a classic.

Star Donald Pleasance actually HAD been a WWII POW, and tried to put in his two cents that not everyone in the camps was always stoically brave or upbeat, but his suggestions fell on deaf ears.  Likewise, the role of a scrounger for the group that James Garner plays is identical to the one he played for his company when he served in The Korean War.

Steve McQueen in The Great Escape

2 thoughts on “My Favorite Scene: The Great Escape (1963) “Motorcycle Escape””

  1. I was 11 years old when Steve McQueen made this iconic scene and I’ll never forget the first time I saw it. It is one of those scenes that stays with you forever. McQueen’s fight against cancer unfortunately was a real fight in his life which makes him even more admired as he fought to the end.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There are no movie stars like him anymore. Going to the movies is my favorite pastime in the world, and I suspect it will be until I die, but if I did not have my old movies, with my Steves and Orsons and Gregorys and Marlons, the fire would have dimmed by now. Priorities are screwed up in Hollywood, or perhaps I am being jaded and unfair, and they have simply changed.

    But I think they have gotten screwed up.


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