Alright At Ease!

Posted: 17/06/2013 in 1953

stalg 17

This year has already served up a number of World War II films, and there are a number yet to come. Once the end of the year does arrive, I’m convinced that Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17 will be considered one of the best of the genre from the year! To be sure, there will be some that do not like this film. The idea of a comedy (and at times it’s downright zany) set in a POW camp many will find off-putting. As for me, I think that this is one of the best films of the year so far! Considering Billy Wilder’s biography, the purpose of the film is certainly not to make jokes about POWs. Instead, it is a daring attempt to tell a story in a very different way than most would want to.

The key to enjoying Stalag 17 is simply letting go. I must admit that even I struggled in the first few minutes of the film to wrap my mind around the idea of this being a comedy. The characters (especially those played by Robert Strauss and Harvey Lembeck) seemed uncomfortably out of place, and deep down inside I really wanted a standard drama. And then I let go. I let myself laugh at one of Strauss’ many silly antics, and the rest of the film was an absolute thrill ride. Mr. Wilder’s ability to slip into the extremely serious kicks the viewer in the teeth when the hunt for the “stoolie” intensifies. In fact, some of the most dramatic moments of the year comes from this so-called comedy.

In many ways, despite the fact that this is a brilliant ensemble cast all around, this is the William Holden show. There’s no doubt in my mind that Holden will be getting some serious attention at the end of the year, in terms of awards, when it comes to his portrayal of Sgt. Sefton. Here’s a man that does not care about likability. He is seriously one of the most “bad” protagonists we’re likely to see all year, and Holden plays it beautifully. The character is true to the very last line in the very last scene. There is no cliched ending here either, but one that is honest to the brilliant adapted screenplay itself. I want to give an additional mention to the acting job Peter Graves as Sgt. Price. Mr. Graves nails his supporting character, but unfortunately I think he’ll be overshadowed by the zany comedy of Robert Strauss in the end (which, again is enjoyable once the viewer is able to let go and just have fun with it).

There are an exhausting number of World War II films out there, and I tire of many of them quickly. However, thank you Mr. Wilder for giving us a film like Stalag 17 that we will want to watch over and over again to relive the laughs and incredibly deep drama.

****~AOS

Up next… Otto Preminger jumps behind the camera to give us the romantic comedy The Moon is Blue.

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