It's a dreary Christmas 1944 for the American POWs in Stalag 17. For the men in Barracks 4, all sergeants, have to deal with a grave problem - there seems to be a security leak. The Germans always seem to be forewarned about escapes and in the most recent attempt the two men, Manfredi and Johnson, walked straight into a trap and were killed. For some in Barracks 4, especially the loud-mouthed Duke, the leaker is obvious: J.J. Sefton, a wheeler-dealer who doesn't hesitate to trade with the guards and who has acquired goods and privileges that no other prisoner seems to have. Sefton denies giving the Germans any information and makes it quite clear that he has no intention of ever trying to escape. He plans to ride out the war in what little comfort he can arrange, but it doesn't extend to spying for the Germans. As tensions mount and a mob mentality takes root, it becomes obvious that Sefton will have to find the real snitch if he is to have any peace and avoid the beatings Duke and ... Written by
The story takes place during the time of the "Battle of the Bulge" in December, 1944. The men learn about it on their secret radio before the Germans take it away. See more »
Just before Sefton reveals the spy, he throws an open jackknife onto the table and says, "Here's the knife to do it with. Only make sure you got the right throat." The knife quivers and barely sticks in the table. Shortly after, the knife is stuck firmly in the table, more upright. See more »
When Johnny Comes Marching Home
Written by Louis Lambert
Played during the opening credits
Played on a record and sung by the prisoners of war
Whistled a bit by Gil Stratton at the end See more »
This is one of Billy Wilder's best films and still stands up very well today. Unlike the concentration camps of the Holocaust, prison camps for Allied prisoners were actually not all that bad in comparison (except for how the Russian prisoners were treated--they were often just shot). So, the prisoners enjoyed a little more freedom and were constantly trying to deal with the incredible boredom of being locked up with very little to do. As a result, films about these camps (such as this one and THE GREAT ESCAPE) are few and far between--they would just be too dull to merit a movie. However, in the case of this film, the monotony is disrupted because there apparently is a snitch within the prisoners' ranks--some rat is tipping off the Commandant (director Otto Preminger--in one of his few acting roles) about escape attempts, major rule infractions and who the actual perpetrator of a major act of sabotage was.
Naturally, prisoners begin to think that William Holden is the snitch. After all, he is living incredibly well compared to all the other Allied prisoners in the camp due to all his money-making schemes and black market activities. In addition, he is so cynical and apparently unpatriotic that he has no desire to escape--he's more than willing to sit tight until the war is over since he is safe and happy! In this role, Holden's character is VERY similar to the one he played in BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI--where he is also a schemer and mostly focused on saving his own sorry butt! However, the problem of the snitch isn't so simply solved and much of the film is about how Holden proves he was NOT the spy for the Germans.
The movie is odd in that it is a combination of both drama and comedy--with alternating moods throughout the film. Some of the ways the bored prisoners create their own fun are incredibly funny (especially the "MEIN KAMPF" scene) and some of the moments are poignant and exciting (such as the escape at the end of the film). All this comes together wonderfully in the marvelous ending of the film. The movie features exceptional acting, writing and direction and is one of the best WWII films ever made. See it--it's well worth your time.
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