This week’s Memorable Movie Moment takes us back to director John Sturges‘ 1963 war-era classic, The Great Escape. Set in a POW camp in Nazi Germany, the film follows the true story of a group of Allied prisoners who sought to accomplish the biggest jail break ever conceived, scattering more than 200 Allied troops across the country in an effort to divert Nazi war efforts on finding and re-capturing the escaped soldiers. The Great Escape is famous for a number of reasons. It featured an all-star cast including Steve McQueen (The Cincinnati Kid, The Sand Pebbles), James Garner (The Rockford Files, The Notebook), Richard Attenborough (Jurassic Park, Elizabeth), Charles Bronson (Once Upon A Time In The West, Death Wish), Donald Pleasance (Halloween, Escape From New York), and James Coburn (The Muppet Movie, In Like Flint), several of which were actual POWs with the Allied Forces during World War II. It also set and broke a number of on-screen records, ranging from the scale of the production (an entire replica of a real-life German POW camp was built in which to shoot the film) to the impressive array of stunts.
Wally Floody, the real-life “Tunnel King” portrayed by Charles Bronson in the film, served as a consultant for director Sturges for more than a year during filming. Actor Donald Pleasance, who plays Blythe “The Forger”, also served as an advisor; he was an RAF Officer and was held in the German POW camp Stalag Luft during World War II. Author Paul Brickhill, who wrote the book the film is based on, was also a POW in the Stalag Luft III camp during the war. Needless to say plenty of personal experience went into making The Great Escape. That was also true of lead actor Steve McQueen, who accepted the role of Hilts only on the condition that his character could be featured riding a motorcycle in the film, which brings us to today’s Memorable Movie Moment.
Following the escape (at least in the film), McQueen’s character, Hilts, is able to steal a motorcycle from a German soldier and from there leads an entire brigade of Nazis across the German countryside. McQueen, a cyclist himself and avid enthusiast, did most of the motorcycle stunts himself. The final, climactic 60-foot-leap over a border fence, however, was performed by his friend and shop owner Bud Ekins. Although McQueen did do an attempt of the stunt himself, it was Ekins’ successful jump that was left in the final cut of the film. He would go on to double for McQueen in other stunts throughout his career, including Bullitt (1968) and performed most of the motorcycle work on the television series CHiPs (1977). His jump in The Great Escape, however, is still amazing to see every time, filmed against a brilliant backdrop of the Alps against the German countryside. You can watch the entire sequence here on MADE. Enjoy!