stalag 17

December 19, 2008

“there are two people in this barracks who know i didn’t do it. me and the guy that did do it.

i’m always surprised how much i like billy wilder’s films, specifically his comedies.  his ridiculous premises, his outrageous characters, whatever it is.  i always think going in that i’m going to be watching something old and outdated, and the comedy is not going to translate.  but i’m always presently surprised at how much i really enjoy it.  so would this trend continue with stalag 17?

first of all, i was unaware that i was going to be watching a comedy.  i wasn’t really prepared for it, and the movie doesn’t really start out with a riot when the two potential escapees get caught and shot. but the film turns a corner after that into some absurd comedy situations.  but it tows that line very well between drama and comedy, which was gave me a sigh of relief.  i wasn’t sure i could handle 120 minutes of knee slapping jabs at wwII prisoner of war camps.  i was also just really shocked when i thought about how soon after the heals of wwII this film was made.  the film came out in 1953 just 8 years after the end of the second world war, and i bet for audiences at the time the film seemed very edgy.

bill holden is great as the fiendish entrepreneur of the barracks.  seeing his different set-ups and schemes to make “money” was quite enjoyable. i love films where characters take a 180 in the audience’s perception.  it plays with our preconceptions of how the movie is supposed to look like and our expectations for how characters are supposed to act.  so seeing how wilder turns will holden’s character from hated to sympathetic was really amazing.  i loved that wilder doesn’t reveal more than we need to know.  he slowly slowly introduces us to the characters of the barracks and transforms the character’s perceptions.

and while the comedy element is there, there are moments of real suspense and sometimes even terror.  some of the interactions with the nazi officers are truly grounding in a film that often doesn’t stay too close to the surface.  both elements work well together, to make one of the more interesting films i’ve seen.

so yes, i was fairly surprised that at how much i enjoyed the film.  going in i thought i was going to get an honest look at world war two priosner of war camps, then an outrageous comedy playing on some of our preconcieved notions of war and nazis, and then wound up watching something that was a mixture of the two.

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