Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Great Escape

The Great Escape
by Paul Brickhill

Those who know me know that I am at least slightly obsessed with the film The Great Escape. Though I know better than to call it 'the greatest film of all time,' I think I can honestly say that it's my absolute favorite. And being so in love with the film, I figured that it was about time I familiarized myself with the true story. It's going to be really tempting to write a book-to-film comparison, but if I find myself with the time to do that, it deserves a post of its own.

And I think the book deserves a post of its own, too.

I must say, first of all, that Brickhill is quite an engaging writer. He manages to strike a nice balance between the more personal stories and the technical details of the escape, and between the darker and lighter moments. The book is absolutely absorbing.

But the greatest feelings of amazement come from the realizing that it all, in fact, happened. The story suits the media of film so well. The planning, the tunneling, the setbacks, and all the little details seem so extraordinary, so perfectly designed for a tale of action and suspense. And yet, it is true (though I wonder... maybe every really great story is as great as it is only because it at least could be true).

We're introduced not only to the facts of the escape, but also to the many men who were involved. Undoubtedly the book centers a great deal on Roger Bushell, the "Big X." Brickhill refers often to his rather intimidating and brooding appearance, increased by a drooping eye from a skiing accident, but also relates of cheerful little practical jokes Bushell played, of his involvement in the camp theater company... and, too, the actual event which inspired one of the most memorable scenes in the film, in which the character Cavendish crashes through the top bunk after McQueen's character removes the bed-boards.

Bushell was flat-out extraordinary. I can't tell you how much I admire him. Though he was a bit given to deep anger and days of moodiness when problems arose, he always managed to snap back, collect himself and those around him, assess the situation and come up with a solution. When an argument in the escape planning came up, he was always the one to settle it, as he had one of those minds that can see quite clearly the consequences of an action, how it will effect everything else, and how everything else will effect it.

The book does not end on a happy note. Bushell, and forty-nine other escaped prisoners, were murdered after being recaptured. On a direct order from Hitler, these fifty were taken in small groups in various places and shot. In the Aftermath, Brickhill recounts how the murderers were tracked down and brought to justice.

It was truly a splendid book, and it was truly a splendid tale of resourceful and indomitable heroes. And, rightly so, it is dedicated, as was the film, to the fifty.

1 comment:

Rachel Gray said...

I loved The Great Escape (book and film) too!

Have you read "The Colditz Story" by Pat Reid? I thought that was even better. :)