The legit hit about GI internees in a Nazi prison camp during the Second World War is screened as a lusty comedy-melodrama, loaded with bold, masculine humor and as much of the original’s uninhibited earthiness as good taste and the Production Code permit.
Producer-director Billy Wilder, who did the screen adaptation of the Donald Bevan-Edmund Trzcinski play with Edwin Blum, uses a suspense approach with plenty of leavening humorous byplay springing from the confinement of healthy young males. Nub of the plot is the uncovering of an informer among the GIs in a particular barracks and up to the time his identity is revealed there is plenty of tenseness in the footage.
Opening shows the death of two GIs while attempting a well-plotted escape and the sudden realization there is an informer in their midst. Suspicion fastens on William Holden, a cynical character trying to make the best of his prison lot. When Don Taylor is temporarily moved into the barracks and just as quickly revealed as the American who blew up an ammunition train, the prisoners decide Holden is their man and beat him unmercifully.
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Otto Preminger is the third star, playing the camp commander, with obvious relish for its colorful cruelty. Laugh standouts are Robert Strauss, the dumb Stosh of the play and Harvey Lembeck as Harry, the only slightly brighter pal of Stosh.
1953: Best Actor (William Holden).
Nominations: Best Director, Supp. Actor (Robert Strauss)