Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sadie Hawkins Valentine's Day, Part 3

TCM is showing another of those military movies with no real war tonight: Stalag 17, at 10:00 PM ET. It's another of those movies that, because of its military setting and its lack of female characters makes it very much a stereotypical "man's movie", but because of the characterization and lack of violence also makes it pretty good for those who would like the stereotypical "women's movie".

The title Stalag 17 refers to a prisoner of war camp, namely one in Germany during World War II, with a bunch of American POWs. There's been an escape attempt which is to be expected; but, it's gone wrong, in that the escapees are caught by the Nazi guards, who conveniently know just where to look. It's clear that one of the POWs is a stool pigeon, and the POWs know just where to look, too: in the direction of William Holden. Holden is a fellow POW, but also the same sort of character Tony Curtis played in Operation Petticoat: the guy who can finagle almost anything out of anybody, by begging, borrowing, stealing, or wheedling people into giving him what he wants. He's the sort of guy who seems to profit on every deal, and that, combined with his naturally standoffish personality, makes him the obvious choice for the other Americans to suspect as being the informant. Holden, of course, knows that he's not the informant, and sets out to prove his innocence, which he can really only do by finding the real informant. And so, Stalag 17 turns from being a dark comedy about the war into more of a mystery/thriller.

Stalag 17 was directed by Billy Wilder, who was a master of making dark, cynical movies. Wilder was also excellent at getting great performances from his actors, and Stalag 17 is no exception. In addition to Holden, there's also Wilder's fellow director Otto Preminger, playing the German commander of the POW camp; and future director Don Murray as a new POW who is in danger because of how much he did to the Nazis before being captured, and whom Holden tries to help escape when Holden creates a diversion by exposing the informant.

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