The Great Escape

Character mistake: The scene in the outdoor Parisian cafe is incredibly daft. First, the cafe owners call James Coburn's bizarrely-accented Australian to the telephone to keep him out of the way as their accomplices assassinate three uniformed German officers seated in the cafe in a drive by shooting. They then toast the killings with cognac, and that is the mistake - not the shootings, not the luring away of Coburn - the mistake is that the cafe proprietors celebrate the assassination of the German officers in broad daylight, in the open, without even stopping to think that such an action would have them shot, because all of this is done in the direct view of passers-by in broad daylight. Do they think those three German officers were the only ones in Paris? How did they know Coburn wasn't an undercover Gestapo agent or a French collaborator? Don't they stop to consider that in an occupied city machine gun fire is going to draw some attention from the authorities, who might just wonder what a couple of bullet riddled corpses are doing lying about the place?

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Suggested correction: Regarding the French cafe proprietors making a toast, if questioned, they could simply claim they were celebrating surviving the incident and/or needed a calming drink. Considering any ensuring panic and confusion after the shooting, pedestrians would hardly notice the waiters. Attention would be on the dead Germans. French citizens most likely wouldn't care or cooperate with the authorities. Being indifferent to German officers getting killed is not proof of involvement. Most French hardly be remorseful over their enemies' deaths. Antagonism toward the Germans was normal. It would be more suspicious if the proprietors showed concern. As far as helping James Coburn, it was pretty obvious he was neither French or German, and they took a chance to protect an innocent bystander. Also, it was to inject some subtle levity into the scene.

raywest Premium member

Rubbish. During the occupation Paris was crawling with collaborators and undercover German agents. The cafe owners are drinking champagne - not much of a nerve stiffener! - and they clink glasses in celebration of the shooting of the German officers. Their actions are beyond obvious to anyone that can see them. They simply would not take the risk and would act as if they were horrified to see their customers shot dead in their cafe.

Nope. Even if collaborators were "crawling" around, no-one would expect any French citizen to care about Nazis being killed. If questioned they can claim it was for the other reasons already stated (and they are not drinking champagne). It does not prove their involvement. Little would come of them being interrogated. As mentioned, this is a movie, and the scene injects subtle humor and is intended to show the audience that they are involved in the coordinated plan.

raywest Premium member

Again, rubbish. The Nazis occupying Paris arrested anyone suspected of belonging to or assisting the Resistance on the slightest pretext, and the cafe owners who were celebrating the deaths of three German officers would be in a Gestapo prison cell before the bodies of the dead Germans were cold. What they do after the Germans are shot is blatant, irresponsible, dangerous and completely unnecessary. They could have saved their celebrations for later when it was safe.

Once again, NOPE. Clinking glasses is not proof of possibly belonging to or aiding the Resistance. They also were not wildly celebrating. It was a quick, low-key action, and they looked both nervous and relieved. Also, I re-watched the scene on YouTube. When the car pulls up to shoot the Nazis, the street around them is completely empty. No witnesses anywhere. People are only seen far in the background. The phone call just before the shooting is a signal and indicates this was well-coordinated and timed. Secondly, the story needs to move quickly, and insignificant characters would not be seen toasting later. This also showed James Coburn (and us) that the waiters were potential allies.

raywest Premium member

You think the Nazis needed proof of someone's involvement in the Resistance? They arrested, tortured and shot innocent people on the unsubstantiated word of pro-German informers! No witnesses anywhere? What about Coburn? They didn't know who he was or where he was from. For all they know he could have been a Gestapo agent himself. The scene is absurd. Nobody is so stupid as to do what they did at the risk of dying horribly if caught doing it.

It should also be noted that the cafe owners duck behind their counter before the car carrying the gunmen shows up, and they get Coburn to do the same. They just provided incontrovertible evidence that they knew about the assassinations ahead of time.

Yes, they absolutely were part of it, and the hit was timed and planned in advance for the opportune moment. This was not a random act, and the phone call appears to be the signal that sets the events in motion. When they made the toast, they knew the street was completely empty and obviously felt it was safe to do so. Also, if Coburn was a spy or collaborator, he would have warned the Nazis, not hidden behind the counter.

raywest Premium member

Character mistake: When Werner asks Hendley why, as an American, he fights alongside Britain, he mentions that the British burned down the U.S. capital in 1812. While it happened during the War of 1812, the burning of Washington actually occurred in 1814. (00:11:10)

Cubs Fan Premium member

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Suggested correction: The question was intended to demonstrate how far out-of-touch Werner was with United States history.

Charles Austin Miller

You misunderstand. Werner's question in and of itself is not the mistake; it's merely a point of contextual reference. The mistake is him giving the incorrect date of a historical event he claims to have read about; it's hard to believe that every book that he might have read on the topic are all wrong, so he must be remembering, and thus repeating it, incorrectly.

Cubs Fan Premium member

Character mistake: When Sedgwick is bringing the cement tunnel lid to Willy, somebody yells out "Hey Hendley" and Sedgwick answers "Hello boys". He was called by the wrong name.

Character mistake: When Werner goes to see Hedley for helping finding his "lost" papers, Hedley is playing chess. The chess set is set up incorrectly. When the men are set up properly, each player has a light colored square in the right-hand corner. In the movie, the game is set up so that the light-colored square is in each player's left-hand corner. This "beginner" mistake puts the king and queen in the wrong positions.

Factual error: A convoy of open trucks arrive at the camp bringing the latest batch of prisoners, many of whom are carrying rucksacks and tote bags of clothing and other possessions. Where did they come from? Combat servicemen in World War Two did not carry overnight bags with them - a change of clothes or a handy supply of toiletries was the least of their concerns. A prisoner of war arrived in the camp with the clothes he stood up in and nothing else.

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Suggested correction: These prisoners were being transferred from other camps to this camp. As Big X said, "they are putting all their eggs in one basket." It's likely they are carrying possessions they've acquired during their time in captivity.

What "possessions"? Do you think they had Oxfam shops in POW camps during World War 2? They would be dressed in their combat fatigues and nothing else.

Prisoners of war would receive Red Cross parcels, and may have also scrounged, made or been issued a few other bits and pieces. In particular, they'd probably have a change or two of underwear, some toiletries and a few books or games at the very least.

They would have possessions as they would receive parcels from home and Red Cross parcels.

POWs acquired possessions by hand-making, scrounging, care packages, 'selling' watches and rings to guards or local civilians.

Agreed, there was always a bit of trading going on for little trinkets. As has happened in many wars.

Ssiscool Premium member

They were universally known for their trading and scrounging abilities. Remember these were the "worst of the worst" in offending.

stiiggy

Just to clarify. They weren't exactly the "worst of the worst" for bad or incorrigible behavior. They were the best at attempting to escape POW camps or otherwise subverting their German captors. The fed-up Germans decided to contain them all in one prison to stop the constant breakouts. They only succeeded in creating a POW "think tank" by pooling together the most talented escape artists who combined their skills and knowledge.

raywest Premium member

In international conflicts, in addition to prisoners regularly receiving Red Cross care packages, the Geneva Convention requires that captors treat all POWs humanely, and provide food, clothing, housing, medical treatment, and hygiene. As mentioned, these prisoners brought their belongings with them from other camps. International Red Cross inspectors monitor POW camps for compliance. Failure to comply with the rules constitutes war crimes. Germany was generally more compliant than Japan. POW camps were to detain captured soldiers and prevent them rejoining the war, not to punish them as criminals. Once the war was over, POWs were repatriated.

raywest Premium member

The Great Escape was from a POW camp specifically set up to hold trouble makers from other camps. Also, sometimes people expect to be captured and prepare to for it! Today, during funeral of John Lewis, speakers repeatedly mentioned that he was carrying a backpack with 2 books, an apple, an orange and a tooth brush. Which haven't been seen since his head was beat in. A least one German Fortress commander, sworn to defend his fort until he and all those under his command were dead, surrendered with multiple suit cases to make his incarceration more comfortable. Like the character Yossarian in Catch-22. [Spoiler alert: he makes elaborate preparations to the paddle in a life raft from Italy to Sweden.].

More mistakes in The Great Escape

Col. Von Luger: Group Captain Ramsey, in the past four years the Reich has been forced to spend an enormous amount of time, energy, manpower and equipment hunting down prisoner of war officers.
Group Capt. Ramsey: At least it's rather nice to know you're wanted, isn't it?

More quotes from The Great Escape
More trivia for The Great Escape

Question: At the scene where Bartlett is running away from the pursuing Germans in the town, a car stops him. Bartlett says something in a foreign language to the German who steps out the car which makes the Germans drive away. Could someone please tell me what is said in the Bartlett/German conversation and what language does Bartlett speak in.

Answer: It's German, although I can't quite make it all out. The Germans tell him to stop (sounds like one says "hey you" in English). He asks what this is all about and, in English, the soldier accuses him of being English. Bartlett acts offended at the idea, and at being threatened with a pistol. The soldier then asks if he's German, he says something in the affirmative, and the soldiers apologize as they climb back in the car.

It sounds like the last line from the German Officer is" Free to Go" in English.

Answer: I am German and just watched the movie. From memory the conversation went something like this: German guard talks in English and Bartlett responded in German "English? What are you thinking?" German guard: "Oh so you're German?" Bartlett: "Yes why! Of course I am German. What is the meaning of this? Threatening me with this pistol?" German guard: "Well all right then." And they leave him alone. Although his accent would have given him away, it's a lot less strong than most English people's German, but still noticeable.

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