After The Great Escape
For me my passion for movies stemmed from a small group of movies which dominated my childhood during the 70s and 80s and like so many young boys growing up in Britain at that time one of those movies was "The Great Escape". Some may mock that movie but for me it was and still is one of the most entertaining war movies ever made with a real sense of adventure with very few movies have since managed to capture. Now having said that the made for TV movie sequel "The Great Escape II: The Untold Story" was going to be two things, either utterly terrible or just passable as it could never recapture that epic, star studded feel of the original. Thankfully whilst not great "The Great Escape II: The Untold Story" is passable as it elaborates on what happened after the first movie left off although I seriously question how much fact there is to this war time prison adventure movie/ thriller.
So as I mentioned "The Great Escape II: The Untold Story" basically tells what happened next although the first quarter of this 3 hour TV movie gives us a sort of recap of the events in the first movie with the three tunnels, the escape and the murder of various captured prisoners by the Gestapo. You may ask why it bothers with this but it needs to as we have different actors playing characters with different names but are basically the same characters as those in the original. For example Ian McShane plays "Big X" Roger Bushell where as in the original Richard Attenborough played Roger Bartlett who was Big X. And then there is Tony Denison who plays cocky American pilot Lt. Mike Corery who is sort of meant to be like Steve McQueen's Hilts. Whilst this shows up the inferior quality of "The Great Escape II" with fewer famous actors and a lesser number of characters it serves its purpose. And on the subject of actors the only returning actor in front of the camera is Donald Pleasence although in this sequel he plays a Gestapo officer. It might interest you that Jud Taylor who played Goff in the original is now one of the men behind the camera as he directs this sequel.
Anyway after the first quarter which is recreation the next quarter of "The Great Escape II" elaborates on what happened directly after the escape with various prisoners captured and we see what happens in between their recapture and their execution which differs to what we saw at the end of the original. It also shows the prison captain ending up in front of a firing squad as well as the betrayal of some of the prisoners by a French farmer. It is exceptionally bitty as it seems to jump from one scene to the next and lacks the bravado acting and directional style to make it really grab your attention but it sets up what is to come as the movie settles down to focus on just a handful of characters.
What comes next is where things take a very different turn because we have the survivors which include Maj. John Dodge and Lt. Mike Corery working with an American detective to discover what happened to the other prisoners, who were killed and who did the killing whilst uncovering a functioning underground Nazi ring. It makes for an interesting but not entirely expected thriller which in truth could have worked nicely as a single 90 minute movie on its own without the first half build up.
Now as I said "The Great Escape II" is passable rather than terrible and much of that is down to a handful of actors. Firstly there is Ian McShane who as Bushell is not the focus of the movie but nicely underplays the character almost knowing that to try and mirror what the great Richard Attenborough did would make him seem an inferior knock off. Then there is Tony Denison as Lt. Mike Corery who to start with is saddled with a character with what appears to be a Hilts like character but then is evolved to make him more than just a cocky yank. But the star performance really comes from Christopher Reeve who as Maj. John Dodge delivers an earnest performance as a leader of men which wouldn't have been completely out of place in the original.
What this all boils down to is that "The Great Escape II" is not a patch on the original, it lacks the star cast, the epic scale, the excitement and adventure but it is not a complete turkey. The acting and the ideas are both good but as I said any movie made as a sequel to "The Great Escape" was always on a losing battle straight away.