Excellent ‘Stalag 17’ is beautiful in ‘Special Collector’s Edition’

William Holden becomes the most hated man in 'Stalag 17'
William Holden becomes the most hated man in ‘Stalag 17’

I grew up on reruns of Hogan’s Heroes. It wasn’t a series that I was all that crazy about, but it was on regularly in syndication. My brother was more of a fan that me. But it wasn’t until years later that I learned it was based on a stage play that was turned into a movie of the same name. It was called Stalag 17. I would easily count it as one of my favorite films, and it made me a fan of William Holden.

This new special edition DVD of Stalag is quite good. The picture and audio are terrific, and the extras are simple yet just perfect. You get information about the making of the film, but you’re also offered some insight into the true story behind the infamous prisoner of war camp.

For the ill-informed, Stalag 17 stars Holden as Sefton, a slick and bitter American POW. He lives well, considering, cutting deals with the German guards and keeping out of trouble. He watches as his fellow prisoners repeatedly plot and scheme to escape, often taking bets on whether any of them will make it out alive. When the most recent escape attempt goes wrong, the other prisoners grow suspicious. Soon all eyes turn to Sefton, who is quickly branded a traitor. But he has his own suspicions as to who the real spy may be.

Holden is brilliant as Sefton, a role I find it hard to imagine anyone else playing. An easily likeable realist who makes his way through the system. But, like Rick from Casablanca, there’s a true patriot and hero beneath that rough exterior.

Although it covers a bleak topic, Stalag 17 has a biting sense of humor. It by no means minimizes the hardships American prisoners of war endured, but finds humor in it none the less. Characters like Animal and Sergeant Shultz offer some of the film’s best moments, making it okay to laugh.

As for the DVD’s extras, its fitted with some of the most basic things, but that’s all a good DVD needs in my opinion. In this case, you get a commentary featuring actors Richard Erdman (Hoffy) and Gil Stratton (Clarence Harvey Cook), and one of the co-writers of the original play, Donald Bevan. They discuss the film and their experiences in the war, but sometimes it gets a little unclear sometimes who is speaking since their voices are all similar (a common problem with commentaries featuring multiple people).

There are two featurettes, one is a behind-the-scenes extra, “Stalag 17: From Reality to Screen”. There are interviews with surviving cast members and some interesting anecdotes about the film. I really enjoyed the second featurette, “The Real Heroes of Stalag XVIIB”, which included interviews with the real men who were imprisoned in the POW camp that inspired the play. It’s touching and provides real-life insights into life in a prisoner of war camp during World War II. The DVD also includes a photo gallery.

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