Stalag 17 ★★★★

In the wake of Stalag's vast influence over POW/war camp depictions in cinema and TV, it's easy to overlook how much of a success this was at the time. Whilst less distinctive nowadays (modern viewers have seen all this before), this is practically where it all started, the film to finally launch a touchy, often silenced subject, into the popular mainstream (if opportunistically in the wake of a timely Korean War POW release).

Stalag is yet another example of Wilder's wonderful versatility. In terms of production, it mostly centers around one building and yard in an American compound of POW 'Stalag' camp no.17. The plot is fairly simple yet effective. Find the traitor. Keep sane. Use that American ingenuity.

The traitor storyline is the most thrilling aspect of the film. I spent a lot of the film observing who was near the chessboard and hanging light bulb. I suspected the mute prospective lawyer may have been the traitor, as he lingered in the background watchfully, seldom spoke and often stared towards the light bulb. This element of the plot keeps the film purring along nicely. The banter between the camp and both Holden on one hand, and Preminger on the other hand, is also a joy. Holden really owns his lovable anti hero character, and received an Oscar for his performance.

The aspects that were more tiresome for me were the often irritating character of Animal (despite a few good laughs), and the repetitious guilty-until-proven-innocent attitude the camp has towards Holden. Additionally, in the wake of Stalag's influence, it can't help but pale somewhat. The comedy and dramatic aspects of the story have subsequently been done better elsewhere. Nevertheless, as a stage-style production this is undeniably a likeable success, and Holden's excellent character helps raises this to another level.

Whilst not Wilder's best film by any measure, WWII entertainments don't get much better than this.

Ruth liked this review