STALAG 13 (1953)

It’s a dreary Christmas 1944 for the American POWs in Stalag 17. For the men in Barracks 4, all Sergeants, they have to deal with another problem – there seems to be a security leak. The Germans always seem to be forewarned about escapes and in the most recent attempt the two men, Manfredi and Johnson, walked straight into a trap and were killed. For some in Barracks 4, especially the loud-mouthed Duke, the leaker is obvious: J.J. Sefton a wheeler-dealer who doesn’t hesitate to trade with the guards and who has acquired goods and privileges that no other prisoner seems to have. Sefton denies giving the Germans any information and makes it quite clear that he has no intention of ever trying to escape. He plans to to ride out the war in what little comfort he can arrange, but it doesn’t extend to spying for the Germans. The movie was shot in sequence (i.e., the scenes were filmed in the same order they’re shown). Many of the actors were surprised by the final plot twist. The authors of Stalag 17 sued the creators of the TV series Hogan’s Heroes for plagiarism, as they had submitted a proposal for a TV show based on their play in 1963 to CBS. The case was closed with an undisclosed settlement. The role of Sefton was originally written for Charlton Heston. But as the role evolved and became more cynical, William Holden emerged as the director’s choice. Holden was asked to see the play on which the movie was based. He walked out at the end of the first act. He was later convinced to at least read the screenplay. William Holden’s acceptance speech for Best Actor was the shortest in Academy history up until that time. He said only two words: “Thank You.” Holden hadn’t meant to be so brief, but the televised TV broadcast of the Academy Awards ceremony was running long, and was about to be cut off the air. Holden later took out an ad in the Hollywood trade publications thanking the people he had intended to thank in his speech. The briefness of Holden’s speech was later surpassed by Alfred Hitchcock (who accepted his Irving Thalberg Award in 1967 with a simple “Thanks.”) and by John Mills, who after playing a mute character in Ryan’s Daughter, accepted his 1971 Best Supporting Actor award with a simple smile and a thankful nod of the head. This film was one of the biggest hits of Billy Wilder’s career. He expected a big piece of the profits. The studio accountants informed him that since his last picture Ace in the Hole lost money, the money that picture lost would be subtracted from his profits on this film. Wilder left Paramount shortly after that.

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