When the opening scene of a film concludes with the brutal killing of two prisoners of war, one might assume that it’s not the most light-hearted of movies. But while Stalag 17 certainly deals with the drama, emotional turmoil and brutality of life in a World War 2 German prisoner-of-war camp, it’s balanced with a fair amount of comedy and is incredibly funny at times.
Sefton (an Oscar winning performance by William Holden) is a pretty unconventional lead, insofar as he’s quite antagonistic for the majority of the movie and, even when he is heroic, he is primarily motivated by profit or self-preservation. Indeed the character is so unsympathetic that Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas both turned down the role. Holden only accepted it because of contractual obligations, but clearly it turned out to be a pretty decent career move.
Stalag 17 remains eminently watchable, despite having been made 65 years ago. Director Billy Wilder was certainly no stranger to critical and commercial success during his illustrious career, but this must be up there with the best of his work.
Score for Christmasishness
The events of the film take place in the build-up to Christmas and conclude on the big day itself. While a POW camp might not be the most seasonal of settings, the inmates do try and make the best of their situation and there is a genuinely festive feel about the whole movie.