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Christmas Classic First Watch Review – Stalag 17 (1953)

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Now, before we get too far into this, let me make one thing clear. This is, most definitely, a film set at Christmas rather than a Christmas film. However, the remit was to include every film that has a Christmas tree, Christmas card, a red nosed reindeer, or mentions Christmas. Stalag 17 is set in the week before Christmas 1944. There are a few shots with Christmas trees as part of the mise en scène so it counts!

Stalag 17, as you’ll probably guess, is set in a PoW camp. While there is a bit of storyline devoted to escaping, the main theme is about uncovering which of the prisoners is a German spy. Escapes are thwarted, hidden supples are found, and secret tunnels are uncovered. Obviously, there has to be a mole and suspicion falls on Sefton (William Holden); he is the spiv who runs the, literal, rat racing, the still, the contraband, and bartering with the guards.


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There Are Two People In This Barracks Who Know I Didn’t Do It

Funnily enough, as well as being a repeat collaboration between Billy Wilder and William Holden, Stalag 17 marked the end of Billy Wilder’s association with Paramount. One reason is that a Paramount executive suggested making the camp guards Polish so as not to upset the newly burgeoning West German market. Wilder had lost his parents in the concentration camps and was not in any mood to placate the people who had set them up. He demanded an apology from the executive; it didn’t come and he didn’t renew his contract with Paramount.

Another nail in Paramount’s coffin was the way they treated Wilder over payment for Stalag 17.  It was one of the biggest hits of Wilder’s career and he was expecting a decent payout. Unfortunately, the studio accountants decided that his last film (Ace In The Hole) had flopped. Consequently he owed them recompense for it. They subtracted what he “owed” from his profits. This didn’t go down well with Wilder and he didn’t re-sign. As a result Paramount lost out on The Seven Year Itch, The Spirit Of St Louis, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment and more!

Me And The Guy That Did Do It

Stalag 17 was nominated for three Oscars; Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor. Holden wasn’t convinced that his performance merited the Oscar he won; his wife thought it may have been compensation for him not winning for Sunset Blvd. He wasn’t the first choice though. Charlton Heston was going to play the part but didn’t like the unsympathetic nature of Sefton. Similarly, Kirk Douglas turned down the role. He had the good grace to say that was possibly the biggest mistake of his professional career.

Another thing that helped with the character responses was that the film was shot in chronological order. This is an unusual practice because that method is usually much more expensive and time-consuming. However it does give the opportunity for the cast to be kept out of the loop as far as twists and turns are concerned. How much this helps from the viewers point of view is hard to tell. What you actually ended up with is an intriguing mystery which throws a different light onto the old PoW trope.

Movie Grade: A-

Christmas Classic Rewatch Review – Scrooge (1951)

Christmas Classic First Watch Review – White Christmas (1954)

Christmas Classic First Watch Review – Holiday Inn (1942)

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comment 7 comments
  • Terri

    Thanks for this, Rob!
    I love the reviews (and reminders!) of non-traditional holiday movies. Last week, after reading Dan’s review of “Violent Night”, I mentioned “The Ref.” to him. (He hadn’t seen it and it’s one of my faves.) Now, after seeing your post on “Stalag 17”, I’m reminded of “We’re No Angels.” It’s another classic that takes place during Christmas and is actually my 87-year old mother’s favorite non-traditional holiday film. Quite entertaining! 🙂

  • Rob Williams Administrator

    Thanks Terri! I do love a comment that sends me off towards a film I haven’t seen.

    Let me just check one thing before I hit the Apple Store…which version of We’re No Angels do you mean? I’m guessing (hoping!) that it’s the Humphrey Bogart & Peter Ustinov version rather than the Robert De Niro & Sean Penn one. After all, you didn’t say for how long it had been your mother’s favourite film!

  • Terri

    100% the 1955 version! I do hope you enjoy.

  • Terri

    Oh…and it’s usually on TCM a time or two around this time of year, so it’s possible you can see it without having to pay to rent it.

  • revrobuk Administrator

    “ 100% the 1955 version! ”

    Obviously a person after my own heart!

    No promises but there could well be a review before the holidays are over. Be warned…you will be name checked!

  • Rob Williams Administrator

    I can’t find TCM over here so I just treated myself to a copy! I’m not worried about the cost, I’ll just put in an expenses claim to Dan.

    Oh…I think I just heard him passing out.

  • Terri

    Hahaha! Poor Dan. I’m sure he never anticipated the giving spirit of the holiday meant paying for staff work expenses! Now I’ll feel really bad if We’re No Angels is a waste of your time…and his money. 🙂

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