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Pop Culture 101: THE GREAT ESCAPE

A highly fictionalized sequel about the attempts to avenge the massacre of Stalag Luft III's escapees was made for television as The Great Escape II: The Untold Story (1988) starring Christopher Reeve and Judd Hirsch. Donald Pleasence, "The Forger" in the original, returned to play a dastardly SS member in the sequel. It was co-directed by Jud Taylor, who played Goff in the original.

Although not connected in terms of plot, there is a strong resonance in theme and character between The Great Escape and Papillon (1973), a later McQueen movie about a prison escape.

Elmer Bernstein's score for The Great Escape made the soundtrack recording very popular, and his main theme has become iconic for the action genre, receiving frequent air play at the time of the film's release. In England, it has been a common theme at football matches, and one observer recently even noticed its use as a ring tone for cell phones.

The musical theme, as well as direct references to scenes and motifs in the film (especially parodies of McQueen repeatedly throwing the baseball against the wall while in solitary), has turned up in advertisements for beer, Hummer automobiles, Shell Oil, and others.

A parody of McQueen's motorcycle escape sequence was done in the comedy Top Secret! (1984) starring Val Kilmer.

In the remake of The Parent Trap (1998), the twin characters played by Lindsay Lohan are marched off to an isolated cabin with The Great Escape theme playing on the soundtrack, in a parody of McQueen's being led to "the cooler."

England's Monty Python comedy troupe parodied The Great Escape in sketches on its TV series in the late 60s and early 70s. One spoof featuring a weight-loss product called Trim Jeans shows a remake of The Great Escape "with a cast of thousands losing well over 1500 inches" while performing the story clad in the product.

In their TV series Ripping Yarns, Python members Michael Palin and Terry Jones spoof the movie in an episode entitled "Escape from Stalag Luft 112B," in which a character repeatedly fails to escape from a prison camp from which all the other inmates have fled.

Many aspects of The Great Escape have been parodied and referenced in the television shows The Simpsons, Hogan's Heroes, Nash Bridges, Seinfeld, Get Smart, Red Dwarf, and many others, and in the movies Chicken Run (2000), Reservoir Dogs (1992), and Charlie's Angels (2000) to name just a few.

In his stand-up performances, British comedian Eddie Izzard does an extended riff on The Great Escape, noting that all the British characters end tragically while the Americans played by Garner and McQueen survive.

Several documentary shorts by director Frankie Glass about the true story of the war prisoners and the making of the film are featured on the 2001 deluxe edition DVD release of the movie, with interviews of several people connected with the real-life adventure. A 1993 making-of documentary by director Steve Rubin, Return to the Great Escape, is included in other DVD versions and served as the source for several of the quotes by actors and crew members used in this article.

A video game version of The Great Escape was voted 23rd best game of all time in January 1992 by Your Sinclair, a British computer magazine.

by Rob Nixon

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