Stalag 17


2h 1953
Stalag 17

Brief Synopsis

A cynical serviceman in a World War II POW camp has to prove he's not an informer.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Drama
War
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jul 1953
Premiere Information
New York opening: 1 Jul 1953; Los Angeles opening: 15 Jul 1953
Production Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Calabasas--Snow Ranch, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Stalag 17 by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski (New York, 8 May 1951).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
12 reels

Synopsis

One week before Christmas, 1944, in Stalag 17, a Nazi prisoner of war camp occupied by American air force sergeants, two men from Barracks 4, Johnson and Manfredi, prepare to escape. After receiving last-minute instructions from their barracks mates, Johnson and Manfredi descend through a trap door underneath the barracks' stove and dart across the compound. As they enter a tunnel, Sgt. J. J. Sefton in Barracks 4 coolly bets the remaining prisoners two packs of cigarettes that the escape will fail. Although disgusted by Sefton's callousness, the others join in the wagering, stopping only when Manfredi and Johnson are shot down by German soldiers waiting for them at the end of the tunnel. The next morning, at roll call, Oberst von Scherbach, the camp's smug commandant, puts Manfredi's and Johnson's bodies on display and warns the prisoners against spoiling his escape-free record. Later, after a Barracks 4 prisoner named Duke speculates that a spy lives among them, Sgt. Price, the barracks' security officer, asks Sefton why he was so sure that Manfredi and Johnson would be caught. The cynical Sefton, who is tormenting the others by frying a fresh egg he acquired through trading with the Germans, dismisses Price's insinuations. The men then receive a contraband radio through the underground "mail" service and, after prisoners Sgt. "Animal" Stosh and Sgt. Harry Shapiro disguise the antenna by using it as a volleyball net, listen to discouraging war reports. The broadcast is interrupted by the arrival of Johann Sebastian Schulz, their seemingly buffoonish guard, who feigns surprise when Duke asks him about the "stoolie." Once alone in the barracks, however, Schulz tucks a note inside a hollow chess piece, the black queen, and signals the note's presence by lowering the cord of a light fixture hanging over the barracks' chess board. Later, Sefton, who is known for his profitable distillery and rat racetrack, incurs the ire of the barracks chief, Sgt. "Hoffy" Hoffman, when he "rents" the woman-crazy Animal and Harry a makeshift telescope with which to spy on some female Russian prisoners. After Hoffy criticizes Sefton for taking advantage of his fellow prisoners and their Red Cross packages, Duke accuses Sefton of being the spy, but Sefton again shrugs off the charge. To cheer up Animal, who is depressed because his movie star idol Betty Grable has gotten married, Harry dresses Animal and himself as painters so that they can paint their way to the showers, where the Russian women have collected. The plan fails, however, when steam from the shower obscures their view and a suspicious guard comes along. Later, two new prisoners move into Barracks 4, Sgt. Bagradian and Lt. James Dunbar. Although Sefton scorns the wealthy Dunbar, the other men listen with amazement as Dunbar describes how he blew up a German supply train by planting a time bomb in a train station bathroom. Schulz then arrives to confiscate the radio and, noticing that the cord holding the light bulb over the chess board has a large loop in it, sends the men outside and pockets the hollow queen. Soon after, the prisoners, sure that Sefton was behind the radio confiscation, break into his trunk and help themselves to his stash of food and alcohol. Through the telescope, Duke then spies Sefton cavorting with the Russian women and again accuses him of being the spy. Later, the commandant demands to see Lt. Dunbar alone, apparently aware of his involvement in the train bombing. Assuming that Sefton has betrayed Dunbar, the men give him a severe beating. The next day, during a required Geneva Convention inspection, Hoffy asks the "Geneva man" about Dunbar's status, insinuating that the Nazis may be holding him illegally. The Geneva man questions von Scherbach, who has been interrogating Dunbar mercilessly, and warns him that he will be accused of war crimes unless he has proof of Dunbar's sabotage. At Barracks 4, as the Christmas celebration begins, Price, who knows how Dunbar blew up the train, pulls the light cord to signal Schulz. From his bed, the battered Sefton notices first that the light bulb is swinging, then later that it has a loop in it. When all the prisoners except Price go outside during an apparent air raid, Sefton hides in the shadows. Sefton listens as the German-speaking Price tells Schulz how Dunbar constructed a time bomb using a tossed cigarette and a book of matches. On Christmas Day, Hoffy and the mail crew interrupt a barracks dance to announce a plan to abduct Dunbar from the S.S. using smoking smudge pots created from ping pong balls. To protect the effort, Sefton demands that Price stay with him in the barracks, and while Sefton drills Price about his self-proclaimed Ohio upbringing, the men set off the smudge pots and snatch Dunbar. Sure that Dunbar is somewhere in the camp, von Scherbach orders an intense search, but finds nothing. That night, the men start to draw dog tags to see who will help Dunbar, who has been hiding in the latrine water tower, to escape. When Price volunteers, Sefton finally exposes him as a German-born spy and demonstrates how he and Schulz communicated. Sefton then offers to escort Dunbar, noting that he might receive a sizable reward from Dunbar's rich mother if he succeeds. As soon as Sefton reaches the water tower and helps Dunbar down, Price is pushed into the compound with tin cans tied to him. While the unsuspecting guards gun down Price, Sefton and Dunbar take advantage of the commotion and slip out of the camp. Later, as Schulz and von Scherbach discover Price's body, the prisoners of Barracks 4 quietly ponder their resourceful comrade, Sefton.

Cast

William Holden

Sgt. J. J. Sefton

Don Taylor

Lt. James Dunbar

Otto Preminger

Oberst von Scherbach

Robert Strauss

Sgt. "Animal" Stosh

Harvey Lembeck

Sgt. Harry Shapiro

Richard Erdman

Sgt. "Hoffy" Hoffman

Peter Graves

Sgt. Price

Neville Brand

Duke

Sig Ruman

Johann Sebastian Schulz

Michael Moore

Sgt. Manfredi

Peter Baldwin

Sgt. Johnson

Robinson Stone

Joey

Robert Shawley

Sgt. "Blondie" Peterson

William Pierson

Marko

Gil Stratton Jr.

Sgt. Clarence Harvey "Cookie" Cook

Jay Lawrence

Sgt. Bagradian

Erwin Kalser

Geneva man

Edmund Trzcinski

Triz

Harold D. Maresch

German lieutenant

Carl Forcht

German lieutenant

Alex J. Wells

Bearded prisoner

Bob Templeton

Bearded prisoner

Paul T. Salata

Bearded prisoner

Jerry Singer

Steve, the Crutch

Bill Sheehan

Prisoner of war

Richard Porter Beedle

Sgt. "Animal" Stosh

Warren Sortomme

Prisoner of war

Robin Morse

Prisoner of war

Ralph Jarvis Gaston

Prisoner of war

Albert W. Lachasse

Prisoner of war

Rodric C. Beckham

Prisoner of war

James R. "bob" Scott

Prisoner of war

Thomas B. Fleming

Prisoner of war

William T. Mulcahy

Prisoner of war

Herbert William Street

Prisoner of war

Harry F. Reardon

Prisoner of war

Donald Cameron

Prisoner of war

Ross Bagdasarian

Prisoner of war

James B. Dabney Jr.

Prisoner of war

John P. Veitch

Prisoner of war

Forrest Lederer

Prisoner of war

Steve Wayne

Prisoner of war

Wesley Greer Ling

Prisoner of war

Gerald Gerber

Prisoner of war

Russell G. Grower

Prisoner of war

John Mitchum

Prisoner of war

William Mclean

Prisoner of war

Tommy Cook

Prisoner of war

Peter Leeds

Prisoner of war, barracks #1

William Yetter

German private

Will Kaufman

German barrack sergeant

Fred Spirz

German barrack sergeant

Robert R. Stephenson

German barrack sergeant

William Schramm

German sentry

Joe Ploski

German guard, volleyball player

Mike Bush

Dancer

Ross Gould

German orderly

Svetlana Mclee

Russian woman prisoner

Lyda Vashkulat

Russian woman prisoner

Irene Bacha

Russian woman prisoner

Audrey Strauss

Russian woman prisoner

Constance C. Meyer

Russian woman prisoner

Beatrice Da Yarr

Russian woman prisoner

Tina Blagoi

Russian woman prisoner

Marie Ardell

Russian woman prisoner

Zina Dennis

Russian woman prisoner

Janice Carroll

Russian woman prisoner

Yvette Eaton

Russian woman prisoner

Alla Gursky

Russian woman prisoner

Olga Lebedeff

Russian woman prisoner

Mara Sondakoff

Russian woman prisoner

Lana Golubeff

Russian woman prisoner

Max Willenz

German lieutenant supervisor

Photo Collections

Stalag 17 - Movie Posters
Stalag 17 - Movie Posters

Videos

Movie Clip

Stalag 17 (1953) - There Should Be A Ham Hock Sefton (Academy Award-winner William Holden), beaten up by fellow POW’s who think he’s the informer, tries to bribe guard Schultz (Sig Rumann), before the others get back to the barracks, Hoffy (Richard Erdman) making an offer before “The Geneva Man” (Erwin Kalser) appears, in Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17, 1953.
Stalag 17 (1953) - When I See Those War Pictures Cookie (Gil Stratton Jr.) narrates for writer/director Billy Wilder, leading man William Holden not involved, as Hoffy, Duke and Price (Richard Erdman, Neville Brand, Peter Graves) brief Manfredi and Johnson (Michael Moore, Peter Baldwin) for their escape, opening Stalag 17, 1953.
Stalag 17 (1953) - Illegitimate Son Of Hitler After a failed escape, German guard Schultz (Sig Ruman) joshes with Shapiro and "Animal" (Harvey Lembeck, Neville Brand), gets challenged by Duke (Neville Brand), and teased by suspected informer Sefton (William Holden), then writer/director Billy Wilder twists the plot, in Stalag 17, 1953.
Stalag 17 (1953) - Betty Grable The morning after two buddies died trying to escape, Duke (Neville Brand) in particular thinks Sefton (William Holden) informed the Germans, as Shapiro (Harvey Lembeck) and "Animal" (Robert Strauss) find solace in the new Russian lady prisoners next door, in Billy Wilder's Stalag 17, 1953.
Stalag 17 (1953) - Trading With The Enemy P.O.W. Sefton (William Holden) who won money betting against two guys killed trying to escape, enjoys a bartered egg and gets hassled by Shapiro, "Aninal," Duke, Hoffy and Price (Harvey Lembeck, Robert Strauss, Neville Brand, Richard Erdman, Peter Graves), in Billy Wilder's Stalag 17, 1953.

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Drama
War
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jul 1953
Premiere Information
New York opening: 1 Jul 1953; Los Angeles opening: 15 Jul 1953
Production Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Calabasas--Snow Ranch, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Stalag 17 by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski (New York, 8 May 1951).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
12 reels

Award Wins

Best Actor

1953
William Holden

Award Nominations

Best Director

1953
Billy Wilder

Best Supporting Actor

1953
Robert Strauss

Articles

Stalag 17: The Essentials


SYNOPSIS

Stalag 17 is a German war camp somewhere near the Danube River containing 40,000 detainees from many countries. Among them are 630 American airmen kept in one compound. And within that compound, one barracks contains a motley assortment of prisoners, including J.J. Sefton, a cynical, opportunistic sergeant who has made his captivity easier by trading with his captors and running schemes among his fellow prisoners to obtain the kind of goods (cigarettes, eggs, etc.) denied the others. The contempt Sefton's fellow prisoners feel toward the sergeant comes to a head on the night of an attempted escape by two of the men in the barracks. Although they seem to have a foolproof plan, virtually guaranteed by Sgt. Price, the prisoner in charge of security, Sefton bets the others the two escapees will not make it to the nearby forest. When the pair are gunned down by Nazis waiting for them at the exit of the tunnel they have burrowed, Sefton collects his rewards - and ignites the suspicion of his fellow prisoners. As the Germans seem more and more aware of secret doings among the prisoners, Sefton becomes regarded as a collaborator and is severely beaten by his fellow captors. But Sefton has the last laugh and eventually ferrets out the real traitor, thus proving his innocence and his genuine patriotism.

Director: Billy Wilder
Producer: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Billy Wilder & Edwin Blum, based on the play by Donald Bevan & Edmund Trzcinski
Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo
Editing: George Tomasini
Art Direction: Franz Bachelin, Hal Pereira
Original Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: William Holden (Sefton), Don Taylor (Dunbar), Otto Preminger (Col. Von Scherbach), Robert Strauss (Animal), Harvey Lembeck (Shapiro), Peter Graves (Price), Sig Ruman (Schulz).
BW-121m.

THE ESSENTIAL

In the opening moments of Stalag 17, the narrator, "Cookie," says he's sick of seeing all those war movies but never one about prisoners of war. What follows is a World War II movie audiences of its day hadn't seen before: no real action, a relatively confined location, a cynical main character, slapstick spiked with black humor, and a decidedly bitter edge to the camaraderie expected of American soldiers confined to a prison camp. The incarcerated soldiers, in fact, were not portrayed as noble patriots but as bored, deprived men subject to pettiness, sexual frustration and quick tempers. The offbeat depiction obviously struck the right note with audiences and the film became a smash hit, earning excellent critical notices and awards.

The loner as hero has long been a tradition in many American films because audiences like to root for underdogs, especially protagonists who appear at first to be cynical and self-interested but who perform heroic acts, revealing a deeper need for solidarity and redemption. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) in Casablanca (1942) is one who immediately comes to mind. As with Rick's tortured love affair with Ilsa, such characters garner more interest and sympathy if they are seen to suffer for their outsider status. Such is the case with Sefton, the part William Holden plays in Stalag 17. Writer-director-producer Billy Wilder plays up Sefton's anti-heroic qualities - his exploitive, easy-going relationship with his German captors and his almost relentless zeal for self-preservation. Then he isolates Sefton within a confined, claustrophobic environment where he is beaten down, creating tension out of the audience's desire to see him vindicated.

Wilder's method is heightened by the Oscar®-winning performance of William Holden. For his first decade or so in Hollywood, Holden played leads that traded largely on his good looks and all-American "regular-guy" appeal. Wilder first exploited the dark underpinnings of this image by casting Holden in Sunset Boulevard (1950). In Sefton he gave Holden an even more cynical role, despite the actor's reluctance to appear so unsympathetic at first. It gave the picture the edge it needed and provided Holden's career with the boost to become a major box office star and one of Hollywood's most sought-after actors for the rest of the decade.

Wilder's other achievement was to bring a relatively uninteresting and visually sparse setting to vivid life through imaginative camera placement and the dynamic choreographing of actors within scenes. This is especially evident in two sequences; the discovery of the true spy's identity and the disclosure of it to the rest of the prisoners in the barracks. Wilder creates suspense and expectation through subtle camera movement that picks up clues and reinforces Holden's ostracism from the others while connecting him to their actions and to his ultimate task of unmasking the traitor. As in the case of his later film Witness for the Prosecution (1957), another stage play adapted for the screen, Wilder took what might have been a monotonous, stagy story and transformed it into one of his most dramatically compelling films.

In addition to Holden's matchless performance, Stalag 17 is distinguished by its stellar supporting cast, in particular Robert Strauss (from the original stage play) as Animal (he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar®) and Otto Preminger as the sardonic prison commandant. Though more famous as a director, Preminger is as menacing in this rare acting role as he was said to be in person on his own movie sets. Notorious within the film industry for his often cruel treatment of actors, it seems only fitting that Preminger would willingly agree to play a sadistic authority figure. He attacks his role with a contained but obvious glee. Preminger, however, wasn't the only director Wilder would cast for a film and in the case of Erich von Stroheim, Wilder hired him twice as an actor - for the major role of Field Marshal Rommel in Five Graves to Cairo (1943) and as a former-director-turned-valet for a silent screen star in Sunset Boulevard.

by Rob Nixon
Stalag 17: The Essentials

Stalag 17: The Essentials

SYNOPSIS Stalag 17 is a German war camp somewhere near the Danube River containing 40,000 detainees from many countries. Among them are 630 American airmen kept in one compound. And within that compound, one barracks contains a motley assortment of prisoners, including J.J. Sefton, a cynical, opportunistic sergeant who has made his captivity easier by trading with his captors and running schemes among his fellow prisoners to obtain the kind of goods (cigarettes, eggs, etc.) denied the others. The contempt Sefton's fellow prisoners feel toward the sergeant comes to a head on the night of an attempted escape by two of the men in the barracks. Although they seem to have a foolproof plan, virtually guaranteed by Sgt. Price, the prisoner in charge of security, Sefton bets the others the two escapees will not make it to the nearby forest. When the pair are gunned down by Nazis waiting for them at the exit of the tunnel they have burrowed, Sefton collects his rewards - and ignites the suspicion of his fellow prisoners. As the Germans seem more and more aware of secret doings among the prisoners, Sefton becomes regarded as a collaborator and is severely beaten by his fellow captors. But Sefton has the last laugh and eventually ferrets out the real traitor, thus proving his innocence and his genuine patriotism. Director: Billy Wilder Producer: Billy Wilder Screenplay: Billy Wilder & Edwin Blum, based on the play by Donald Bevan & Edmund Trzcinski Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo Editing: George Tomasini Art Direction: Franz Bachelin, Hal Pereira Original Music: Franz Waxman Cast: William Holden (Sefton), Don Taylor (Dunbar), Otto Preminger (Col. Von Scherbach), Robert Strauss (Animal), Harvey Lembeck (Shapiro), Peter Graves (Price), Sig Ruman (Schulz). BW-121m. THE ESSENTIAL In the opening moments of Stalag 17, the narrator, "Cookie," says he's sick of seeing all those war movies but never one about prisoners of war. What follows is a World War II movie audiences of its day hadn't seen before: no real action, a relatively confined location, a cynical main character, slapstick spiked with black humor, and a decidedly bitter edge to the camaraderie expected of American soldiers confined to a prison camp. The incarcerated soldiers, in fact, were not portrayed as noble patriots but as bored, deprived men subject to pettiness, sexual frustration and quick tempers. The offbeat depiction obviously struck the right note with audiences and the film became a smash hit, earning excellent critical notices and awards. The loner as hero has long been a tradition in many American films because audiences like to root for underdogs, especially protagonists who appear at first to be cynical and self-interested but who perform heroic acts, revealing a deeper need for solidarity and redemption. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) in Casablanca (1942) is one who immediately comes to mind. As with Rick's tortured love affair with Ilsa, such characters garner more interest and sympathy if they are seen to suffer for their outsider status. Such is the case with Sefton, the part William Holden plays in Stalag 17. Writer-director-producer Billy Wilder plays up Sefton's anti-heroic qualities - his exploitive, easy-going relationship with his German captors and his almost relentless zeal for self-preservation. Then he isolates Sefton within a confined, claustrophobic environment where he is beaten down, creating tension out of the audience's desire to see him vindicated. Wilder's method is heightened by the Oscar®-winning performance of William Holden. For his first decade or so in Hollywood, Holden played leads that traded largely on his good looks and all-American "regular-guy" appeal. Wilder first exploited the dark underpinnings of this image by casting Holden in Sunset Boulevard (1950). In Sefton he gave Holden an even more cynical role, despite the actor's reluctance to appear so unsympathetic at first. It gave the picture the edge it needed and provided Holden's career with the boost to become a major box office star and one of Hollywood's most sought-after actors for the rest of the decade. Wilder's other achievement was to bring a relatively uninteresting and visually sparse setting to vivid life through imaginative camera placement and the dynamic choreographing of actors within scenes. This is especially evident in two sequences; the discovery of the true spy's identity and the disclosure of it to the rest of the prisoners in the barracks. Wilder creates suspense and expectation through subtle camera movement that picks up clues and reinforces Holden's ostracism from the others while connecting him to their actions and to his ultimate task of unmasking the traitor. As in the case of his later film Witness for the Prosecution (1957), another stage play adapted for the screen, Wilder took what might have been a monotonous, stagy story and transformed it into one of his most dramatically compelling films. In addition to Holden's matchless performance, Stalag 17 is distinguished by its stellar supporting cast, in particular Robert Strauss (from the original stage play) as Animal (he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar®) and Otto Preminger as the sardonic prison commandant. Though more famous as a director, Preminger is as menacing in this rare acting role as he was said to be in person on his own movie sets. Notorious within the film industry for his often cruel treatment of actors, it seems only fitting that Preminger would willingly agree to play a sadistic authority figure. He attacks his role with a contained but obvious glee. Preminger, however, wasn't the only director Wilder would cast for a film and in the case of Erich von Stroheim, Wilder hired him twice as an actor - for the major role of Field Marshal Rommel in Five Graves to Cairo (1943) and as a former-director-turned-valet for a silent screen star in Sunset Boulevard. by Rob Nixon

Pop Culture 101: STALAG 17


The success of Stalag 17 likely made it possible for other popular prisoner of war pictures, notably The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), which also starred William Holden, The Great Escape (1963), and King Rat (1965), which featured George Segal in a role similar, but more extreme in its cynical opportunism, to the one Holden played in this picture.

The popular TV sitcom of the 1960s, Hogan's Heroes has striking similarities to Stalag 17: a smart-aleck lead character who finagles favors and goods; an oily, outfoxed commandant; and a bumbling barracks guard named Schulz. But the show's producers insisted their series was not based on the movie and won the lawsuit that accused them of plagiarism.

The character of the fastidious, imperious commandant played so memorably here by Otto Preminger and to comic effect by Werner Klemperer in Hogan's Heroes is probably inspired by Erich von Stroheim's performance in Jean Renoir's great prisoner of war classic La Grande Illusion (1937).

A key running gag in Stalag 17 is Animal's obsession with Betty Grable, reflecting her tremendous popularity with real GIs during World War II.

by Rob Nixon

Pop Culture 101: STALAG 17

The success of Stalag 17 likely made it possible for other popular prisoner of war pictures, notably The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), which also starred William Holden, The Great Escape (1963), and King Rat (1965), which featured George Segal in a role similar, but more extreme in its cynical opportunism, to the one Holden played in this picture. The popular TV sitcom of the 1960s, Hogan's Heroes has striking similarities to Stalag 17: a smart-aleck lead character who finagles favors and goods; an oily, outfoxed commandant; and a bumbling barracks guard named Schulz. But the show's producers insisted their series was not based on the movie and won the lawsuit that accused them of plagiarism. The character of the fastidious, imperious commandant played so memorably here by Otto Preminger and to comic effect by Werner Klemperer in Hogan's Heroes is probably inspired by Erich von Stroheim's performance in Jean Renoir's great prisoner of war classic La Grande Illusion (1937). A key running gag in Stalag 17 is Animal's obsession with Betty Grable, reflecting her tremendous popularity with real GIs during World War II. by Rob Nixon

Trivia & Fun Facts About STALAG 17


Stalag 17 was one of four Broadway hits Billy Wilder adapted in the 1950s. The others were Sabrina (1954, from the play Sabrina Fair), The Seven Year Itch (1955), and Witness for the Prosecution (1957).

With another picture, Sabrina, set for release, Wilder broke his longstanding, lucrative contract with Paramount reportedly over two conflicts arising out of Stalag 17. One involved the studio's withholding of substantial profits due to Wilder from Stalag 17's runaway box office to make up for the losses incurred by his previous film, Ace in the Hole (1951), which was a box office flop. More serious, however, was a suggestion from Paramount's worldwide distribution executive George Weltner to change the Nazi spy in the story to a Polish prisoner who sold out to the Germans in order to make the picture more sellable in Germany. Wilder, an Austrian-born Jew, shot back with his own story of what the Nazis had done to his family and his people and threatened to sever his connection with the studio if he did not receive an apology. An apology never came, and Wilder's next film, The Seven Year Itch, was made at Columbia.

William Holden worked with Wilder three other times: Sunset Boulevard (1950), Sabrina, and Fedora (1978).

Holden's next picture after Stalag 17 was The Moon Is Blue (1953), also from a stage hit, and directed by Otto Preminger, who played the commandant of the prison camp.

Some people speculated Holden won the Best Actor Academy award as compensation for having been bypassed for an earlier Wilder film, Sunset Boulevard. Holden himself reportedly did not feel he should win; he thought the award should go to Burt Lancaster for From Here to Eternity (1953). "I felt adequate in Stalag 17, but I was never really simpatico with Sefton," he later said.

Holden was a little miffed when he was announced as the winner but told he had to be very brief in his acceptance because the telecast show was running long. He grabbed the statue and said merely "Thank you" before walking off.

Glenn Ford told columnists he rejected the offer to accept the Oscar® for Montgomery Clift or Burt Lancaster should either of them win (they both indicated they would skip the awards show) out of loyalty to and support for his good friend Bill Holden.

MGM, producer of Holden's picture Executive Suite (1954), released trailers for the new film a week before the Academy Awards crediting Holden as "Best Male Actor" winner.

According to the book Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards (Ballantine, 1986), Robert Strauss was so delighted to receive the Best Supporting Actor nomination that "he printed his acceptance speech in the trade papers in advance."

One of the authors of the play Stalag 17, Edmund Trzcinski, appears in the movie as the soldier who gets a letter from his wife claiming she found a baby on her doorstep that just happened to look exactly like her.

The soldier singing at the Christmas party is Ross Bagdasarian. Shortly after Stalag 17 he was featured as the frustrated songwriter at the piano across the courtyard in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954). A prolific composer in real life ("Witch Doctor," "Come On-A My House"), he later created, under the name David Seville, the musical novelty act, The Chipmunks.

Although he had made a handful of pictures in the previous decade, character actor Robert Strauss got his real screen break recreating the role he played on stage, the Betty Grable-obsessed Animal. Strauss worked with Wilder again, as Kruhulik the building janitor in The Seven Year Itch. He made more than 30 more films after Stalag 17 and dozens of TV appearances before his death in 1975.

Harvey Lembeck had a long career as a character actor after playing Shapiro in this film. He's best known as Barbella on the 1950s military sitcom The Phil Silvers Show (aka Sergeant Bilko) and as the comic biker bad guy Eric Von Zipper, which he played in several of the Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello teen movies of the early 60s.

Peter Graves, who played Price, is the younger brother of James Arness (aka Marshall Dillon of Gunsmoke). Graves is perhaps best known for his role as Jim Phelps in the TV series Mission Impossible, as the seemingly pedophiliac pilot in the disaster movie spoof Airplane! (1980) and as the long-running host of the Biography TV series.

Sig Ruman played the quintessential German on screen in more than 100 films (mostly comedies) between 1929 and 1966. His talents were sought after by the Marx Brothers (three pictures), Ernst Lubitsch (great comic turns in Ninotchka, 1939, and To Be or Not to Be, 1942), and by Billy Wilder. In addition to this picture, Wilder directed him in The Emperor Waltz (1948) and The Fortune Cookie (1966).

The original play on which Stalag 17 was based was produced and directed on Broadway by Jose Ferrer, who won the Best Actor Academy Award for Cyrano de Bergerac (1950) the year Holden was nominated for the first time, for Sunset Boulevard.

Holden's brother, Richard Beedle, had an uncredited bit in the movie. He also played small roles in two other movies the same year.

Rob Nixon Memorable Quotes from STALAG 17

COOKIE (Gil Stratton): I don't know about you, but it always makes me sore when I see those war pictures... all about flying leathernecks and submarine patrols and frogmen and guerillas in the Philippines. What gets me is that there never w-was a movie about POWs, about prisoners of war.

SEFTON (William Holden): Two packs of cigarettes says they don't get out of the forest.
SHAPIRO (Harvey Lembeck): He'd make book on his own mother getting hit by a truck.

VON SCHERBACH (Otto Preminger): Nasty weather we're having, eh? And I was so hoping to give you a White Christmas, just like the ones you used to know.

SHAPIRO: I'm tellin' ya, Animal, these Krauts ain't kosher.

ANIMAL (Robert Strauss): (looking at the egg Sefton is cooking) Where'd it come from?
SEFTON: From a chicken, bug-wit.

DUKE (Neville Brand): Come on, Trader Horn, let's hear it. What'd you give the krauts for that egg?
SEFTON: Forty five cigarettes. Price has gone up.
DUKE: They wouldn't be the cigarettes you took us for last night?
SEFTON: What was I gonna do with them? I only smoke cigars.

SEFTON: What's the beef, boys? So I'm trading. Everybody here is trading. Maybe I'm trading a little sharper. Does that make me a collaborator?

SCHULZ (Sig Ruman): That's me in Cincinnati.
ANIMAL: Who's the other wrestler, with the mustache?
SCHULZ: That's my wife.

SCHULZ: How do you expect to win the war with an army of clowns?
DUNBAR (Don Taylor): We sorta hope you'll laugh yourselves to death.

VON SCHERBACH: I'm very grateful for the company. You see, I suffer from insomnia.
DUNBAR: You ever try 40 sleeping pills?

PRICE (Peter Graves): Sefton, I never liked you and I never will.
SEFTON: A lot of people say that and first thing you know they get married, and live happily ever after.

SEFTON: If I ever run into any of you bums on a street corner, just let's pretend we've never met before.

Compiled by Rob Nixon

Trivia & Fun Facts About STALAG 17

Stalag 17 was one of four Broadway hits Billy Wilder adapted in the 1950s. The others were Sabrina (1954, from the play Sabrina Fair), The Seven Year Itch (1955), and Witness for the Prosecution (1957). With another picture, Sabrina, set for release, Wilder broke his longstanding, lucrative contract with Paramount reportedly over two conflicts arising out of Stalag 17. One involved the studio's withholding of substantial profits due to Wilder from Stalag 17's runaway box office to make up for the losses incurred by his previous film, Ace in the Hole (1951), which was a box office flop. More serious, however, was a suggestion from Paramount's worldwide distribution executive George Weltner to change the Nazi spy in the story to a Polish prisoner who sold out to the Germans in order to make the picture more sellable in Germany. Wilder, an Austrian-born Jew, shot back with his own story of what the Nazis had done to his family and his people and threatened to sever his connection with the studio if he did not receive an apology. An apology never came, and Wilder's next film, The Seven Year Itch, was made at Columbia. William Holden worked with Wilder three other times: Sunset Boulevard (1950), Sabrina, and Fedora (1978). Holden's next picture after Stalag 17 was The Moon Is Blue (1953), also from a stage hit, and directed by Otto Preminger, who played the commandant of the prison camp. Some people speculated Holden won the Best Actor Academy award as compensation for having been bypassed for an earlier Wilder film, Sunset Boulevard. Holden himself reportedly did not feel he should win; he thought the award should go to Burt Lancaster for From Here to Eternity (1953). "I felt adequate in Stalag 17, but I was never really simpatico with Sefton," he later said. Holden was a little miffed when he was announced as the winner but told he had to be very brief in his acceptance because the telecast show was running long. He grabbed the statue and said merely "Thank you" before walking off. Glenn Ford told columnists he rejected the offer to accept the Oscar® for Montgomery Clift or Burt Lancaster should either of them win (they both indicated they would skip the awards show) out of loyalty to and support for his good friend Bill Holden. MGM, producer of Holden's picture Executive Suite (1954), released trailers for the new film a week before the Academy Awards crediting Holden as "Best Male Actor" winner. According to the book Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards (Ballantine, 1986), Robert Strauss was so delighted to receive the Best Supporting Actor nomination that "he printed his acceptance speech in the trade papers in advance." One of the authors of the play Stalag 17, Edmund Trzcinski, appears in the movie as the soldier who gets a letter from his wife claiming she found a baby on her doorstep that just happened to look exactly like her. The soldier singing at the Christmas party is Ross Bagdasarian. Shortly after Stalag 17 he was featured as the frustrated songwriter at the piano across the courtyard in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954). A prolific composer in real life ("Witch Doctor," "Come On-A My House"), he later created, under the name David Seville, the musical novelty act, The Chipmunks. Although he had made a handful of pictures in the previous decade, character actor Robert Strauss got his real screen break recreating the role he played on stage, the Betty Grable-obsessed Animal. Strauss worked with Wilder again, as Kruhulik the building janitor in The Seven Year Itch. He made more than 30 more films after Stalag 17 and dozens of TV appearances before his death in 1975. Harvey Lembeck had a long career as a character actor after playing Shapiro in this film. He's best known as Barbella on the 1950s military sitcom The Phil Silvers Show (aka Sergeant Bilko) and as the comic biker bad guy Eric Von Zipper, which he played in several of the Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello teen movies of the early 60s. Peter Graves, who played Price, is the younger brother of James Arness (aka Marshall Dillon of Gunsmoke). Graves is perhaps best known for his role as Jim Phelps in the TV series Mission Impossible, as the seemingly pedophiliac pilot in the disaster movie spoof Airplane! (1980) and as the long-running host of the Biography TV series. Sig Ruman played the quintessential German on screen in more than 100 films (mostly comedies) between 1929 and 1966. His talents were sought after by the Marx Brothers (three pictures), Ernst Lubitsch (great comic turns in Ninotchka, 1939, and To Be or Not to Be, 1942), and by Billy Wilder. In addition to this picture, Wilder directed him in The Emperor Waltz (1948) and The Fortune Cookie (1966). The original play on which Stalag 17 was based was produced and directed on Broadway by Jose Ferrer, who won the Best Actor Academy Award for Cyrano de Bergerac (1950) the year Holden was nominated for the first time, for Sunset Boulevard. Holden's brother, Richard Beedle, had an uncredited bit in the movie. He also played small roles in two other movies the same year. Rob Nixon Memorable Quotes from STALAG 17 COOKIE (Gil Stratton): I don't know about you, but it always makes me sore when I see those war pictures... all about flying leathernecks and submarine patrols and frogmen and guerillas in the Philippines. What gets me is that there never w-was a movie about POWs, about prisoners of war. SEFTON (William Holden): Two packs of cigarettes says they don't get out of the forest. SHAPIRO (Harvey Lembeck): He'd make book on his own mother getting hit by a truck. VON SCHERBACH (Otto Preminger): Nasty weather we're having, eh? And I was so hoping to give you a White Christmas, just like the ones you used to know. SHAPIRO: I'm tellin' ya, Animal, these Krauts ain't kosher. ANIMAL (Robert Strauss): (looking at the egg Sefton is cooking) Where'd it come from? SEFTON: From a chicken, bug-wit. DUKE (Neville Brand): Come on, Trader Horn, let's hear it. What'd you give the krauts for that egg? SEFTON: Forty five cigarettes. Price has gone up. DUKE: They wouldn't be the cigarettes you took us for last night? SEFTON: What was I gonna do with them? I only smoke cigars. SEFTON: What's the beef, boys? So I'm trading. Everybody here is trading. Maybe I'm trading a little sharper. Does that make me a collaborator? SCHULZ (Sig Ruman): That's me in Cincinnati. ANIMAL: Who's the other wrestler, with the mustache? SCHULZ: That's my wife. SCHULZ: How do you expect to win the war with an army of clowns? DUNBAR (Don Taylor): We sorta hope you'll laugh yourselves to death. VON SCHERBACH: I'm very grateful for the company. You see, I suffer from insomnia. DUNBAR: You ever try 40 sleeping pills? PRICE (Peter Graves): Sefton, I never liked you and I never will. SEFTON: A lot of people say that and first thing you know they get married, and live happily ever after. SEFTON: If I ever run into any of you bums on a street corner, just let's pretend we've never met before. Compiled by Rob Nixon

The Big Idea


Stalag 17 was first a Broadway play that no one expected to be a smash hit. It premiered late in the 1950-51 season with almost no advance ticket sales to keep it going through the slow summer. Yet even without a single known star in the cast, the play did very well, thanks in part to the novelty of the POW setting and the bawdy, dark humor. It ran for nearly 500 performances and was produced and directed by actor Jose Ferrer, who won a Tony Award for his direction.

Wilder liked the play's mix of comedy and intrigue and was especially attracted to the character of Sefton. This character and the subject matter bore similarities to an earlier pet project, the comedy-drama-romance A Foreign Affair (1948), set in postwar Germany and featuring a character named Erika (Marlene Dietrich), who like Sefton is a born survivor willing to do whatever is necessary to live a life of comfort.

Wilder needed a hit. His first film as a producer, Ace in the Hole (1951), was considered his most bitterly cynical work yet. But it was rejected by critics and the public alike (even after Paramount re-released it with what they thought was a more appealing title, The Big Carnival). Convinced he would have a money-maker with the play, he bought the rights to Stalag 17 for $50,000.

Wilder's successful writing partnership with Charles Brackett ended after Sunset Boulevard (1950) and his longstanding collaboration with I.A.L. Diamond would not begin until Love in the Afternoon (1957). To help him adapt Donald Bevan's and Edmund Trzcinski's play, he chose Edwin Blum, who had written a few lesser-known Tarzan pictures, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939), arguably the best of that series, and the supernatural comedy The Canterville Ghost (1944).

At first, Wilder conceived the lead role of Sefton for Charlton Heston. But as the character more clearly emerged, he began to think of William Holden (although some sources say he also considered Kirk Douglas). It was Wilder who had changed Holden's image from that of the handsome leading man and given him darker, more complex shadings that revealed the fine actor beneath.

Wilder asked Holden to see the play when he was in New York. The actor was not impressed, walking out after the first act. He thought the story was unexciting and found Sefton to be no more than an unmitigated con man. Wilder assured him the role would be richer and more compelling in the finished script.

Indeed, Holden found the script very appealing and agreed to do the role, but he was still apprehensive. He thought bits should be added to make Sefton less of a heel and even suggested he be given a few lines to emphasize how much he hated the Germans. But Wilder refused to soften the character beyond his conception.

Wilder retained some of the actors from the stage version, most notably Harvey Lembeck and Robert Strauss as the buffoonish duo Shapiro and Animal, and William Pierson as the nasal mail deliverer Marko.

In the role of the Commandant, which didn't exist in the original stage play, Wilder cast his friend Otto Preminger, another Austrian Jew who had made a name for himself as a top director in the 1940s.

by Rob Nixon

The Big Idea

Stalag 17 was first a Broadway play that no one expected to be a smash hit. It premiered late in the 1950-51 season with almost no advance ticket sales to keep it going through the slow summer. Yet even without a single known star in the cast, the play did very well, thanks in part to the novelty of the POW setting and the bawdy, dark humor. It ran for nearly 500 performances and was produced and directed by actor Jose Ferrer, who won a Tony Award for his direction. Wilder liked the play's mix of comedy and intrigue and was especially attracted to the character of Sefton. This character and the subject matter bore similarities to an earlier pet project, the comedy-drama-romance A Foreign Affair (1948), set in postwar Germany and featuring a character named Erika (Marlene Dietrich), who like Sefton is a born survivor willing to do whatever is necessary to live a life of comfort. Wilder needed a hit. His first film as a producer, Ace in the Hole (1951), was considered his most bitterly cynical work yet. But it was rejected by critics and the public alike (even after Paramount re-released it with what they thought was a more appealing title, The Big Carnival). Convinced he would have a money-maker with the play, he bought the rights to Stalag 17 for $50,000. Wilder's successful writing partnership with Charles Brackett ended after Sunset Boulevard (1950) and his longstanding collaboration with I.A.L. Diamond would not begin until Love in the Afternoon (1957). To help him adapt Donald Bevan's and Edmund Trzcinski's play, he chose Edwin Blum, who had written a few lesser-known Tarzan pictures, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939), arguably the best of that series, and the supernatural comedy The Canterville Ghost (1944). At first, Wilder conceived the lead role of Sefton for Charlton Heston. But as the character more clearly emerged, he began to think of William Holden (although some sources say he also considered Kirk Douglas). It was Wilder who had changed Holden's image from that of the handsome leading man and given him darker, more complex shadings that revealed the fine actor beneath. Wilder asked Holden to see the play when he was in New York. The actor was not impressed, walking out after the first act. He thought the story was unexciting and found Sefton to be no more than an unmitigated con man. Wilder assured him the role would be richer and more compelling in the finished script. Indeed, Holden found the script very appealing and agreed to do the role, but he was still apprehensive. He thought bits should be added to make Sefton less of a heel and even suggested he be given a few lines to emphasize how much he hated the Germans. But Wilder refused to soften the character beyond his conception. Wilder retained some of the actors from the stage version, most notably Harvey Lembeck and Robert Strauss as the buffoonish duo Shapiro and Animal, and William Pierson as the nasal mail deliverer Marko. In the role of the Commandant, which didn't exist in the original stage play, Wilder cast his friend Otto Preminger, another Austrian Jew who had made a name for himself as a top director in the 1940s. by Rob Nixon

Behind the Camera


On the first day of shooting, Billy Wilder made it clear that the script was to be delivered exactly as written with no deviation. He addressed this to the entire cast but with particular focus on William Holden, who wanted lines changed or added to make the character of Sefton more likeable, and Otto Preminger. The latter had a tendency to ham it up and, as a seasoned director himself, was used to calling the shots.

To achieve the build-up of suspense and the gradual revelation of character, the picture was filmed in sequence.

While filming at Paramount's ranch in Calabasas, California, Wilder reportedly wore his best shoes to work in the mud. He felt it was only fair, since he was asking his cast and crew to work under filthy, muddy conditions day after day. He even refused to use the planks that were set down for Otto Preminger's commandant character and as a result ruined his very expensive footwear.

Things that were more verbal and stage-bound in the original were worked out in more visually innovative ways during shooting. For instance, the discovery of the true informer came about on stage in an overheard conversation. On film, Wilder used the visual clue of the light cord with the loop in it.

Holden threw himself into the role with a great deal of intensity. His hair was cropped into a crewcut and his face unshaven, a look that not only gave the character reality but also undercut the actor's good looks. Usually friendly and lively on a movie set, he was withdrawn on the Stalag 17 set and complained about the noise and pranks among the rest of the cast, some of whom had an easy camaraderie from more than a year of doing the play on stage. But as his confidence grew in the role, Holden became more at ease, sometimes even frivolous, on the set.

One day during an afternoon break in filming, Holden "entertained" a young actress in his dressing room. Later that day, while shooting one of the final scenes with Don Taylor in the water tower, he looked down and saw his wife standing on the set with a stricken look on her face. Convinced she had learned about the dressing room incident, he climbed down, certain his marriage was over. He was greatly relieved when he realized she had only come to tell him she had accidentally wrecked their car.

Although suggestions for making Sefton more palatable were rejected by Wilder, the director did allow for a fleeting moment of warmth and humanity in the final scene. As he slips down into the tunnel in the barracks, Sefton says bitterly to the other airmen who had once rejected, accused and beaten him, "If I ever run into any of you bums on a street corner, just let's pretend we've never met before." That departure seemed too abrupt and anticlimactic, so Wilder had Holden pop back up through the hole, smile, and salute before disappearing again.

by Rob Nixon

Behind the Camera

On the first day of shooting, Billy Wilder made it clear that the script was to be delivered exactly as written with no deviation. He addressed this to the entire cast but with particular focus on William Holden, who wanted lines changed or added to make the character of Sefton more likeable, and Otto Preminger. The latter had a tendency to ham it up and, as a seasoned director himself, was used to calling the shots. To achieve the build-up of suspense and the gradual revelation of character, the picture was filmed in sequence. While filming at Paramount's ranch in Calabasas, California, Wilder reportedly wore his best shoes to work in the mud. He felt it was only fair, since he was asking his cast and crew to work under filthy, muddy conditions day after day. He even refused to use the planks that were set down for Otto Preminger's commandant character and as a result ruined his very expensive footwear. Things that were more verbal and stage-bound in the original were worked out in more visually innovative ways during shooting. For instance, the discovery of the true informer came about on stage in an overheard conversation. On film, Wilder used the visual clue of the light cord with the loop in it. Holden threw himself into the role with a great deal of intensity. His hair was cropped into a crewcut and his face unshaven, a look that not only gave the character reality but also undercut the actor's good looks. Usually friendly and lively on a movie set, he was withdrawn on the Stalag 17 set and complained about the noise and pranks among the rest of the cast, some of whom had an easy camaraderie from more than a year of doing the play on stage. But as his confidence grew in the role, Holden became more at ease, sometimes even frivolous, on the set. One day during an afternoon break in filming, Holden "entertained" a young actress in his dressing room. Later that day, while shooting one of the final scenes with Don Taylor in the water tower, he looked down and saw his wife standing on the set with a stricken look on her face. Convinced she had learned about the dressing room incident, he climbed down, certain his marriage was over. He was greatly relieved when he realized she had only come to tell him she had accidentally wrecked their car. Although suggestions for making Sefton more palatable were rejected by Wilder, the director did allow for a fleeting moment of warmth and humanity in the final scene. As he slips down into the tunnel in the barracks, Sefton says bitterly to the other airmen who had once rejected, accused and beaten him, "If I ever run into any of you bums on a street corner, just let's pretend we've never met before." That departure seemed too abrupt and anticlimactic, so Wilder had Holden pop back up through the hole, smile, and salute before disappearing again. by Rob Nixon

The Critics Corner: STALAG 17


Stalag 17 was a huge success with critics and audiences, earning $10 million within six months of its release in summer 1953; it was an even bigger hit in Europe.

Stalag 17 received Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Supporting Actor (Robert Strauss). William Holden won for Best Actor.

Wilder was nominated for the Directors Guild of America Award, and he and Edwin Blum were nominated for their script by the Writers Guild of America.

"Raucous and tense, heartless and sentimental, always fast-paced, it has already been assigned by critics to places on their list of the year's ten best movies...As acted by William Holden, Stalag 17's hero-heel emerges as the most memorable character to come out in Hollywood this year." - Life magazine.

"Holden is magnificent as the heel-turned-hero, but Stalag 17 is full of wonderful, well-directed performances....Peppered with Wilder's distinctive biting wit..." TV Guide.

"Even the despairing range [Holden] demonstrated in Sunset Boulevard [1950] hadn't prepared audiences for the abrasive edge and distinctively male energy he showed in this role, which is rather like the parts that catapulted Bogart to a new level of stardom in the early 40s." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies (Henry Holt and Co., 1982).

"Stalag 17, which I admire, is both a psychological and a comic film, but the comedy is far weaker than that "psychologogy" I've just disparaged. The latter is so unusual and subtle that I think it makes this Wilder's best film...The depravity of the group versus the individual's moral solitude, is this not a large theme? Are we not right to salute a movie that dares to depart from the exigencies of life that make the beggar an accomplice of the very order that he denounces, and shows us that the answers are in us and only in us?" - Francois Truffaut, The Films In My Life (Touchstone).

"Granddaddy of all WW2 POW films...Wilder brilliantly blends drama with comedy to show monotonous, anxiety-ridden life of POWs. Wonderful comic relief by Strauss and Lembeck (repeating their Broadway roles) plus superb turn by Preminger as Nazi camp commander." - Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide (Plume).

"High jinks, violence and mystery in a sharply calculated mixture; an atmosphere quite different from the understated British films on the subject." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide (HarperPerrenial).

"A lusty comedy melodrama, loaded with bold, masculine humor and as much of the original's uninhibited earthiness as good taste and the Production Code permit...Otto Preminger is the third star, playing the camp commander, with obvious relish for its colorful cruelty." - Variety Movie Guide (Prentice Hall).

"Seamless comedy-drama with realistic squalor and squabbling in the daddy of World War 2 prison camp movies. Mischievous wit Wilder subverted the genre with a bitter, cynical anti-hero (Holden, who won the Oscar® as Sefton, who is closest, of all Wilder's characters, to his alter ego)...This is one of Wilder's own favorites." - The Rough Guide to Cult Movies (Penguin).

"Picture stumbles along at the beginning, as we try to adjust to the rowdy comedy that plays a major part in the film (these men need laughter in their lives), but it really gets exciting once we viewers are let in on the spy's identity. The "Johnny Comes Marching Home" sequence is quite powerful. We can't wait till Holden traps the culprit." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic (Fireside).

"Billy Wilder's highly honored adaptation of the play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski really does not live up to its reputation. It's less a realistic look at life inside a German prison camp than an improbable suspense tale that depends on some clumsy contrivances. Worse yet, the moments of comic relief are appalling...Stalag 17 is really more a Cold War film than a World War II film. Its questions about informants, loyalty, and the tyranny of the group over the individual are concerns of the 1950s, not the 1940s." - Mike Mayo, War Movies (Visible Ink).

Compiled by Rob Nixon & Jeff Stafford

The Critics Corner: STALAG 17

Stalag 17 was a huge success with critics and audiences, earning $10 million within six months of its release in summer 1953; it was an even bigger hit in Europe. Stalag 17 received Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Supporting Actor (Robert Strauss). William Holden won for Best Actor. Wilder was nominated for the Directors Guild of America Award, and he and Edwin Blum were nominated for their script by the Writers Guild of America. "Raucous and tense, heartless and sentimental, always fast-paced, it has already been assigned by critics to places on their list of the year's ten best movies...As acted by William Holden, Stalag 17's hero-heel emerges as the most memorable character to come out in Hollywood this year." - Life magazine. "Holden is magnificent as the heel-turned-hero, but Stalag 17 is full of wonderful, well-directed performances....Peppered with Wilder's distinctive biting wit..." TV Guide. "Even the despairing range [Holden] demonstrated in Sunset Boulevard [1950] hadn't prepared audiences for the abrasive edge and distinctively male energy he showed in this role, which is rather like the parts that catapulted Bogart to a new level of stardom in the early 40s." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies (Henry Holt and Co., 1982). "Stalag 17, which I admire, is both a psychological and a comic film, but the comedy is far weaker than that "psychologogy" I've just disparaged. The latter is so unusual and subtle that I think it makes this Wilder's best film...The depravity of the group versus the individual's moral solitude, is this not a large theme? Are we not right to salute a movie that dares to depart from the exigencies of life that make the beggar an accomplice of the very order that he denounces, and shows us that the answers are in us and only in us?" - Francois Truffaut, The Films In My Life (Touchstone). "Granddaddy of all WW2 POW films...Wilder brilliantly blends drama with comedy to show monotonous, anxiety-ridden life of POWs. Wonderful comic relief by Strauss and Lembeck (repeating their Broadway roles) plus superb turn by Preminger as Nazi camp commander." - Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide (Plume). "High jinks, violence and mystery in a sharply calculated mixture; an atmosphere quite different from the understated British films on the subject." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide (HarperPerrenial). "A lusty comedy melodrama, loaded with bold, masculine humor and as much of the original's uninhibited earthiness as good taste and the Production Code permit...Otto Preminger is the third star, playing the camp commander, with obvious relish for its colorful cruelty." - Variety Movie Guide (Prentice Hall). "Seamless comedy-drama with realistic squalor and squabbling in the daddy of World War 2 prison camp movies. Mischievous wit Wilder subverted the genre with a bitter, cynical anti-hero (Holden, who won the Oscar® as Sefton, who is closest, of all Wilder's characters, to his alter ego)...This is one of Wilder's own favorites." - The Rough Guide to Cult Movies (Penguin). "Picture stumbles along at the beginning, as we try to adjust to the rowdy comedy that plays a major part in the film (these men need laughter in their lives), but it really gets exciting once we viewers are let in on the spy's identity. The "Johnny Comes Marching Home" sequence is quite powerful. We can't wait till Holden traps the culprit." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic (Fireside). "Billy Wilder's highly honored adaptation of the play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski really does not live up to its reputation. It's less a realistic look at life inside a German prison camp than an improbable suspense tale that depends on some clumsy contrivances. Worse yet, the moments of comic relief are appalling...Stalag 17 is really more a Cold War film than a World War II film. Its questions about informants, loyalty, and the tyranny of the group over the individual are concerns of the 1950s, not the 1940s." - Mike Mayo, War Movies (Visible Ink). Compiled by Rob Nixon & Jeff Stafford

Stalag 17


SYNOPSIS: Stalag 17 is a German war camp somewhere near the Danube River containing 40,000 detainees from many countries. Among them are 630 American airmen kept in one compound. And within that compound, one barracks contains a motley assortment of prisoners, including J.J. Sefton, a cynical, opportunistic sergeant who has made his captivity easier by trading with his captors and running schemes among his fellow prisoners to obtain the kind of goods (cigarettes, eggs, etc.) denied the others. The contempt Sefton's fellow prisoners feel toward the sergeant comes to a head on the night of an attempted escape by two of the men in the barracks. Although they seem to have a foolproof plan, virtually guaranteed by Sgt. Price, the prisoner in charge of security, Sefton bets the others the two escapees will not make it to the nearby forest. When the pair are gunned down by Nazis waiting for them at the exit of the tunnel they have burrowed, Sefton collects his rewards - and ignites the suspicion of his fellow prisoners. As the Germans seem more and more aware of secret doings among the prisoners, Sefton becomes regarded as a collaborator and is severely beaten by his fellow captors. But Sefton has the last laugh and eventually ferrets out the real traitor, thus proving his innocence and his genuine patriotism.

In the opening moments of Stalag 17, the narrator, "Cookie," says he's sick of seeing all those war movies but never one about prisoners of war. What follows is a World War II movie audiences of its day hadn't seen before: no real action, a relatively confined location, a cynical main character, slapstick spiked with black humor, and a decidedly bitter edge to the camaraderie expected of American soldiers confined to a prison camp. The incarcerated soldiers, in fact, were not portrayed as noble patriots but as bored, deprived men subject to pettiness, sexual frustration and quick tempers. The offbeat depiction obviously struck the right note with audiences and the film became a smash hit, earning excellent critical notices and awards.

The loner as hero has long been a tradition in many American films because audiences like to root for underdogs, especially protagonists who appear at first to be cynical and self-interested but who perform heroic acts, revealing a deeper need for solidarity and redemption. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) in Casablanca (1942) is one who immediately comes to mind. As with Rick's tortured love affair with Ilsa, such characters garner more interest and sympathy if they are seen to suffer for their outsider status. Such is the case with Sefton, the part William Holden plays in Stalag 17. Writer-director-producer Billy Wilder plays up Sefton's anti-heroic qualities - his exploitive, easy-going relationship with his German captors and his almost relentless zeal for self-preservation. Then he isolates Sefton within a confined, claustrophobic environment where he is beaten down, creating tension out of the audience's desire to see him vindicated.

Wilder's method is heightened by the Oscar®-winning performance of William Holden. For his first decade or so in Hollywood, Holden played leads that traded largely on his good looks and all-American "regular-guy" appeal. Wilder first exploited the dark underpinnings of this image by casting Holden in Sunset Boulevard (1950). In Sefton he gave Holden an even more cynical role, despite the actor's reluctance to appear so unsympathetic at first. It gave the picture the edge it needed and provided Holden's career with the boost to become a major box office star and one of Hollywood's most sought-after actors for the rest of the decade.

Wilder's other achievement was to bring a relatively uninteresting and visually sparse setting to vivid life through imaginative camera placement and the dynamic choreographing of actors within scenes. This is especially evident in two sequences; the discovery of the true spy's identity and the disclosure of it to the rest of the prisoners in the barracks. Wilder creates suspense and expectation through subtle camera movement that picks up clues and reinforces Holden's ostracism from the others while connecting him to their actions and to his ultimate task of unmasking the traitor. As in the case of his later film Witness for the Prosecution (1957), another stage play adapted for the screen, Wilder took what might have been a monotonous, stagy story and transformed it into one of his most dramatically compelling films.

In addition to Holden's matchless performance, Stalag 17 is distinguished by its stellar supporting cast, in particular Robert Strauss (from the original stage play) as Animal (he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar®) and Otto Preminger as the sardonic prison commandant. Though more famous as a director, Preminger is as menacing in this rare acting role as he was said to be in person on his own movie sets. Notorious within the film industry for his often cruel treatment of actors, it seems only fitting that Preminger would willingly agree to play a sadistic authority figure. He attacks his role with a contained but obvious glee. Preminger, however, wasn't the only director Wilder would cast for a film and in the case of Erich von Stroheim, Wilder hired him twice as an actor - for the major role of Field Marshal Rommel in Five Graves to Cairo (1943) and as a former-director-turned-valet for a silent screen star in Sunset Boulevard.

Director: Billy Wilder
Producer: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Billy Wilder & Edwin Blum, based on the play by Donald Bevan & Edmund Trzcinski
Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo
Editing: George Tomasini
Art Direction: Franz Bachelin, Hal Pereira
Original Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: William Holden (Sefton), Don Taylor (Dunbar), Otto Preminger (Col. Von Scherbach), Robert Strauss (Animal), Harvey Lembeck (Shapiro), Peter Graves (Price), Sig Ruman (Schulz).
bw-121m.

by Rob Nixon

Stalag 17

SYNOPSIS: Stalag 17 is a German war camp somewhere near the Danube River containing 40,000 detainees from many countries. Among them are 630 American airmen kept in one compound. And within that compound, one barracks contains a motley assortment of prisoners, including J.J. Sefton, a cynical, opportunistic sergeant who has made his captivity easier by trading with his captors and running schemes among his fellow prisoners to obtain the kind of goods (cigarettes, eggs, etc.) denied the others. The contempt Sefton's fellow prisoners feel toward the sergeant comes to a head on the night of an attempted escape by two of the men in the barracks. Although they seem to have a foolproof plan, virtually guaranteed by Sgt. Price, the prisoner in charge of security, Sefton bets the others the two escapees will not make it to the nearby forest. When the pair are gunned down by Nazis waiting for them at the exit of the tunnel they have burrowed, Sefton collects his rewards - and ignites the suspicion of his fellow prisoners. As the Germans seem more and more aware of secret doings among the prisoners, Sefton becomes regarded as a collaborator and is severely beaten by his fellow captors. But Sefton has the last laugh and eventually ferrets out the real traitor, thus proving his innocence and his genuine patriotism. In the opening moments of Stalag 17, the narrator, "Cookie," says he's sick of seeing all those war movies but never one about prisoners of war. What follows is a World War II movie audiences of its day hadn't seen before: no real action, a relatively confined location, a cynical main character, slapstick spiked with black humor, and a decidedly bitter edge to the camaraderie expected of American soldiers confined to a prison camp. The incarcerated soldiers, in fact, were not portrayed as noble patriots but as bored, deprived men subject to pettiness, sexual frustration and quick tempers. The offbeat depiction obviously struck the right note with audiences and the film became a smash hit, earning excellent critical notices and awards. The loner as hero has long been a tradition in many American films because audiences like to root for underdogs, especially protagonists who appear at first to be cynical and self-interested but who perform heroic acts, revealing a deeper need for solidarity and redemption. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) in Casablanca (1942) is one who immediately comes to mind. As with Rick's tortured love affair with Ilsa, such characters garner more interest and sympathy if they are seen to suffer for their outsider status. Such is the case with Sefton, the part William Holden plays in Stalag 17. Writer-director-producer Billy Wilder plays up Sefton's anti-heroic qualities - his exploitive, easy-going relationship with his German captors and his almost relentless zeal for self-preservation. Then he isolates Sefton within a confined, claustrophobic environment where he is beaten down, creating tension out of the audience's desire to see him vindicated. Wilder's method is heightened by the Oscar®-winning performance of William Holden. For his first decade or so in Hollywood, Holden played leads that traded largely on his good looks and all-American "regular-guy" appeal. Wilder first exploited the dark underpinnings of this image by casting Holden in Sunset Boulevard (1950). In Sefton he gave Holden an even more cynical role, despite the actor's reluctance to appear so unsympathetic at first. It gave the picture the edge it needed and provided Holden's career with the boost to become a major box office star and one of Hollywood's most sought-after actors for the rest of the decade. Wilder's other achievement was to bring a relatively uninteresting and visually sparse setting to vivid life through imaginative camera placement and the dynamic choreographing of actors within scenes. This is especially evident in two sequences; the discovery of the true spy's identity and the disclosure of it to the rest of the prisoners in the barracks. Wilder creates suspense and expectation through subtle camera movement that picks up clues and reinforces Holden's ostracism from the others while connecting him to their actions and to his ultimate task of unmasking the traitor. As in the case of his later film Witness for the Prosecution (1957), another stage play adapted for the screen, Wilder took what might have been a monotonous, stagy story and transformed it into one of his most dramatically compelling films. In addition to Holden's matchless performance, Stalag 17 is distinguished by its stellar supporting cast, in particular Robert Strauss (from the original stage play) as Animal (he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar®) and Otto Preminger as the sardonic prison commandant. Though more famous as a director, Preminger is as menacing in this rare acting role as he was said to be in person on his own movie sets. Notorious within the film industry for his often cruel treatment of actors, it seems only fitting that Preminger would willingly agree to play a sadistic authority figure. He attacks his role with a contained but obvious glee. Preminger, however, wasn't the only director Wilder would cast for a film and in the case of Erich von Stroheim, Wilder hired him twice as an actor - for the major role of Field Marshal Rommel in Five Graves to Cairo (1943) and as a former-director-turned-valet for a silent screen star in Sunset Boulevard. Director: Billy Wilder Producer: Billy Wilder Screenplay: Billy Wilder & Edwin Blum, based on the play by Donald Bevan & Edmund Trzcinski Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo Editing: George Tomasini Art Direction: Franz Bachelin, Hal Pereira Original Music: Franz Waxman Cast: William Holden (Sefton), Don Taylor (Dunbar), Otto Preminger (Col. Von Scherbach), Robert Strauss (Animal), Harvey Lembeck (Shapiro), Peter Graves (Price), Sig Ruman (Schulz). bw-121m. by Rob Nixon

Stalag 17 (Collector's Edition) on DVD


The unlikely Broadway hit Stalag 17 became an equally unlikely film hit in this 1953 screen adaptation. The story revolves about the activities in a German prisoner-of-war camp that is kept under the broad Teutonic thumb of Col. von Scherbach (the great Otto Preminger). "Hoffy" (Richard Erdman) is the officer in charge of the inmates of his particular barracks, which numbers several very individual characters, all of whom are working out how to cope with their confinement in their own way. Among them are Stanislas "Animal" Kasava (Robert Strause, repeating his stage role), who is devastated when his heartthrob Betty Grable marries a band leader, and his sidekick Harry Shapiro (Harvey Lembeck, also from the Broadway production).

There is also a sergeant known as Sefton (William Holden), a world-weary, cynical man who has turned trading goods with the German guards into an art form, which allows him to get almost anything he wants. It also brings him under the suspicion of his fellow prisoners, who believe he's been too successful and might be selling information to the Germans for perks. Their suspicions grow when a pair of POWs attempting to escape run directly into the barrels of the machine guns of three German soldiers. Sefton predicted that the escapees wouldn't get beyond the woods, and his accuracy causes his fellow prisoners to lock onto Sefton as their spy. But while the other inmates are preparing for the forthcoming Christmas season, trying to scam the guards out of supplies (without Sefton's success), and thumbing their noses at Col. von Scherbach, Sefton secretly watches every move of the others in order to ferret out the spy before he can give away the details of an important prison break.

Stalag 17 is a highly unusual film: a raucous, sometimes over-the-top comedy on a subject that most would not find any room for humor, with ultimately serious overtones. Adapted from the stage play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski (who has a funny cameo as a prisoner who has received a "Dear John" letter and doesn't recognize what it is). They had been prisoners of war together and based the story on their own experiences. The play received an overhaul by director Billy Wilder and Edwin Blum, effectively opening the action up and taking it outside of the strict confines of the barracks. Still, most of the film takes place within the claustrophobic setting of the barracks itself.

William Holden was not the first choice for the role of Sefton. The producers had wanted Charlton Heston, who fortunately was busy elsewhere. But William Holden was a hard sell: He was sent to see the play on Broadway and walked out after the first act because he disliked it so much. Holden was later convinced to do the film, and his sly, enigmatic performance earned him an Oscar®. Richard Strauss, whose performance gives new meaning to "over the top," also received an nomination for his role as "Animal."

The disc includes a feature length commentary by Richard Erdman, who played Hoffy, Gil Stratton, who played Cookie (Sefton's right hand man), and Donald Bevan, co-author of the original play. This is a delightful couple of hours spent with three old friends who don't necessarily share a lot about the film, but reminisce about the fellow actors and what it was like to work with Wilder. The documentary Stalag 17: from Reality to Screen features equally delightful on-screen interviews with these three men, as well as with other crew, who talk about working with Wilder and working with Preminger, himself a noted director (Erdman shares a story of Preminger doing one of his scenes, making his exit and saying, "Cut! Print! Brilliant!").

The Real Heroes of Stalag 17 is a fascinating and heartbreaking documentary looking back at life in the Stalag (which was naturally cleaned up for the movie), with survivors of the camp. They describe arrival at the camp, and then the day to day grind of living there. One of the most surprising facts to come out in the documentary is the reality about "trading", which figures so notoriously in the film: apparently inmates had to learn to trade with the German guards in an attempt to supplement their own food supplies.

Paramount's new transfer for their Special Collector's Edition DVD has been struck from source material that is in excellent condition, with a restored mono soundtrack. The image is beautifully contrasted throughout, with deep blacks, clearly defined shadings, and no blooming of white areas.

For more information about Stalag 17, visit Paramount Home Entertainment. To order Stalag 17, go to TCM Shopping.

by Fred Hunter

Stalag 17 (Collector's Edition) on DVD

The unlikely Broadway hit Stalag 17 became an equally unlikely film hit in this 1953 screen adaptation. The story revolves about the activities in a German prisoner-of-war camp that is kept under the broad Teutonic thumb of Col. von Scherbach (the great Otto Preminger). "Hoffy" (Richard Erdman) is the officer in charge of the inmates of his particular barracks, which numbers several very individual characters, all of whom are working out how to cope with their confinement in their own way. Among them are Stanislas "Animal" Kasava (Robert Strause, repeating his stage role), who is devastated when his heartthrob Betty Grable marries a band leader, and his sidekick Harry Shapiro (Harvey Lembeck, also from the Broadway production). There is also a sergeant known as Sefton (William Holden), a world-weary, cynical man who has turned trading goods with the German guards into an art form, which allows him to get almost anything he wants. It also brings him under the suspicion of his fellow prisoners, who believe he's been too successful and might be selling information to the Germans for perks. Their suspicions grow when a pair of POWs attempting to escape run directly into the barrels of the machine guns of three German soldiers. Sefton predicted that the escapees wouldn't get beyond the woods, and his accuracy causes his fellow prisoners to lock onto Sefton as their spy. But while the other inmates are preparing for the forthcoming Christmas season, trying to scam the guards out of supplies (without Sefton's success), and thumbing their noses at Col. von Scherbach, Sefton secretly watches every move of the others in order to ferret out the spy before he can give away the details of an important prison break. Stalag 17 is a highly unusual film: a raucous, sometimes over-the-top comedy on a subject that most would not find any room for humor, with ultimately serious overtones. Adapted from the stage play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski (who has a funny cameo as a prisoner who has received a "Dear John" letter and doesn't recognize what it is). They had been prisoners of war together and based the story on their own experiences. The play received an overhaul by director Billy Wilder and Edwin Blum, effectively opening the action up and taking it outside of the strict confines of the barracks. Still, most of the film takes place within the claustrophobic setting of the barracks itself. William Holden was not the first choice for the role of Sefton. The producers had wanted Charlton Heston, who fortunately was busy elsewhere. But William Holden was a hard sell: He was sent to see the play on Broadway and walked out after the first act because he disliked it so much. Holden was later convinced to do the film, and his sly, enigmatic performance earned him an Oscar®. Richard Strauss, whose performance gives new meaning to "over the top," also received an nomination for his role as "Animal." The disc includes a feature length commentary by Richard Erdman, who played Hoffy, Gil Stratton, who played Cookie (Sefton's right hand man), and Donald Bevan, co-author of the original play. This is a delightful couple of hours spent with three old friends who don't necessarily share a lot about the film, but reminisce about the fellow actors and what it was like to work with Wilder. The documentary Stalag 17: from Reality to Screen features equally delightful on-screen interviews with these three men, as well as with other crew, who talk about working with Wilder and working with Preminger, himself a noted director (Erdman shares a story of Preminger doing one of his scenes, making his exit and saying, "Cut! Print! Brilliant!"). The Real Heroes of Stalag 17 is a fascinating and heartbreaking documentary looking back at life in the Stalag (which was naturally cleaned up for the movie), with survivors of the camp. They describe arrival at the camp, and then the day to day grind of living there. One of the most surprising facts to come out in the documentary is the reality about "trading", which figures so notoriously in the film: apparently inmates had to learn to trade with the German guards in an attempt to supplement their own food supplies. Paramount's new transfer for their Special Collector's Edition DVD has been struck from source material that is in excellent condition, with a restored mono soundtrack. The image is beautifully contrasted throughout, with deep blacks, clearly defined shadings, and no blooming of white areas. For more information about Stalag 17, visit Paramount Home Entertainment. To order Stalag 17, go to TCM Shopping. by Fred Hunter

TCM Remembers - Billy Wilder


A FOND FAREWELL TO ONE OF HOLLYWOOD'S MOST GIFTED DIRECTORS - BILLY WILDER, 11906-2002


Billy Wilder had the most deliciously dirty mind in Hollywood. The director dug into racy, controversial subjects with cynical wit and rare candor; he set new standards for film noir, sex comedies and the buddy film and his movies continue to inspire new generations of filmmakers.

Cameron Crowe, screenwriter and director of contemporary hit films such as Jerry Maguire(1996), was one of those moved by Wilder's film sense. The struggling filmmaker struck up a friendship with the 93-year old veteran and found a friend and a mentor. Their conversations were recently chronicled in a book by Cameron Crowe entitled Conversations with Wilder(published by Knoft).

Billy Wilder might have been born in Vienna, but American culture influenced him from the earliest days. Given the name Samuel, Wilder's mother called her son 'Billy' in honor of Buffalo Bill Cody. The name stuck.

Billy was as restless as his namesake and left law school to become a journalist. While grinding out articles for a Berlin newspaper, Wilder joined with future film directors Fred Zinnemann, Robert Sidomak and Edgar G. Ulmer to make a short film, Menschen Am Sonntag (1929). By the mid-1930s, he had written seven scenarios and even tried his hand at directing. After Hitler's rise to power in 1934, Wilder fled his homeland. Once in Hollywood, Wilder and roommate Peter Lorre had to learn English quickly if they wanted to join the American film industry. Together the German expatriates learned the language and began staking their territory in the Dream Factory.

As a writer, Wilder could craft realistic relationships with sharp dialogue; he proved this in his scripts for Ninotchka (1939) with Greta Garbo and Howard Hawks' Ball of Fire(1941). As a filmmaker, Wilder was well acquainted with the shadowy, brooding style of German Expressionism. He brought these two gifts together to create a landmark film noir - DOUBLE INDEMNITY(1944). He followed this cinematic triumph with a risky project, the story of an alcoholic on a three-day binge. Not the usual subject matter for a Hollywood studio, THE LOST WEEKEND (1945) nevertheless claimed the Academy Award for Best Picture. By the end of the decade, Wilder dared even to paint a portrait of Hollywood stardom gone awry in Sunset Boulevard (1950).

Each of these films is an undisputed classic today, but even at the time, his films were lauded. Six of his screenplays were nominated for Oscars between 1941-1950. Three of his eight Best Director nominations also came during this period. Billy Wilder claimed the American Dream; he was successfully playing by his own rules.

By the end of the '50s, as censorship guidelines were easing, Wilder's projects became even more daring. Sex was central to Wilder's world and Hollywood celebrated his candor. He directed Marilyn Monroe in two of her most sensuous roles, The Seven Year Itch (1955) and SOME LIKE IT HOT(1959). More often than not, Wilder liked pointing his finger at the hyprocrisy of people's sexual mores. In THE APARTMENT(1960), Wilder took an incisive look at corrupt businessmen exploiting their employees for sexual favors. In IRMA LA DOUCE (1963), the world of a Parisian prostitute was lovingly painted in Technicolor tones. In Kiss Me, Stupid (1964), Wilder finally stepped over the line with the story of a struggling composer willing to offer his wife to sell a song.The film, which seems so innocent today, was scandalous in its own day. Critics called Kiss Me, Stupid pornographic smut and buried the picture. Audiences ignored it. Today, the film is a risque farce with great performances by Dean Martin and Kim Novak. The critical lambast deeply affected Wilder; this would be his last sex comedy.

In 1966 Wilder brought together the dynamic combination of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau with THE FORTUNE COOKIE. Director and stars teamed again for The Front Page (1974), a remake of the newspaper classic; and Buddy, Buddy (1981), the story of an assassin and a sad sack ready to commit suicide.

Wilder's many years in Hollywood produced an amazing string of hits. From sarcastic and cynical social commentary to outrageous sex farce, Wilder pushed his audiences to look at their own values and morals. He was an outsider who wasn't afraid to point out the follies of his fellow man or the worst aspects of American culture. He will be sorely missed.

By Jeremy Geltzer

TCM Remembers - Billy Wilder

A FOND FAREWELL TO ONE OF HOLLYWOOD'S MOST GIFTED DIRECTORS - BILLY WILDER, 11906-2002 Billy Wilder had the most deliciously dirty mind in Hollywood. The director dug into racy, controversial subjects with cynical wit and rare candor; he set new standards for film noir, sex comedies and the buddy film and his movies continue to inspire new generations of filmmakers. Cameron Crowe, screenwriter and director of contemporary hit films such as Jerry Maguire(1996), was one of those moved by Wilder's film sense. The struggling filmmaker struck up a friendship with the 93-year old veteran and found a friend and a mentor. Their conversations were recently chronicled in a book by Cameron Crowe entitled Conversations with Wilder(published by Knoft). Billy Wilder might have been born in Vienna, but American culture influenced him from the earliest days. Given the name Samuel, Wilder's mother called her son 'Billy' in honor of Buffalo Bill Cody. The name stuck. Billy was as restless as his namesake and left law school to become a journalist. While grinding out articles for a Berlin newspaper, Wilder joined with future film directors Fred Zinnemann, Robert Sidomak and Edgar G. Ulmer to make a short film, Menschen Am Sonntag (1929). By the mid-1930s, he had written seven scenarios and even tried his hand at directing. After Hitler's rise to power in 1934, Wilder fled his homeland. Once in Hollywood, Wilder and roommate Peter Lorre had to learn English quickly if they wanted to join the American film industry. Together the German expatriates learned the language and began staking their territory in the Dream Factory. As a writer, Wilder could craft realistic relationships with sharp dialogue; he proved this in his scripts for Ninotchka (1939) with Greta Garbo and Howard Hawks' Ball of Fire(1941). As a filmmaker, Wilder was well acquainted with the shadowy, brooding style of German Expressionism. He brought these two gifts together to create a landmark film noir - DOUBLE INDEMNITY(1944). He followed this cinematic triumph with a risky project, the story of an alcoholic on a three-day binge. Not the usual subject matter for a Hollywood studio, THE LOST WEEKEND (1945) nevertheless claimed the Academy Award for Best Picture. By the end of the decade, Wilder dared even to paint a portrait of Hollywood stardom gone awry in Sunset Boulevard (1950). Each of these films is an undisputed classic today, but even at the time, his films were lauded. Six of his screenplays were nominated for Oscars between 1941-1950. Three of his eight Best Director nominations also came during this period. Billy Wilder claimed the American Dream; he was successfully playing by his own rules. By the end of the '50s, as censorship guidelines were easing, Wilder's projects became even more daring. Sex was central to Wilder's world and Hollywood celebrated his candor. He directed Marilyn Monroe in two of her most sensuous roles, The Seven Year Itch (1955) and SOME LIKE IT HOT(1959). More often than not, Wilder liked pointing his finger at the hyprocrisy of people's sexual mores. In THE APARTMENT(1960), Wilder took an incisive look at corrupt businessmen exploiting their employees for sexual favors. In IRMA LA DOUCE (1963), the world of a Parisian prostitute was lovingly painted in Technicolor tones. In Kiss Me, Stupid (1964), Wilder finally stepped over the line with the story of a struggling composer willing to offer his wife to sell a song.The film, which seems so innocent today, was scandalous in its own day. Critics called Kiss Me, Stupid pornographic smut and buried the picture. Audiences ignored it. Today, the film is a risque farce with great performances by Dean Martin and Kim Novak. The critical lambast deeply affected Wilder; this would be his last sex comedy. In 1966 Wilder brought together the dynamic combination of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau with THE FORTUNE COOKIE. Director and stars teamed again for The Front Page (1974), a remake of the newspaper classic; and Buddy, Buddy (1981), the story of an assassin and a sad sack ready to commit suicide. Wilder's many years in Hollywood produced an amazing string of hits. From sarcastic and cynical social commentary to outrageous sex farce, Wilder pushed his audiences to look at their own values and morals. He was an outsider who wasn't afraid to point out the follies of his fellow man or the worst aspects of American culture. He will be sorely missed. By Jeremy Geltzer

Quotes

I don't know about you, but it always makes me sore when I see those war pictures... all about flying leathernecks and submarine patrols and frogmen and guerillas in the Philippines. What gets me is that there never w-was a movie about POWs -- about prisoners of war. Now, my name is Clarence Harvey Cook: they call me Cookie. I was shot down over Magdeborg, Germany, back in '43; that's why I stammer a little once in a while, 'specially when I get excited. I spent two and a half years in Stalag 17. "Stalag" is the German word for prison camp, and number 17 was somewhere on the Danube. There were about 40,000 POWs there, if you bothered to count the Russians, and the Poles, and the Czechs. In our compound there were about 630 of us, all American airmen: radio operators, gunners, and engineers. All sergeants. Now you put 630 sergeants together and, oh mother, you've got yourself a situation. There was more fireworks shooting off around that joint... take for instance the story about the spy we had in our barracks...
- Cookie
Come on, Trader Horn, let's hear it. What'd you give the krauts for that egg?
- Duke
45 cigarettes. Price has gone up.
- Sefton
They wouldn't be the cigarettes you took us for last night?
- Duke
What was I gonna do with them? I only smoke cigars.
- Sefton
Niiice guy. The krauts shoot Manfredi and Johnson last night, and today he's out trading with them.
- Duke
They ought to be under the barbed wire soon.
- Hoffy
Looks good outside.
- Shapiro
I hope they hit the Danube before dawn.
- Animal
They've got a good chance. The longest night of the year.
- Price
I'll bet they make it to Friedrichshaven.
- Duke
Hold it, Sefton. I said hold it. So we heard some shots. So who says they didn't get away?
- Duke
Anybody here want to double their bet?
- Sefton
Are you questioning me?
- Price
Getting acquainted. I'd like to make one friend in this barracks.
- Sefton
Well, don't bother, Sefton. I don't like you, I never did, and I never will.
- Price
A lot of people say that, and the first thing you know it, they get married, and live happily ever after.
- Sefton

Trivia

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 uncredited soldier singing at the Christmas Party is Ross Bagdasarian, also known as Dave Seville, the leader/creator/voice of Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Stalag 17 was not the inspiration for the TV Series "Hogan's Heroes" despite the presence of a character called "Sgt Schultz" and a somewhat put upon Kommandant. The creators of "Hogan's Heroes" were sued over this very issue and were victorious.

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. Holden 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. He said only two words: Thank You

Notes

Voice-over narration, spoken by Gil Stratton, Jr. as his character "Cookie," is heard intermittently throughout the picture. In the film, Jay Lawrence, as his character "Sgt. Bagradian," does comic impersonations of several celebrities, including Clark Gable, James Cagney, Cary Grant and Ronald Colman. According to contemporary sources, Edward Trzcinski, who co-wrote the play on which the film is based and appears in a small role in the picture, was interred for over a year in a German prisoner of war camp during World War II. Modern sources claim that Trzcinski's co-author, Donald Bevan, also was a prisoner of war. Paramount purchased the play for $110,000, according to a Variety news item. Harvey Lembeck, Robert Strauss, Robinson Stone, Robert Shawley and William Pierson reprised roles from the Broadway production, which was directed by José Ferrer. Modern sources note that director-writer Billy Wilder and his collaborator Edwin Blum altered the play significantly for their adaptation.
       According to the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, after reading a draft of the script, PCA director Joseph I. Breen expressed great concern about the "Stosh" character and warned in a February 14, 1952 letter to Paramount executive Luigi Luraschi that Stosh was not to be portrayed as a "man who is on the verge of losing his mind through sex frustration." In a March 10, 1952 letter to Luraschi, Breen further complained about a scene in which Harry and Stosh dance together: "If there is any inference in the finished scene of a flavor of sex perversion we will not be able to approve it under the Code." Despite Breen's protests, the dance scene was kept in the picture. Breen also cautioned the producers against using toilet paper and toilet activities as gags, noting that "the comedy use of toilet paper as a Christmas gift is unacceptable and must be changed." In the final film, paper napkins were used instead of toilet paper.
       Charlton Heston was first considered for the role of "Sefton," according to a Los Angeles Times item. Modern sources note that Heston was Wilder's first choice for the part, but when Wilder and Blum began revising the script, Wilder realized Heston was no longer right. Wilder then asked Kirk Douglas to play the role, but Douglas turned him down, according to modern sources. William Holden, who starred in Wilder's 1950 hit film Sunset Blvd., accepted the part, despite not liking the play. Modern sources claim that Holden asked Wilder to make "Sefton" a bit more sympathetic, but Wilder refused. According to a January 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, Charles McGraw was under consideration for a role in the picture. Shortly after principal photography began, Harvey Lembeck replaced Cy Howard, a radio and television writer-producer, in the role of "Harry Shapiro." According to modern sources, Wilder fired Howard because he felt his interpretation of the Jewish character was too exaggerated. Hollywood Reporter news items list Jay Gerard and Tommy Summers as cast members, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Paramount production files contained at the AMPAS Library indicate that a replica of a POW camp was built at Snow Ranch in Calabasas, CA, where exterior filming took place. The film's final budget was $1,661,530.
       William Holden won an Academy Award as Best Actor for his performance in the film. Wilder was nominated as Best Director and Robert Strauss as Best Supporting Actor. According to modern sources, Stalag 17 was a box-office hit, earning over $10 million in its first year. Modern sources also note that in 1956, the head of distribution at Paramount told Wilder that German distributors were willing to release the film, which had been banned by the government in 1953, on condition that the barracks spy be made a Pole. Wilder, who lost most of his family in the Auschwitz concentration camp, flatly refused to make the change, however. The German ban was lifted in 1960, when the picture was shown with an opening disclaimer advising the audience that the depicted prison camp was "not typical...but only one example," according to modern sources. Spain banned the film until 1964.
       In January 1967, Hollywood Reporter announced that authors Trzcinski and Bevan had filed suit in federal court charging the CBS television network with copyright infringement in its series Hogan's Heroes. Bevan claimed that in 1963 he submitted a proposal for a television series based on the play, which was rejected, but that CBS then developed a series with Crosby Productions that used characters and situations from the play. The final disposition of the lawsuit is not known. Hogan's Heroes ran from September 17, 1965 to July 1971, and starred Bob Crane as "Hogan" and John Banner as the German guard "Sgt. Schultz."

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States November 1972

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1953

Released in United States November 1972 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The Billy Wilder Marathon) November 9-19, 1972.)

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1953