Review for The Colditz Story
I was quite excited about seeing the restored version of ‘The Colditz Story’. I remember enjoying the movie, a staple of Sunday afternoon movies in the sixties and seventies, and the quality of restoration work from Studio Canal on recent releases have been superb.
But a very recent watch of ‘The World at War’ with its gritty mix of reality and propaganda footage, and an un-flinching overview of WWII and all its horrors, gave me a new perspective on the film – and not a particularly favourable one.
I should start by saying that if you know and love the film then this new transfer, even in SD, is absolutely stunning. I expect the Blu-Ray will be even more so. So on that basis I totally recommend it.
However, on viewing this through the jaded eyes of someone who has recently watched some 20 plus hours of WWII documentary, some of the British cheeriness, and the stereo-typical Nazi prison officers (more at home in ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ or ‘Allo ‘Allo’) made me wonder at the film’s authenticity. Indeed, in the accompanying documentary, a former inmate says exactly that – that the film totally neglected to reflect the daily unmitigated misery and grind of finding yourself in a Nazi high security prison.
Directed by Guy Hamilton, and based on a best-selling ‘true story’, it was originally nominated for two BAFTA’s. With a brilliant cast (John Mills, Lionel Jeffries, Ian Carmichael, Bryan Forbes and Eric Portman), plenty of Tommy grit and vigour, and a whiz of a boy’s own story, it’s easy to understand its popularity. However, its U rating is all the evidence you need of the historical whitewash it represents.
We learn at the outset that it’d the duty of every soldier to escape and every warden to prevent escape. So the scene is set for an exciting cat and mouse adventure, mostly set behind the prison walls of Oflag IV-C, better known to most as Colditz Castle.
We also learn that the prison is virtually impossible to escape from, rather like Alcatraz, though the many attempts look straight-forward enough – and the final escape plan almost comically simple. However, such a plan was executed successfully and one man did make it all the way back to Britain alive.
It’s a tightly directed piece with a cheerful pace and plenty of laddish banter though, in the cold light of contemporary viewing, the opportunity to create real tension in the final escape is almost entirely lost.
The film is, in a broad sense, a ‘fun movie’ and for me, there perhaps lies the rub. Whilst it helped popularise the legend of Colditz, I am sure there is very little of the place recognisable to its ex-inhabitants.
The extra feature, Colditz Revealed (54 mins) has genuine Colditz survivors talking about their experiences. Though they refer to the film with good grace, it’s easy to sense their dissatisfaction at the sanitised portrayal of daily life there.
There is also a brief restoration comparison, strictly for anoraks who don’t believe that the film is the best released version yet. It is.