Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Reviewers love The One That Got Away: with that title, nobody will accuse them of spoiling the movie. This well-made English film recounts the true story of the only German officer pilot of WW2 to escape from British captivity. There are escape movies and escape movies, but this one has a fascinating difference. Only ten years after the war, the English make a movie about a fervent German enemy who foiled their best attempts to keep him under guard -- and he's treated as the hero of the show. The One That Got Away is good public relations for the concept of English sportsmanship.
The German flier is Hardy Krüger, the postwar star of the West German film industry who broke out into solid roles in international films, notably Hatari! and The Flight of the Phoenix. Ace director Roy Ward Baker (A Night to Remember) helps Krüger makes him a formidable and determined foe.
Luftwaffe pilot Franz von Werra (Hardy Krüger) is shot down during the Battle of Britain and subjected to a deviously genial 'interrogation' process to learn his exact unit. Desperate to get back into the war, Franz uses a clever ruse to slip away from an exercise detail. He's eventually brought back freezing and hungry. Transferred to a more secure prison, Franz talks his German superior into an escape attempt using a tunnel. He's the only one of the 'loose birds' to remain at large for any length of time. He almost, almost succeeds with a brilliantly daring plan that involves masquerading as a Dutch RAF pilot. This time Franz is shipped to Canada, a whole continent away from his heimat. But as his train goes East across the frozen landscape, Franz is working on an even better idea: if he can get to the still-neutral United States, he'll be home free.
Clever escape movies are almost always winners, even when they're as farfetched as was Inside Man from a couple of years ago. War prison escape movies are even more popular because the escapees are usually fun-loving Allied types pulling a fast one on the enemy. The One That Got Away reverses things 180°. The English are dedicated military bureaucrats (Michael Goodliffe, Alec McCowen), some of whom have been wounded. The intelligence men have worked out clever ways to use the Germans' cleverness against them. One holding room has a dummy microphone hidden in a vent, so that the prisoners will stick their heads out of a window to talk to each other -- where a battery of mikes waits to record them.
A quick look at Franz von Werra's Wikipedia page confirms that most of the film's details are accurate. Some reviewers complain that the German pilot is treated as too much of a nice guy, when he may actually have been a ruthless zealot with a knack for good first impressions. The film doesn't show Werra being celebrated in New York by German sympathizers, and spirited to the Mexican border to circumvent U.S. authorities looking for some way to hold him, even though America and Germany wouldn't be official enemies for another year. I guess it all depends on the prevailing politics of the time. Michael Powell's 49th Parallel was made in the same year Werra pulled off his great disappearing act. It shows a German officer similarly trying to escape to neutral New York State, but the film's attitude and outcome are entirely different. The officer is a fanatic Nazi, and two ordinary Yankees violate the rules to send him right back to face the music in Canada.
To be completely fair, one of the English interrogators pretty much proves that Werra is a clever self-promoter who keeps a pet lion to attract newspaper publicity, and has fabricated his kill score to gild his flying record. Frankly, some guys with that kind of arrogance are ideally suited to prevail in difficult, demanding circumstances, at least until their egos or their vices bring them down. In America we call them politicians.
Director Baker makes good use of beautiful rural locations to show Werra attempting to evade hundreds of soldiers and police officers; even if he fails he's doing good by tying up so many enemy personnel. The prop makers have mocked up a very good crashed Messerschmidt for Werra to exit from in the first scene. Blonde and boyish, Krüger comes off as a German James Dean and is just convincing enough to con his way onto an RAF flying field without ID. In a funny scene, he's about to show them his fake leather ID tag, when he discovers that his forged tag under his fake flight suit has completely dissolved, from the salts in his perspiration!
Hammer fan alert! Bray Studios regulars John Van Eyssen and Michael Ripper each have small but memorable roles. Andrew Faulds, the scary hypnotized menace from The Crawling Eye, is visible as a guard snookered by Werra's sneaky tricks.
Suspenseful, clever and perversely amusing, The One That Got Away is a happy addition to MGM's long list of budget releases this May. Even better, the handsome transfer is a perfectly framed enhanced widescreen1:66. Now that Deluxe Digital is remastering MGM titles in HD, some good people are making judgments on aspect ratios. (Note: not all the MGM discs have been treated so well.)
No extras are included, but the film itself is something of an extra. I noticed that there seem to be more interrogation scenes up front, and sure enough, this original UK version is five minutes longer than what was shown in the United States and on those flat, fuzzy older 16mm TV prints. Adventure and war movie fans, this one's a keeper.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The One That Got Away rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 16, 2008
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson
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