Wednesday, February 24, 2010

British Cinema: The One That Got Away (1957)

The One That Got Away, 1957.

Directed by Roy Ward Baker.
Starring Hardy Krüger, Colin Gordon, Michael Goodliffe and Terence Alexander.

The One That Got Away 1955

During the Battle of Britain a Luftwaffe plane is hit and plunges down into the British countryside. Although the pilot is captured, he is extremely confident and focussed on his plan: to escape and return home against all odds.

The One That Got Away Hardy Kruger
Directed by Roy Ward Baker (A Night to Remember) and based upon the book of the same name by Kendal Burt and James Leasor, The One That Got Away is a dramatic retelling of the exploits of Oberleutnant Franz Von Werra, the only German prisoner-of-war in Britain to escape capture and return to his homeland.

Shot down during the Battle of Britain, Von Werra (Krüger) is sent to a POW camp in Northern England where he sets about plotting to break free of his captors and return home to warn the Reich of Britain’s interrogation methods. Embarking on a number of audacious escape attempts which are ultimately foiled (including an attempt to pass himself off as a Dutch pilot and steal a Hurricane in one of the film’s most suspenseful sections), Von Werra is eventually transported to Canada where he leaps from a train and manages to cross the frozen St. Lawrence River to seek asylum in the neutral United States.

Made just twelve years after the end of World War II, the greatest success of The One That Got Away is the way in which the film defies convention and inverts the typical notion of the Nazi as an evil monster. Credit must be given to Hardy Krüger (himself a former German soldier who experienced life as a POW when captured by the Americans near the conclusion of the war), who delivers a charming and charismatic performance as the cocky and resourceful Von Werra in his first international role.

Situated firmly as the hero of the piece, Von Werra comes across as a sympathetic character with the audience rooting for him to succeed in his efforts to escape. This is no doubt aided by a lack of references towards the Nazi regime while Von Werra’s own background and wartime successes are largely ignored, although the character remains fiercely loyal to his country and devoted to his duty as an officer. This could be considered manipulative, but it certainly makes for refreshing storytelling and allows the film to stand out from other popular POW movies such as The Wooden Horse (1950) and The Colditz Story (1955).

A fast-paced, tense and original thriller, The One That Got Away is a fine example of its genre and one that manages - for the most part, at least - to avoid the "stiff-upper-lip" Britishness common to many films of the period.

Gary Collinson

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