The Colditz Story Review

Starring John Mills, who seemed to do much at home to keep wartime morale high, The Colditz Story sees Pat Reid arrived at Oflag IV-C, or Coldtiz Castle as it was more popularly known, to join the rest of the Allied prisoners-of-war there. Almost immediately, much like the rest of the prisoners in Coldtiz Castle, Reid begins to plan an escape but finds that his own efforts, much like those of his fellow prisoners, is without organisation and doomed to fail. The British work without cooperation from the French, who work apart from the Dutch and so on. But what Colonel Richmond (Eric Portman) recommends is that all of the prisoners, regardless of their origins begin to work together with Reid being head of this escape committee. Eventually, each attempt fits into a more organised whole and they begin to have some success. They also, as the guards open fire on escaping prisoners, have their failures too. But with an upcoming variety show planned for the entertainment of the officers, Reid sees a chance for the breaking out of a handful of prisoners at one time. With the help of Richmond and the rest of the inmates, a daring plan to escape Colditz is put into effect...

During the pre-release publicity for a computer game based on the events at Colditz, one that bore no relationship to actual events but put the player into the shoes of a character equally as keen on escaping as those in real life, the producers could not quite believe that the Nazis had brought all of the most determined escapees to a single prisoner-of-war camp. Unsurprisingly, they tried to escape once again. And again. And again. In fact, as it was recounted in the books of Pat Reid - this one character is the only one, or so it would seem, not to have his name changed for this dramatisation of events - the Allied prisoners were not discouraged by the number of Nazi guards there nor by the seemingly impossible odds against their escaping. As Reid would write in his post-war books on his time at Colditz Castle, the Allied prisoners would, in time, forge keys, make ropes out of bedsheets, manufacture their own tools, escaped hiding within a mattress, dug a tunnel from underneath the canteen and even attempted to construct a glider to fly out of the castle. So much equipment was constructed through the various attempts to escape the castle that the camp commandant founded a museum to hold and display it all. The first escapee was Alain Le Ray in 1941 and the last was William Millar in 1944, although he never returned to unoccupied territory. Even then, the Allied prisoners worked within cycles of cooperating with the guards and baiting them, with Douglas Bader, who was an inmate for a time, instructing his fellow British officers to do just that.

Pat Reid eventually escaped in 1942 through a cellar and the moat and reaching the Swiss border on the 18 October. This film, on which he acted as an advisor, was based on a book written after the end of the war and unlike many a film set within the walls of a German prison camp, is very lighthearted in tone. The presence of Ian Carmichael confirms this almost as much as the dummy lowered by the British troops down the wall of the castle to attract German gunfire, feigning outrage as bullets are embedded in the wall some yards from their open window. There's even a cabaret show more in the manner of It Ain't Half Hot Mum whilst it's evident, looking closely at the Germans here, where Richard Marner and Sam Kelly got their inspiration for their characters of Colonel Kurt von Strohm and Captain Hans Geering in 'Allo 'Allo. They are, to a man, a fairly nasty bunch who veer between shooting dead escaping soldiers and laughing at their dressing up in drag to take to the stage.

But The Colditz Story isn't a shadowy tale of imprisonment, escaping and hardship. Rather, much like the later The Great Escape, it is a proper Boy's Own adventure in which the British soldiers, instead of letting their arresting officers know how of their disappointment at being caught, laugh before being led to the castle. They have fun at the expense of the Nazis, they are utterly incorrigible and they end the film standing firm during a late-night roll call. The Colditz Story might not be entirely what the viewer is expecting - anyone hoping for the hush of secrecy that appeared to come with a playing of Escape From Colditz, which involved Pat Reid in its design, will be slightly disappointed - but as a tale of Allied derring-do during the Second World War, it's great fun. One trusts, what with Reid's involvement, that there is a fair amount of truth in what it contains, which makes it all the better. The Great Escape would, of course, trump this film but in its cheeky swagger, The Colditz Story is a fine telling of the exploits of some remarkable men who exhibited an inventiveness and an ingenuity that is quite staggering.


It doesn't look as though it was filmed at Colditz Castle, appearing, somewhat in the style of Hammer, to use the English home counties and some random castle to double for Saxony and though it looks a little flat, the DVD does it justice. Of course, this being an Optimum release, there are no subtitles, no extras, the 1.6:1 image presented within a 1.78:1 frame and the DD2.0 audio has quite an plain feel to it but the visual transfer is a decent one with Optimum appearing to have sourced a clean print and done a decent job producing a DVD from it. The exterior scenes are much better than any interior shots and though some scenes feel a little slipshod, namely the cabaret show, there's an undeniable style of The Colditz Story, albeit a much lighter one that I had been expecting. But it is a decent enough DVD, being able to look good on even a bigger television.


There are no extras on this release.

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Last updated: 18/06/2018 07:47:37

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