Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 25, 2020)
A few years after his death, Guy Hamilton remains best-known as the director of four James Bond movies, a run most remembered for the iconic 1964 flick Goldfinger. Of course, Hamilton’s career started pre-Bond, and with 1955’s The Colditz Story, we get one of his earlier efforts.
Set in 1940 during World War II, the Germans refashion Colditz Castle as Oflag IV-C, a POW camp. There the Nazis house the most difficult Allied soldiers – ie, the ones who already tried to escape other facilities.
The location’s Kommandant (Frederick Valk) threatens ranking British officer Colonel Richmond (Eric Portman) and the others not to attempt to flee. Naturally, Colonel Richmond and the others do their best to defy these orders.
I strongly suspect that WWII movies outnumber films about all other wars by a wide margin, and POW dramas become a notable subset of the genre. Here in the US, we know flicks like The Great Escape and Stalag 17.
Don’t expect Story to match up with those classics, as it fails to reach their level. However, it still offers a fairly engaging take on the subject.
Viewers will see connections to both Great Escape and Stalag 17, as it shows traits found in both. Ala Escape, we see the POWs’ attempts to leave the camp, but ala Stalag, we get more of a feel for life in captivity.
Unlike Escape, we don’t get one overriding mission for the plot. Instead, Story follows multiple stabs at freedom, most of which fail.
That creates an unusual energy about Story, as the persistent losses by the Allies set a certain sad-sack tone. Story doesn’t focus on tragedy, as it dollops out some comedy, but it does allow for effective drama too.
Like the other movies cited, Story comes with a large cast, but in this case, it doesn’t delineate the roles especially well. Outside of Colonel Richmond and British officer Pat Reid (John Mills), we don’t get to know the various characters especially well.
This doesn’t turn into a fatal flaw, though, as the basic tension of the escape attempts brings enough juice to keep us engaged. Because we feel a natural affection for the Allies, it matters less that we don’t bond with specific characters – we root more for the mission than the men.
Hamilton manages to balance the comedy, drama and action pretty well. Although he doesn’t show quite the same sure hand he displayed with Goldfinger, he nonetheless holds together a movie that could fall apart easily.
All of this adds up to a pretty effective war drama. Nothing about Colditz Story makes it a classic, but it becomes a good genre effort.