Stalag 17 (1953)

119-120 mins | Comedy-drama | July 1953

Director:

Billy Wilder

Producer:

Billy Wilder

Cinematographer:

Ernest Laszlo

Editor:

George Tomasini

Production Designers:

Hal Pereira, Franz Bachelin

Production Company:

Paramount Pictures Corp.
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HISTORY

Voice-over narration, spoken by Gil Stratton, Jr. as his character "Cookie," is heard intermittently throughout the picture. In the film, Jay Lawrence, as his character "Sgt. Bagradian," does comic impersonations of several celebrities, including Clark Gable, James Cagney, Cary Grant and Ronald Colman. According to contemporary sources, Edward Trzcinski, who co-wrote the play on which the film is based and appears in a small role in the picture, was interred for over a year in a German prisoner of war camp during World War II. Modern sources claim that Trzcinski's co-author, Donald Bevan, also was a prisoner of war. Paramount purchased the play for $110,000, according to a Var news item. Harvey Lembeck, Robert Strauss, Robinson Stone, Robert Shawley and William Pierson reprised roles from the Broadway production, which was directed by José Ferrer. Modern sources note that director-writer Billy Wilder and his collaborator Edwin Blum altered the play significantly for their adaptation.
       According to the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, after reading a draft of the script, PCA director Joseph I. Breen expressed great concern about the "Stosh" character and warned in a 14 Feb 1952 letter to Paramount executive Luigi Luraschi that Stosh was not to be portrayed as a "man who is on the verge of losing his mind through sex frustration." In a 10 Mar 1952 letter to Luraschi, Breen further complained about a scene in which Harry and Stosh dance together: "If there is any inference in the finished scene of a flavor of sex perversion we will not be able to approve it under the Code." ... More Less

Voice-over narration, spoken by Gil Stratton, Jr. as his character "Cookie," is heard intermittently throughout the picture. In the film, Jay Lawrence, as his character "Sgt. Bagradian," does comic impersonations of several celebrities, including Clark Gable, James Cagney, Cary Grant and Ronald Colman. According to contemporary sources, Edward Trzcinski, who co-wrote the play on which the film is based and appears in a small role in the picture, was interred for over a year in a German prisoner of war camp during World War II. Modern sources claim that Trzcinski's co-author, Donald Bevan, also was a prisoner of war. Paramount purchased the play for $110,000, according to a Var news item. Harvey Lembeck, Robert Strauss, Robinson Stone, Robert Shawley and William Pierson reprised roles from the Broadway production, which was directed by José Ferrer. Modern sources note that director-writer Billy Wilder and his collaborator Edwin Blum altered the play significantly for their adaptation.
       According to the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, after reading a draft of the script, PCA director Joseph I. Breen expressed great concern about the "Stosh" character and warned in a 14 Feb 1952 letter to Paramount executive Luigi Luraschi that Stosh was not to be portrayed as a "man who is on the verge of losing his mind through sex frustration." In a 10 Mar 1952 letter to Luraschi, Breen further complained about a scene in which Harry and Stosh dance together: "If there is any inference in the finished scene of a flavor of sex perversion we will not be able to approve it under the Code." Despite Breen's protests, the dance scene was kept in the picture. Breen also cautioned the producers against using toilet paper and toilet activities as gags, noting that "the comedy use of toilet paper as a Christmas gift is unacceptable and must be changed." In the final film, paper napkins were used instead of toilet paper.
       Charlton Heston was first considered for the role of "Sefton," according to a LAT item. Modern sources note that Heston was Wilder's first choice for the part, but when Wilder and Blum began revising the script, Wilder realized Heston was no longer right. Wilder then asked Kirk Douglas to play the role, but Douglas turned him down, according to modern sources. William Holden, who starred in Wilder's 1950 hit film Sunset Blvd. , accepted the part, despite not liking the play. Modern sources claim that Holden asked Wilder to make "Sefton" a bit more sympathetic, but Wilder refused. According to a Jan 1952 HR news item, Charles McGraw was under consideration for a role in the picture. Shortly after principal photography began, Harvey Lembeck replaced Cy Howard, a radio and television writer-producer, in the role of "Harry Shapiro." According to modern sources, Wilder fired Howard because he felt his interpretation of the Jewish character was too exaggerated. HR news items list Jay Gerard and Tommy Summers as cast members, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Paramount production files contained at the AMPAS Library indicate that a replica of a POW camp was built at Snow Ranch in Calabasas, CA, where exterior filming took place. The film's final budget was $1,661,530.
       William Holden won an Academy Award as Best Actor for his performance in the film. Wilder was nominated as Best Director and Robert Strauss as Best Supporting Actor. According to modern sources, Stalag 17 was a box-office hit, earning over $10 million in its first year. Modern sources also note that in 1956, the head of distribution at Paramount told Wilder that German distributors were willing to release the film, which had been banned by the government in 1953, on condition that the barracks spy be made a Pole. Wilder, who lost most of his family in the Auschwitz concentration camp, flatly refused to make the change, however. The German ban was lifted in 1960, when the picture was shown with an opening disclaimer advising the audience that the depicted prison camp was "not typical...but only one example," according to modern sources. Spain banned the film until 1964.
       In Jan 1967, HR announced that authors Trzcinski and Bevan had filed suit in federal court charging the CBS television network with copyright infringement in its series Hogan's Heroes . Bevan claimed that in 1963 he submitted a proposal for a television series based on the play, which was rejected, but that CBS then developed a series with Crosby Productions that used characters and situations from the play. The final disposition of the lawsuit is not known. Hogan's Heroes ran from 17 Sep 1965 to Jul 1971, and starred Bob Crane as "Hogan" and John Banner as the German guard "Sgt. Schultz." More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
9 May 1953.
---
Daily Variety
6 May 53
p. 3.
Film Daily
6 May 53
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jan 52
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Feb 52
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Feb 52
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Mar 52
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Mar 52
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
6 May 53
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jan 1967.
---
Life
20 Jul 1953.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
9 May 53
p. 1829.
New York Times
1 Jul 53
p. 24.
New York Times
2 Jul 53
p. 19.
Newsweek
13 Jul 1953.
---
Time
18 May 1953.
---
Variety
29 Aug 1951.
---
Variety
6 May 53
p. 6.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Harold D. Maresch
Paul T. Salata
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Wrt for the screen by
Wrt for the screen by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Asst cam
Gaffer
Best goy
Stills
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
Props
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus settings
Mus adv
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit prod mgr
Asst prod mgr
Casting
Unit casting dir
Scr clerk
Tech adv
Tech adv
Dial coach
Pub
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Stalag 17 by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski (New York, 8 May 1951).
SONGS
"When Johnny Comes Marching Home," music and lyrics by Louis Lambert
"Adeste fideles (O, Come All Ye Faithful)," music by John Francis Wade, English lyrics by Frederick Oakeley
"I Love You (Je t'aime)," music by Harry Archer, lyrics by Harlan Thompson.
DETAILS
Release Date:
July 1953
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 1 July 1953
Los Angeles opening: 15 July 1953
Production Date:
4 February--29 March 1952
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Copyright Date:
1 July 1953
Copyright Number:
LP2894
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
119-120
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
15866
SYNOPSIS

One week before Christmas, 1944, in Stalag 17, a Nazi prisoner of war camp occupied by American air force sergeants, two men from Barracks 4, Johnson and Manfredi, prepare to escape. After receiving last-minute instructions from their barracks mates, Johnson and Manfredi descend through a trap door underneath the barracks' stove and dart across the compound. As they enter a tunnel, Sgt. J. J. Sefton in Barracks 4 coolly bets the remaining prisoners two packs of cigarettes that the escape will fail. Although disgusted by Sefton's callousness, the others join in the wagering, stopping only when Manfredi and Johnson are shot down by German soldiers waiting for them at the end of the tunnel. The next morning, at roll call, Oberst von Scherbach, the camp's smug commandant, puts Manfredi's and Johnson's bodies on display and warns the prisoners against spoiling his escape-free record. Later, after a Barracks 4 prisoner named Duke speculates that a spy lives among them, Sgt. Price, the barracks' security officer, asks Sefton why he was so sure that Manfredi and Johnson would be caught. The cynical Sefton, who is tormenting the others by frying a fresh egg he acquired through trading with the Germans, dismisses Price's insinuations. The men then receive a contraband radio through the underground "mail" service and, after prisoners Sgt. "Animal" Stosh and Sgt. Harry Shapiro disguise the antenna by using it as a volleyball net, listen to discouraging war reports. The broadcast is interrupted by the arrival of Johann Sebastian Schulz, their seemingly buffoonish guard, who feigns surprise when Duke asks him about the "stoolie." Once alone in the barracks, however, Schulz tucks a ... +


One week before Christmas, 1944, in Stalag 17, a Nazi prisoner of war camp occupied by American air force sergeants, two men from Barracks 4, Johnson and Manfredi, prepare to escape. After receiving last-minute instructions from their barracks mates, Johnson and Manfredi descend through a trap door underneath the barracks' stove and dart across the compound. As they enter a tunnel, Sgt. J. J. Sefton in Barracks 4 coolly bets the remaining prisoners two packs of cigarettes that the escape will fail. Although disgusted by Sefton's callousness, the others join in the wagering, stopping only when Manfredi and Johnson are shot down by German soldiers waiting for them at the end of the tunnel. The next morning, at roll call, Oberst von Scherbach, the camp's smug commandant, puts Manfredi's and Johnson's bodies on display and warns the prisoners against spoiling his escape-free record. Later, after a Barracks 4 prisoner named Duke speculates that a spy lives among them, Sgt. Price, the barracks' security officer, asks Sefton why he was so sure that Manfredi and Johnson would be caught. The cynical Sefton, who is tormenting the others by frying a fresh egg he acquired through trading with the Germans, dismisses Price's insinuations. The men then receive a contraband radio through the underground "mail" service and, after prisoners Sgt. "Animal" Stosh and Sgt. Harry Shapiro disguise the antenna by using it as a volleyball net, listen to discouraging war reports. The broadcast is interrupted by the arrival of Johann Sebastian Schulz, their seemingly buffoonish guard, who feigns surprise when Duke asks him about the "stoolie." Once alone in the barracks, however, Schulz tucks a note inside a hollow chess piece, the black queen, and signals the note's presence by lowering the cord of a light fixture hanging over the barracks' chess board. Later, Sefton, who is known for his profitable distillery and rat racetrack, incurs the ire of the barracks chief, Sgt. "Hoffy" Hoffman, when he "rents" the woman-crazy Animal and Harry a makeshift telescope with which to spy on some female Russian prisoners. After Hoffy criticizes Sefton for taking advantage of his fellow prisoners and their Red Cross packages, Duke accuses Sefton of being the spy, but Sefton again shrugs off the charge. To cheer up Animal, who is depressed because his movie star idol Betty Grable has gotten married, Harry dresses Animal and himself as painters so that they can paint their way to the showers, where the Russian women have collected. The plan fails, however, when steam from the shower obscures their view and a suspicious guard comes along. Later, two new prisoners move into Barracks 4, Sgt. Bagradian and Lt. James Dunbar. Although Sefton scorns the wealthy Dunbar, the other men listen with amazement as Dunbar describes how he blew up a German supply train by planting a time bomb in a train station bathroom. Schulz then arrives to confiscate the radio and, noticing that the cord holding the light bulb over the chess board has a large loop in it, sends the men outside and pockets the hollow queen. Soon after, the prisoners, sure that Sefton was behind the radio confiscation, break into his trunk and help themselves to his stash of food and alcohol. Through the telescope, Duke then spies Sefton cavorting with the Russian women and again accuses him of being the spy. Later, the commandant demands to see Lt. Dunbar alone, apparently aware of his involvement in the train bombing. Assuming that Sefton has betrayed Dunbar, the men give him a severe beating. The next day, during a required Geneva Convention inspection, Hoffy asks the "Geneva man" about Dunbar's status, insinuating that the Nazis may be holding him illegally. The Geneva man questions von Scherbach, who has been interrogating Dunbar mercilessly, and warns him that he will be accused of war crimes unless he has proof of Dunbar's sabotage. At Barracks 4, as the Christmas celebration begins, Price, who knows how Dunbar blew up the train, pulls the light cord to signal Schulz. From his bed, the battered Sefton notices first that the light bulb is swinging, then later that it has a loop in it. When all the prisoners except Price go outside during an apparent air raid, Sefton hides in the shadows. Sefton listens as the German-speaking Price tells Schulz how Dunbar constructed a time bomb using a tossed cigarette and a book of matches. On Christmas Day, Hoffy and the mail crew interrupt a barracks dance to announce a plan to abduct Dunbar from the S.S. using smoking smudge pots created from ping pong balls. To protect the effort, Sefton demands that Price stay with him in the barracks, and while Sefton drills Price about his self-proclaimed Ohio upbringing, the men set off the smudge pots and snatch Dunbar. Sure that Dunbar is somewhere in the camp, von Scherbach orders an intense search, but finds nothing. That night, the men start to draw dog tags to see who will help Dunbar, who has been hiding in the latrine water tower, to escape. When Price volunteers, Sefton finally exposes him as a German-born spy and demonstrates how he and Schulz communicated. Sefton then offers to escort Dunbar, noting that he might receive a sizable reward from Dunbar's rich mother if he succeeds. As soon as Sefton reaches the water tower and helps Dunbar down, Price is pushed into the compound with tin cans tied to him. While the unsuspecting guards gun down Price, Sefton and Dunbar take advantage of the commotion and slip out of the camp. Later, as Schulz and von Scherbach discover Price's body, the prisoners of Barracks 4 quietly ponder their resourceful comrade, Sefton. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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