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There are two people in this barracks who know I didn't do it. Me and the guy that did do it.
—Sefton, Stalag 17
Stalag 17 is a 1953 war movie set in a World War II German POW camp, starring William Holden, Otto Preminger, Don Taylor, Robert Strauss, Neville Brand, Harvey Lembeck, Sig Rumann, and Peter Graves, and directed by Billy Wilder. Based on the Broadway play of the same name which in turn was based on the real-life POW experiences of the play authors Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski.
The movie opens the narrator, Cookie (Gil Stratton), recalling the attempted escape of two prisoners, Manfredi and Johnson, whose capture and death cause the American POWs to suspect that a traitor in their midst had tipped off the Germans. The primary suspect is Cookie's friend, the cynical and somewhat antisocial Sefton.
The film is built on a double allegory: the same paranoia that causes the POWs to target Sefton had 1) enabled the Nazis easily to scapegoat the Jews and 2) induced Hollywood shortly before the movie's release to institute the Blacklist scapegoating left-leaning scriptwriters, performers, and others.
This movie contains examples of:
- Affably Evil: Colonel von Scherbach makes light-hearted speeches to the prisoners:
All right then, gentlemen, we are all friends again. And with Christmas coming on I have a special treat for you. I'll have you all deloused for the holidays and I'll have a little Christmas tree for every barrack. You will like that.
- And he says this while the bodies of Manfredi and Johnson lie in the mud in front of him.
- Sergeant Schulz may claim to be your friend. But he's not.
- Anti-Hero: Sefton's a dick.
- Bodyguard Betrayal: Price is the designated security guy who greenlights all of the POWs secret projects. And he's the mole.
- Book Ends: A prison break opens and closes the film.
- Bowdlerize: Billy Wilder made no other film for Paramount after this because they wanted to change the mole from a German to a Pole in the German-dubbed version so as not to cause offense among ex-Nazis.
- Clear My Name
- Deadpan Snarker: A good chunk of the cast, including Sefton, Shapiro, Animal, and Marco.
- Death by Irony: Once the identity of the mole is revealed once and for all, Sefton uses him to act as a diversion so he and Dunbar can escape. The POWs tie tin cans to Price, and throw him out of the barracks in the loudest manner possible thus drawing the attention of every guard, watchdog and machine gun tower in the camp which proves to be very lethal.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: If you're seeing this film after Hogan's Heroes, there are some similarities....
- During the War
- Five-Man Band:
- Foreshadowing: In the scene where Sefton is lying back in his bunk while the other POW's are gathered around ready to pounce on him and beat the tar out of him-- note which one of them gives the signal to start the beating. It's The Mole.
- Genre Savvy: After Sefton is accused of being the spy, he lets the other POWs think such while he figures things out, knowing Scherbach will either move the mole or kill the whole barracks if he says anything before then.
- Heroic BSOD: Joey maintains one throughout the film.
- Heterosexual Life Partners: Shapiro and Animal.
- Hilarity Ensues: Pretty much any scene involving the dynamic duo of Shapiro and Animal.
- I Am Spartacus: At one point Animal splashes mud on von Scherbach's boots. Not seeing who did it, von Scherbach demands that the guilty party step forward, which Animal does...followed by the rest of the POWs.
- The Ishmael: Cookie
- Jerkass: Sgt. J.J. Sefton. With the exceptions of Cookie and Joey, he sees everyone in the compound as simply an opportunity to get resources to trade for goods. This comes to bite him in the ass in the beginning of the story; when he barters with the Nazi guards using the cigarettes he won from a bet involving a botched escape attempt, he is suspected of being an agent planted by the Germans. He eventually becomes a Jerk With A Heart Of Gold when he decides to help save Dunbar and gives what's left of his stash to Cookie.
- Justified in Sefton's view because his first week in a prison camp netted him lost clothes, and bruises when he tried to do something about it. Being out for himself did him better...
- Large Ham: Scherbach. The colonel goes through great effort to put on his shiny boots just to make a phone call. (so he can click the heels together, ach so...)
- Military Moonshiner: Sefton runs a still among his various other moneymaking enterprises.
- The Mole: Film's plot in a nutshell. Revealed to be Price.
- Mood Whiplash: The constant tonal shifts between broad, Hogan's Heroes-style comedy and deadly serious drama may put people off.
- Oh Crap: The moment Price realizes that Sefton has proven to rest of the POWs that he's the double agent.
- POW Camp: The ENTIRE film is set in one.
- Punch Clock Villain: Schulz
(Upon seeing all the prisoners with Hitler mustaches) "Bah! One Fuhrer is enough!"
- Refuge in Audacity: The indoctrination scene.
- The Reveal: When Sefton tricks Price into revealing how he heard about Pearl Harbor. "I was eating dinner," Price answers. Sefton points out that he'd only be able to do that if he lived in Central Europe, and not Cleveland like he said.
- Right Under Their Noses: Harry and Animal attempt to sneak into the Russian women's compound by painting a white line on the ground and past the guard post. It works... for about 30 seconds.
- Sacrificial Lambs: Manfredi and Johnson
- Selective Obliviousness: One of the POWs gets a letter from home from his wife, who writes to tell him about this beautiful baby just left on her doorstep. The guy wants to totally buy his wife's story ("...and you'll never believe this, but she has just my eyes and my nose!"), while the other POW he's reading the letter to just stares at the camera with an "I can't believe he's buying this" expression.
- Silly Rabbit -- Idealism Is For Kids!: Sefton in a nutshell.
My first week here I lost my blanket, a carton of cigarettes, and my left shoe. Since then I've wised up.
- Smart People Play Chess: Chess board in on the barracks table which is used as a secret mailbox for Price and Schulz.
- The Speechless: Joey
- Those Two Guys: Shapiro and Animal, natch.
- Those Wacky Nazis: In variety.
- Verbal Tic: Marco the Mailman.
At ease! At ease!