The Colditz Story
The Colditz Story is a 1955 British prisoner of war film starring John Mills and Eric Portman and directed by Guy Hamilton. It is based on the book written by Pat Reid, a British army officer who was imprisoned in Oflag IV-C, Colditz Castle, in Germany during the Second World War and who was the Escape Officer for British POWs within the castle.
|The Colditz Story|
Cinema release poster
|Directed by||Guy Hamilton|
|Produced by||Ivan Foxwell|
|Written by||Guy Hamilton|
|Based on||The Colditz Story by Pat Reid|
|Music by||Francis Chagrin|
|Edited by||Peter Mayhew|
|Distributed by||British Lion Films|
In World War II, the Germans transformed Colditz Castle into a high security prisoner-of-war camp called Oflag IV-C. Its purpose was to restrain those Allied prisoners who had attempted to escape from other Oflags and so Colditz housed various nationalities who were mainly British, Dutch, French and Polish. Among the British prisoners are Pat Reid (John Mills) and Senior British Officer Colonel Richmond (Eric Portman). Richmond is warned by the Kommandant (Frederick Valk) that "escaping is verboten" but Richmond has no intention of heeding this advice. All the prisoners are wary of Priem (Denis Shaw), the chief security officer, who is efficient and tenacious.
Reid and other British officers attempt to open a manhole cover one night but are foiled by a simultaneous French attempt which alerts the German guards. Reid and La Tour (Eugene Deckers) argue about the lack of co-operation, both blaming the other. Later, a British tunnel is making progress until it meets another being dug by the Dutch officers and a collapse occurs. Richmond decides to act and proposes the creation by each nationality of escape officers who must liaise at all times to make sure attempts do not interfere with each other. Reid accepts the post for the British contingent. Soon afterwards, Winslow (Bryan Forbes) is hidden among paliasses being taken out of the castle and is not immediately caught.
Richmond gains agreement for his own escape plan which hinges on his impersonation of a feldwebel called Franz Josef. This seems to be succeeding until, at the key moment, the German guards emerge and arrest all concerned. Tyler (Lionel Jeffries) is shot and wounded. Richmond, Reid and a dozen others are placed in solitary for a month and the likelihood of an informer is first discussed. This turns out to be the case when one of the Polish officers, whose family have been threatened by the Gestapo, is found to be collaborating with the guards and betraying escape plans.
After two weeks on the run, Winslow is recaptured and returned to Colditz. While he is in the solitary compound, he talks to La Tour during a physical exercise session and watches as La Tour, helped by a compatriot, leaps over the barbed wire fence. Winslow runs into a guard to stop him shooting La Tour who runs to freedom. Soon afterwards, Richmond expresses annoyance that no British officer has yet made a complete escape.
Reid's friend McGill (Christopher Rhodes) approaches Richmond with a new plan but says he will only disclose it if Richmond will relieve Reid from his escape officer duties so that McGill and Reid can make the attempt together. Richmond agrees and McGill convinces Reid that the plan is feasible. The escapees will be disguised as German officers but will approach the guards from the direction of the German mess. McGill argues that previous attempts have failed because the escapees came from the wrong direction. The attempt will coincide with a revue being staged in the castle theatre, to which all senior German officers are being invited.
McGill is very tall and has antagonised the guards many times by reckless behaviour. Richmond realises that he will be too conspicuous and asks him to stand down so that other officers including Reid will have a good chance of making the plan work. McGill accepts Richmond's reasoning but is devastated. Next day, he attempts to scale the wire fence surrounding the exercise compound and is shot dead by the guards. Reid, on learning of Richmond's decision, says he will not let the escape attempt proceed but Richmond persuades him to do it for McGill's sake. The escape goes ahead as planned while the revue is being staged. Four men get out of the castle but two are soon recaptured. Several days later, Richmond receives a postcard with a cryptic message. He announces to the assembled and cheering prisoners that Reid and Winslow have successfully crossed into neutral Switzerland.
Information sourced to the BFI site.
- John Mills as Pat Reid
- Eric Portman as Colonel Richmond
- Frederick Valk as Kommandant
- Denis Shaw as Priem
- Lionel Jeffries as Harry Tyler
- Christopher Rhodes as Mac McGill
- Richard Wattis as Richard Gordon
- Ian Carmichael as Robin Cartwright
- Bryan Forbes as Jimmy Winslow
- Theodore Bikel as "Vandy", Machiel van den Heuvel
- Eugene Deckers as La Tour
- Anton Diffring as Hauptmann Fischer
- Guido Lorraine as Polish officer
- Witold Sikorski as Polish Officer
- A. Blichewicz as Polish Officer
- B. Dolinski as Polish Officer
- Leo Bieber as German Interpreter
- Rudolph Offenbach as Dutch Colonel
- Keith Pyott as French colonel
- Arthur Butcher as Polish Colonel
- David Yates as Dick
- Douglas Argent as British Officer
- Terence Brook as British Officer
- Frank Coburn as British Officer
- Eric Corrie as British Officer
- John Corrie as British Officer
- Anthony Faramus as British officer
- Eric Lander as British Officer
- Kenneth Midwood as British Officer
- Peter Myers as British Officer
- Claude Le Sache as French Interpreter
- Zygmunt Rewkowski as Polish Interpreter
- Carl Duering as Hauptmann Wagner
- Ludwik Lawinski as Franz Josef
- Peter Swanwick (credited as "Swannick") as Lutyens
- John Heller as German Guard
- Jean Driant as French Orderly
- Jean Bacon as French Orderly
- Frederick Schiller as German Soldier
- Guy Deghy as German Soldier
The theatre revue towards the end of the film, which the inmates use to mask the escape by Reid and Winslow, begins with a parody of the Will Fyffe song I Belong to Glasgow, rendered I Belong to Colditz. Ian Carmichael and Richard Wattis, playing two Grenadier Guards officers, perform a Flanagan and Allen routine, based on Underneath the Arches.
The film was the fourth most popular film at the British box office in 1955.
- W., Stephen (26 April 1959). "Noted on the British Movie Scene". New York Times. p. X7.
- BFI: The Colditz Story (1955).
- "The Colditz Story (1955) - Guy Hamilton - Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related - AllMovie". AllMovie.
- "The Dam Busters". The Times. London. 29 December 1955. p. 12.
- "BFI Screenonline: Colditz (1972-74)". www.screenonline.org.uk.