Stalag 17 begins with the narration of a shadowed character of the film, Stalag 17 announces; I'm tired of War films. Well, it's not a traditional War film like The Longest Day or Saving Private Ryan. Stalag 17 may be one of the many influences of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. You have the context of World War II but you see none of it apart of the Nazi uniforms. Stalag 17 fells like Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion without being deeply involve in pre-War pacifist message.
Set in a nazi prison, Stalag 17 is the barrack where we follow a group of American prisoners that live together. They discover that there is an informer in their barrack. It's a story based on true American values: loyalty, pride, humor, friendship, and mercantilism. I always find it funny to watch a film that vehicles American values and ridiculing the German captors made by a born Germanized (Poland) director; Billy Wilder. Well, it's known that he earned his American citizenship and he had to escape from Germany after Hitler took power because of his Jewish ancestors. It's no surprise when we learned that he wrote Ninotchka for another German immigrate director; Ernst Lubitsch. The two films are about the American values and life. These outsiders tend to understand better the land that welcomed and rescued them from Nazi oppression.
Far from being a masterpiece, Stalag 17 is an efficient film and a very good entertainment. It's not a surprise to see this film in IMDb Top 250 movies. Billy Wilder's films have this quality of pure entertainment and this freshness that make them hold within all these years. The performances, especially William Holden who earned an Oscar, are strong and the story is fresh and funny. A classic in the prison film genre!
A Film Retrospective by Michaël Parent