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Film / Stalag 17

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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."

Stalag 17 is a 1953 war movie set in a World War II German P.O.W. 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.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Averted with Punch-Clock Villain Schulz. His reaction to all the prisoners mockingly dressing as Hitler is a muttered "One Führer is enough."
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Harry Shapiro.
  • Anti-Hero: Sefton's an obnoxious jerk who seems to enjoy taunting the others with the goodies he gets from his black-market trading. But he's an American at heart.
  • Artistic License – Military: Schulz is referred to in dialogue several times as holding the rank of Feldwebel, but the costuming department has given him the uniform of an Unteroffizier, a much lower rank.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: How Harry and The Animal nearly get a peek into the Russian Women, until the guard wises up. Who knows, maybe the guard opening the gate was actually a Bavarian...
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  • Berserk Button: Duke (understandably) gets really pissed when Sefton strikes a match off his beard stubble.
  • Big Bad: Price, The Mole sabotaging the prisoners' clandestine resistance efforts and escape attempts, and using Sefton as a scapegoat.
  • The Big Guy: Duke and The Animal.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • After the other prisoners beat Sefton up thinking he was a traitor, Sefton explains the bruises to the Geneva Representative by saying that he was playing pinochle.note  The representative knows it is a lie, but without Sefton saying anything else he cannot do a thing about it.
    • A POW gets a letter from his wife claiming she just "found" a doorstop baby that happened to look just like her.
    • The entire Geneva Convention visit is a farce, with the guards ordering the prisoners to say they were being treated well, while putting forth a sham of acceptable conditions.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: Price is the designated security guy who greenlights all of the POWs' secret projects. And he's the mole.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Animal.
  • Bookends: A prison break opens and closes the film.
  • Celeb Crush: Animal's obsession with Betty Grable; he's got pinups of her all around his bunk, and even drinks himself drunk when he finds out she married an orchestra leader. We also have:
    • I'm Your Biggest Fan: When a drunken Animal dances with Harry thinking he's Betty Grable, he tells "her" about how he's seen every movie she ever made — six times — and is always so fixated on her that he won't even open his bag of popcorn.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The ping-pong balls they get from the Red Cross truck end up being used by the sergeants to creat a smoke screen so they can rescue Dunbar from the Gestapo.
  • Chromosome Casting: Save for the barely-glimpsed female Russian prisoners, all the characters are male. Justified by it being set in a POW camp, during an era when most all military personnel were male.
  • Clear My Name: All of Sefton's wheeling and dealings with the Germans comes back to bite him, as it makes him the perfect guy for the mole to put all the blame on. Oddly enough he doesn't really complain or care about it and even uses the animosity in his favor while he works out who the real mole is...ironically saving the Stalag in the process.
  • Cover Identity Anomaly: A Critical Research Failure which ultimately does The Mole in. He got the date when the Pearl Harbor attack occurred right, but failed to take into account the time zone.
    Sefton: Six o'clock in Berlin. They were having lunch in Cleveland.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: The wonderful excuse Sefton gives to explain his injuries from his bunkmates beating him is to say, "Nobody beat me. We were playing pinochle. It's a rough game."
  • Deadpan Snarker: A good chunk of the cast, including Sefton, Shapiro, Animal, and Marco. The whole camp is pretty much a World of Snark, with even von Scherbach and Schulz getting in on the action. This is justified since most of the cast are either prisoners or guards who aren't happy to be where they are but who don't have the option of using physical violence (unless things turn deadly serious.)
  • 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 the mole 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.
  • Defiant Stone Throw: Defiant Ocarina Throw. During the Colonel's Affably Evil instance above, Animal throws Joey's ocarina in the puddle to dirty the Colonel's precious boots.
  • Doorstop Baby: A POW gets a letter from his girlfriend saying she found one.
  • Dramedy. It fits, but see Mood Whiplash, below.
  • Dumb Struck / The Speechless: Joey, as he's suffering from severe combat fatigue (or, as it's more commonly known today, post-traumatic stress disorder).
  • During the War: It takes place in 1944 near the Danube River in Germany.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Many of the people in the camp are short-tempered and/or a [[Jerkass]], but all of them are shocked when they hear Manfredi and Johnson being executed.
  • Evil Is Bigger: 6' 3" Price is taller than everyone else in the camp
  • Failed a Spot Check: No one in the bunker noticed the light over the chessboard changing lengths from being tied up to hanging free, and so missed that this was how the spy was contacting the Germans.
  • Fake American: In-universe example. Price is actually a German who lived for many years in the United States and thus speaks fluent English and can fake an American accent. This makes him very effective as an infiltrator.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Cookie acts as narrator, though he is not the main character.
  • Foreign Cuss Word: Cookie uses the word "schweinhund" to describe Schulz; schweinhund (literally "pigdog") is the German equivalent of calling someone a bastard.
  • Foreshadowing: In the scene where Sefton is lying back in his bunk while the other POWs 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.
    • There are other little subtleties as well that hint as to who The Mole is:
      • During the initial bet of how far Manfredi and Johnson will make, when Sefton bets they don't make it out of the forest, everybody just glances at him, but notice who snaps his head towards him? The Mole.
      • Also notice that he's also the one who asks Sefton, "How come you were so sure Manfredi and Johnson wouldn't make it out of the forest last night?"
      • And, he's also the one who half-jokingly asks Schulz the following morning, "You guys have some machine gun practice last night?"
      • When Dunbar is taken away by von Sherbach, much to Bagradian's surprise, he's also the one whose quick to offer, "You two must have shot your mouths off all the way from Frankfurt to here!"
    • When telling the story about the train, Dunbar says offhandedly, "We're all Americans here, aren't we?" They aren't!
  • Freudian Excuse: Schulz is convinced that Joey is "fooling us with that crazy business", though in Joey's defense, Hoffy retorts with, "Oh yeah, how would YOU like to see the guts of nine pals splattered all over YOUR plane?"
  • Gratuitous German: In their mock Nazi rally, Bagradian is simply yelling every German word he knows (the script simply says Harpo Does Something Funny).
    Bagradian: Czechoslovakia und Poland — kaput! Und der Fräulein mit der Glockenspiel und der Bustenhalter — verboten! Und der Apfelstrudel mit der Liederkranz — Gesundheit! Everything is Gesundheit, kaput und verboten!
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Animal and Duke.
  • Heroic BSoD: Joey maintains one throughout the film. Except when The Mole is caught and about to be killed. He smiles then. He also looks shocked and a bit happy when he gets a new ocarina.
  • 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 or all would suffer, which Animal does...followed by the rest of the POWs.
  • The Infiltration: One of the prisoners is actually a German spy who has been inserted into the POW barracks to glean intelligence.
  • 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 German 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. Sefton defends this 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...
    • Harry Shapiro has his moments, given his fondness for cruel jokes. He asks Animal what he wants for breakfast, offering a wide variety of delectable breakfast foods, when of course they are just getting cold potato peel soup, like every other morning.
  • Large Ham:
    • Von 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...).
    • Animal is also one of the largest members of the prisoners.
  • Leitmotif: The melody of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" is a recurring part through the movie.
  • Military Moonshiner: Sefton runs a still among his various other moneymaking enterprises.
  • The Mole: The film's plot in a nutshell. Revealed to be Price.
    • Mole in Charge: And he's Security for the whole bunker, allowing him open access to most any plots or information the men might have.
  • Mood Whiplash: The constant tonal shifts between broad comedy and deadly serious drama may put people off.
  • More Hero Than Thou: When the men were going to pull a man's dogtag out to select someone to save Dunbar, Price grabs it and claims this. He claims he wants to volunteer to atone for his lousy job as Security. Sefton picks now to do the big reveal.
  • Nobody's That Dumb: When the POWs start putting their plan into action to subdue the Gestapo and get Dunbar to safety, they begin pressing out into the compound in a hurry, to which Marco the mailman tells them to take it easy. "Remember, just because the Krauts are dumb, that doesn't mean they're stupid."
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Schulz. He acts as though he's trying for an over-the-top Wacky Nazi trying to be pseudo-friends with the Americans. Actually, it's an effective cover so they don't realize he's running a spy inside the American barracks.
  • Oh, Crap!: The moment The Mole realizes that Sefton has proven to rest of the POWs that he's the double agent.
    • Manfredi and Johnson crawl out of their escape hole to see a German machine gun crew waiting for them.
    • When the guards announce lights out and Sefton is faced with an angry mob of men, in the dark, who all think he's the rat. They proceed to beat the shit out of him.
    • Harry gets a mild (and comedic) one when he realizes The Animal actually thinks he's Betty Grable while they're dancing.
    • Von Scherbach's face when he sees they killed Price and not Dunbar.
  • P.O.W. Camp: The whole film is set in one.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Schulz.
    (Upon seeing all the prisoners with Hitler mustaches) "Bah! One Führer is enough!"
  • The Reveal / Bluffing the Murderer: When Sefton tricks Price into revealing when and where he heard about Pearl Harbor. "6:00. 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.
    • Well, that and Price was stupid enough to keep the hollowed-out chess piece in his breast pocket.
  • 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 die in the first few minutes of the movie.
  • 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, 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.
    [reading] "...and you'll never believe this, but she has just my eyes and my nose!" Why does she keep saying I'll never believe it? I believe it. I believe it!
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Joey. He saw the guts of his squad mates hit his plane. He only appears happy when playing, getting a new ocarina, and watching as Price is caught and about to be killed.
  • 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: The chessboard on the barracks table which is used as a secret mailbox for Price and Schulz.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": Animal goes back and forth being referred to as "Animal" and "The Animal".
  • Those Two Guys: Shapiro and Animal, natch.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: In variety.
  • Took a Level in Dumbass: Animal does this very briefly, after hacking on Sefton's moonshine, and pulling his cap down over his eyes; after Sefton remarks, "All the house guarantees is you don't go blind", Animal starts freaking out because he thinks he's gone blind. Even Harry remarks, "Blind? How stupid can you get, Animal?" before pulling his cap back over his head.
  • Verbal Tic: Marco the Mailman's "At ease! At ease!"
    • Cookie has an occasional stutter.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Price has one when everyone turns on him once he is revealed to be a Nazi.
  • Waxing Lyrical: Von Sherbach comments on the nasty weather, and says he wishes they could have a white Christmas, "just like the ones you used to know".
  • We Need a Distraction: In the climax, Sefton comes up with the idea of using Price as this so he can get to Dunbar safely and they can escape the P.O.W camp.
  • Wham Line: In-universe. See The Reveal above.
  • Why Are You Looking at Me Like That?: A rare case of this being Played for Drama: when Von Scherbach takes Dunbar out of the barracks, Hoffy and the others yell at Bagradian and claim he must have let it slip about the "time bomb" Dunbar used to take out the supply train, while Bagradian snaps that he didn't tell anyone until they got to the barracks. On that, everyone starts to look at Sefton.
    Sefton: What's everyone looking at me for?
  • You Can Say That Again:
    Harry: I tell ya, Animal, those Nazis ain't kosher.
    Animal: You can say that again.
    Harry: I tell ya, Animal, those Nazis ain't-
    Animal: (angrily) I said you could say it again; that doesn't mean you have to repeat it!


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