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Jailbreak! Seven great escapes -- on film

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Both men are bank robbers, one of them's called the Secondhand Bandit. Together, they patiently chipped away at a cinder-block wall at Chicago's downtown federal prison until it gave way. Climbing down a rope, the robbers made a break for it.

Sounds like a great escape movie, but it's real -- happened this morning.

Sounds pretty much like "The Shawshank Redemption," in fact, which is, of course, one of the greatest escape movies of all time. On this list, anyway, of great escape movies:

"The Shawshank Redemption" (1994)
C'mon, you've watched this on cable a thousand times. Or maybe that's only me. Just close your eyes and whisper to yourself: "Zihuatanejo..." All better now?

Netflix: On DVD.
Set the DVR: Noon Dec. 30 on A&E, 7 p.m. Jan. 1 on Spike.
Honorable option: In "Brute Force" (1947), it's Burt Lancaster -- in one of his most gripping performances -- taking a stand against the sadistic warden.

"The Great Escape" (1963)
One of the best ensemble pictures ever, "The Great Escape," starring Steve McQueen, James Garner and Richard Attenborough, chronicles the daring digging of several Allied POWs in a German camp. Crucially, the film doesn't stop at freedom but follows the throng as they try to make that freedom last.

Netflix: On DVD.
Honorable option: The witty, intelligent claymation comedy "Chicken Run" (2000) is based not-so-loosely on "The Great Escape." Mel Gibson voices a boastful bird trying to teach a bunch of hens to fly the coop, literally.

"Escape From Alcatraz" (1979)
Alcatraz was escape-proof like the Titanic was unsinkable, and Clint Eastwood's Morris notices he can chip away the concrete in his cell. That's the easy part.

Netflix: On DVD.
Honorable option: Turkish prisons are almost as much of an incarceration cliché as Alcatraz, and "Midnight Express" (1978), despite its glaring racism, documents the horror as Brad Davis suffers for five years before realizing, hey, I should get outta here.

"Cool Hand Luke" (1967)
"What we've got here is failure to communicate" -- that line, spoken by the Captain (Strother Martin), is one of the most memorable in all of filmdom. Paul Newman's crime? Getting drunk and knocking the heads of parking meters.

Netflix: On DVD.
Honorable option: Another difficult escape in another semi-tropical location, "Papillon" (1973) stars Steve McQueen -- he made a habit of prison movies and solitary confinement scenes -- and Dustin Hoffman.

"Stalag 17" (1953)
William Holden won the best actor Oscar for his role here as Sefton, a prisoner in a German WWII barracks. The tongue-in-cheek film starts with a failed tunnel attempt before the long build-up to another try.

Netflix: On DVD.
Honorable option: There likely would be no "Stalag 17" without Jean Renoir's WWI tale "Grand Illusion" (1937), commonly cited among the greatest films ever made. As to "Stalag 17's" connection to the TV show "Hogan's Heroes," I know nossing!

"The Count of Monte Cristo" (2002)
Alexandre Dumas' revenge tale has been adapted numerous times (Richard Chamberlain and Tony Curtis in 1975, hilarious), but the most thrilling was the most recent. Jim Caviezel masterfully turns from wrongly imprisoned innocent to steely-eyed enemy under the tutelage of Richard Harris in his penultimate film role.

Netflix: On DVD.
Honorable option: Les Miserables, the novel about a man almost as unjustly imprisoned as the above count, has been adapted 12 times -- with next month's musical Oscar bait the 13th screen version. The 1978 entry, starring Richard Jordan and Anthony Perkins, at least dramatizes Valjean's prison escape.

"Stir Crazy" (1980)
That's right, that's right, it ain't bad. Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor are just trying to change their lives -- by dressing up as woodpeckers and dancing around in a bank lobby. What could go wrong?

Netflix: On DVD.
Honorable option: "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000) keeps prison-busting in the comic wheelhouse but with a weirdly literate twist. Best adaptation of the Odyssey ever.

Music for this blog post's closing credits...
Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy on Grooveshark

What are your suggestions?
(And, no, "Saw" doesn't count...)

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on December 18, 2012 12:30 PM.

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