Stalag 17 (1953) - Rotten Tomatoes

Stalag 17 (1953)



Critic Consensus: Stalag 17 survives the jump from stage to screen with flying colors, thanks to Billy Wilder's typically sterling direction and a darkly funny script.

Movie Info

The scene is a German POW camp, sometime during the mid-1940s. Stalag 17, exclusively populated by American sergeants, is overseen by sadistic commandant Oberst Von Schernbach (Otto Preminger) and the deceptively avuncular sergeant Schultz (Sig Ruman). The inmates spend their waking hours circumventing the boredom of prison life; at night, they attempt to arrange escapes. When two of the escapees, Johnson and Manfredi, are shot down like dogs by the Nazi guards, Stalag 17's resident wiseguy Sefton (William Holden) callously collects the bets he'd placed concerning the fugitives' success. No doubt about it: there's a security leak in the barracks, and everybody suspects the enterprising Sefton -- who manages to obtain all the creature comforts he wants -- of being a Nazi infiltrator. Things get particularly dicey when Lt. Dunbar (Don Taylor), temporarily billetted in Stalag 17 before being transferred to an officer's camp, tells his new bunkmates that he was responsible for the destruction of a German ammunition train. Sure enough, this information is leaked to the Commandant, and Dunbar is subjected to a brutal interrogation. Certain by now that Sefton is the "mole", the other inmates beat him to a pulp. But Sefton soon learns who the real spy is, and reveals that information on the night of Dunbar's planned escape. Despite the seriousness of the situation, Stalag 17 is as much comedy as wartime melodrama, with most of the laughs provided by Robert Strauss as the Betty Grable-obsessed "Animal" and Harvey Lembeck as Stosh's best buddy Harry. Other standouts in the all-male cast include Richard Erdman as prisoner spokesman Hoffy, Neville Brand as the scruffy Duke, Peter Graves as blonde-haired, blue-eyed "all American boy" Price, Gil Stratton as Sefton's sidekick Cookie (who also narrates the film) and Robinson Stone as the catatonic, shell-shocked Joey. Writer/producer/director Billy Wilder and coscenarist Edmund Blum remained faithful to the plot and mood the Donald Bevan/Edmund Trzcinski stage play Stalag 17, while changing virtually every line of dialogue-all to the better, as it turned out (Trzcinski, who like Bevan based the play on his own experiences as a POW, appears in the film as the ingenuous prisoner who "really believes" his wife's story about the baby abandoned on her doorstep). William Holden won an Academy Award for his hard-bitten portrayal of Sefton, which despite a hokey "I'm really a swell guy after all" gesture near the end of the film still retains its bite today. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovimore
Rating: Unrated
Genre: Drama, Action & Adventure, Classics, Comedy
Directed By:
Written By: Billy Wilder, Edwin Blum
In Theaters:
On DVD: Dec 14, 1999
Paramount Home Video


Robert Strauss
as `Animal' Stosh
Don Taylor
as Lt. Dunbar
Otto Preminger
as Oberst Von Scherbach
Sig Rumann
as Schulz
Gil Stratton
as Cookie/Narrator
Jay Lawrence
as Bagradian
Erwin Kalser
as Geneva Man
Harald Maresch
as German Lieutenant
Carl Forcht
as German Lieutenant
Alexander J. Wells
as Prisoners with Beard
Bob Templeton
as Prisoners with Beard
Paul Salata
as Prisoners with Beard
Jerry Singer
as The Crutch
Bill Sheehan
as Prisoners of War
Richard P. Beedle
as Prisoners of War
Warren Sortomme
as Prisoners of War
Robin Morse
as Prisoners of War
Ralph Jarvis Caston
as Prisoners of War
James R. Scott
as Prisoners of War
Harry Reardon
as Prisoners of War
Wesley Ling
as Prisoners of War
John Mitchum
as Prisoners of War
William McLean
as Prisoners of War
Tommy Cook
as Prisoners of War
Janice Carroll
as Russian Women Prison...
Yvette Eaton
as Russian Women Prison...
Alla Gursky
as Russian Women Prison...
Olga Lebedeff
as Russian Women Prison...
Mara Sondakoff
as Russian Women Prison...
Ian Ross Gould
as German Orderly
Mike Bush
as Dancer
Joe Ploski
as German Guard Volley
Max Willenz
as German Lieutenant Su...
Peter Leeds
as Barracks No. 1 POW
Herbert Street
as Prisoner of War
Rodric Beckham
as Prisoner of War
Jerry Gerber
as Prisoner of War
William Mulcahy
as Prisoner of War
Russell Grower
as Prisoner of War
Cameron Donald
as Prisoner of War
James Dabney Jr.
as Prisoner of War
Ralph Gaston
as Prisoner of War
Svetlana McLee
as Russian Woman Prison...
Lyda Vashkulat
as Russian Woman Prison...
Audrey Strauss
as Russian Woman Prison...
Ross Bagdasarian Sr.
as Singing Prisoner of ...
John Patrick Veitch
as Prisoner of War
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Stalag 17

Critic Reviews for Stalag 17

All Critics (34) | Top Critics (8)

As rowdily entertaining on the screen as it was on the stage.

Full Review… | December 5, 2008
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

The resulting letdown is terrific, but along the way there is some of the funniest men-at-loose-ends interplay that Wilder has ever put on film.

Full Review… | August 14, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

One could make an argument that, among 20th century directors, few were more versatile than Billy Wilder.

Full Review… | August 14, 2007
Top Critic

A lusty comedy-melodrama, loaded with bold, masculine humor and as much of the original's uninhibited earthiness as good taste and the Production Code permit.

Full Review… | August 14, 2007
Top Critic

The good greatly outweighs the bad, particularly in the profile of Holden's character, a pragmatic, self-centered cynic whose heroism, when it is finally called upon, appears to come from deep within the barriers he has placed inside of himself.

May 13, 2006
Hollywood Reporter
Top Critic

In the end, Stalag 17's irreverence likely didn't revolutionize moviemaking for adults so much as it paved the way for the likes of M*A*S*H and Animal House. Then again, that alone is an achievement worth celebrating.

Full Review… | April 1, 2006
AV Club
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Stalag 17


A spectacular prison camp drama that is really compelling when it comes to its intriguing mystery while also very funny and touching when showing the camaraderie between those prisoners of Barrack 4, with several memorable scenes that make it an unmissable classic.

Carlos Magalh„es

Super Reviewer


A group of American POWs discovers that there is an informant in their midst.
Kind of a war movie lite, Stalag 17 is more entertaining than moving and more delightful than most war films typically are. William Holden's characteristic insouciance fits right in, and the rest of the cast basically follows suit. Once one gives in to the film's tone, it becomes worth watching, even if the reveal comes too early, diffusing most of the potential suspense.
Overall, this is a strong, entertaining, genre-defying film, but it's not perfect.

Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer


When a self-serving operator in a WWII prison camp is suspected of collaboration with the enemy, he is forced to uncover the true culprit. Another of Billy Wilder's cynical classics, there is a lot more humour in the material than you would think. In fact it is often so broad it can resemble an extended episode of Sgt. Bilko, full of fast paced wise-cracking and army camaraderie. It is Holden's character of course that provides the real drama, and he plays it pitch perfectly. Unlike most prisoner of war films that are full of stiff upper lipped heroics, his cynical attitude never wavers and the sharp, witty dialogue makes for some fine black comedy. Easily one of the best examples of the genre.

xGary Xx

Super Reviewer

Stalag 17 Quotes

Sefton: If I ever run into any of you bums on a street corner, just let's pretend we've never met before.
– Submitted by Adam O (2 years ago)
Schulz: How do you expect to win the war with an army of clowns?
Lieutenant Dunbar: We sort of hope you'd laugh yourselves to death.
– Submitted by Adam O (2 years ago)
Sefton: There are two people in this barracks who know I didn't do it. Me and the guy that did do it.
– Submitted by Adam O (2 years ago)
Harry Shapiro: I'm telling you, these nazis ain't kosher.
"Animal" Stosh: You can say that again.
Harry Shapiro: Telling you, these nazis ain't kosher.
"Animal" Stosh: I said you can say it again, that doesn't mean you have to repeat it!
– Submitted by Joakim A (3 years ago)

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