Stalag 17

Critics 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.



Total Count: 34


Audience Score

User Ratings: 13,165
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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, Rovi


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 Prisoner
Yvette Eaton
as Russian Women Prisoner
Alla Gursky
as Russian Women Prisoner
Olga Lebedeff
as Russian Women Prisoner
Mara Sondakoff
as Russian Women Prisoner
Ian Ross Gould
as German Orderly
Mike Bush
as Dancer
Joe Ploski
as German Guard Volley
Max Willenz
as German Lieutenant Supervisor
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 Prisoner
Lyda Vashkulat
as Russian Woman Prisoner
Audrey Strauss
as Russian Woman Prisoner
Ross Bagdasarian Sr.
as Singing Prisoner of War
John Patrick Veitch
as Prisoner of War
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Critic Reviews for Stalag 17

All Critics (34) | Top Critics (8) | Fresh (33) | Rotten (1)

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

    Dec 5, 2008 | Full Review…
    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.

    Aug 14, 2007 | Full Review…
  • One could make an argument that, among 20th century directors, few were more versatile than Billy Wilder.

    Aug 14, 2007 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Aug 14, 2007 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    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
  • 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.

    Apr 1, 2006 | Full Review…

    Noel Murray

    AV Club
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Stalag 17

  • Sep 29, 2016
    There's probably a version of this movie that's an unrelenting pressure cooker but Wilder's trademark wit takes the movie down a more interesting and entertaining path. Holden's performance is perfection.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Aug 05, 2015
    There is some good period comedy and loads of fun interplay to be had here, but the proceedings are anchored by an outstanding performance from William Holden. Where the film suffers is in its repetitive cuts to the film's comedic relief duo, and a mostly useless narration. The direction and cinematography are also skillful and adept. I wouldn't consider this a must watch for newer audiences, though the film is quite good if not a little long for its simplistic story.
    Paris S Super Reviewer
  • May 21, 2014
    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 H Super Reviewer
  • Apr 07, 2014
    Another great performance by the underrated William Holden bolsters this POW film that finds the elusive mix between dark comedy and serious drama.
    John B Super Reviewer

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