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This article is about the film of this title. For the punk band, see Stalag 17 .

Stalag 17 is a 1953 war film which tells the story of a group of American airmen held in a German World War II prisoner of war camp, who come to suspect that one of their number is a traitor. It was adapted from a Broadway play.

Produced and directed by Billy Wilder, it starred William Holden, Don Taylor, Robert Strauss, Neville Brand, Harvey Lembeck, and Peter Graves (Strauss and Lembeck both appeared in the original Broadway production); Wilder also cast fellow Austrianmarker film director (and Jew) Otto Preminger in the role of the evil camp commander.

The movie was adapted by Wilder and Edwin Blum from the Broadway play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski who were both prisoners in Stalag XVII-B. (Trzcinski appears in the film as a prisoner.) The play was directed by José Ferrer and was the Broadway debut of John Ericson as Sefton. It began its run in May 1951, continued for 472 performances and was based on the experiences of its authors, both of whom were POWs in Stalag 17B in Austriamarker.

The film also provided the inspiration for the popular 1965-1971 television sitcom Hogan's Heroes.

Plot synopsis

Stalag 17 begins on "the longest night of the year" in 1944 in a Luftwaffe prisoner-of-war camp located somewhere along the Danube River. The story of a Nazi spy in Barracks Four is narrated by Clarence Harvey "Cookie" Cook (Gil Stratton).

Prisoners Manfredi and Johnson try to escape through a tunnel the inmates have dug under the barbed wire. They are immediately shot by waiting prison guards when they emerge outside the fence. The other prisoners conclude that one of their own must have informed the Germans of the escape attempt, and suspicion falls on Sefton (William Holden), a cynical and somewhat antisocial prisoner who barters openly with the German guards for eggs, silk stockings, blankets and other luxuries. He also organizes mouse races and various other profitable enterprises that net him his hoard of "luxuries." The other prisoners are suspicious of his fraternization with the enemy, though envious of his dealmaking success — for instance, he wins a large number of cigarettes from the other prisoners by betting against Manfredi and Johnson's successful escape, then trades the cigarettes to the Germans for an egg the next morning.

The lives of the prisoners are depicted in a somewhat sanitized way. They receive mail, eat terrible food, wash in the latrine sinks, and collectively do their best to keep sane and defy the camp's cruel and ruthless commandant, Oberst von Scherbach (Otto Preminger). They use a clandestine radio, smuggled from barracks to barracks throughout the entire camp, to pick up the BBC and the war news. (The antenna is their volleyball net.) Their German guard, Sergeant Schulz (Sig Ruman), confiscates the radio, another success for the "stoolie," whoever he is.

Sefton bribes the guards to let him spend the day in the women's barracks in the Russian section of the camp. The other prisoners spot him through Sefton's own telescope and conclude that this is his reward for having informed the Germans about the radio. When he returns, he is accused of being a spy. At that moment, von Scherbach pays a visit to the barracks to apprehend new prisoner Lieutenant James Dunbar (Don Taylor), who had previously told the other prisoners that he had blown up a German ammunition train while he was being transported to the camp. The men are convinced that Sefton divulged Dunbar's act of sabotage to the Germans and viciously beat him, after which he is ostracized. His considerable property is taken and redistributed to the rest of the prisoners. Sefton then decides to investigate and uncover the identity of the spy in order to clear his name. Eventually he remains in the barracks during a fake air raid and successfully discovers the identity of the spy: the barracks security chief, Price (Peter Graves), who Sefton overhears conversing with Schulz in German and divulging the means by which Dunbar destroyed the ammunition train.

On Christmas Day, the men find out that SSmarker men are coming to take Dunbar to Berlin for interrogation. The entire camp creates a distraction and Dunbar is freed and hidden. Nobody but the compound chief Hoffy (Richard Erdman) knows of Dunbar's whereabouts, and he refuses to divulge the information to anybody, even the supposedly trustworthy Price. Dunbar is thus successfully kept from the Germans despite extensive search efforts. After von Scherbach threatens to raze the camp to find Dunbar, the men decide one of them must help Dunbar escape. Price volunteers for the job, and when he appears to have convinced the other prisoners to let him do it, Sefton reveals him as the spy. After accusing Price, Sefton asks him "When was Pearl Harbormarker?" Price knows the date, but Sefton traps him by quickly asking what time he heard the news. Without thinking, Price betrays himself by answering 6 p.m. — the correct time of the attack in Berlin, Germany. After that, Sefton reaches into Price's jacket pocket and extracts the "mailbox" used to exchange messages with the Germans, a hollowed-out black chess queen.

With his fellow POWs convinced of Price's guilt, Sefton decides to take Dunbar out of the camp himself, first because he likes the odds of escape and second due to the reward he can expect from Dunbar's wealthy family. The men give Sefton enough time to get Dunbar out of his hiding place (the water tower above one of the camp latrines) then throw Price out into the yard with tin cans tied to his legs. The ruse works: Price is killed in a hail of bullets (to the later consternation of von Scherbach and Schulz) by camp guards who believe him to be Dunbar or one of the other prisoners, creating a distraction that allows Sefton and Dunbar to cut through the barbed wire and make their escape.


Actor Character
William Holden Sefton
Don Taylor Lieutenant Dunbar
Otto Preminger Von Scherbach
Robert Strauss Stanislas "Animal" Kasava
Harvey Lembeck Harry Shapiro
Peter Graves Price
Sig Ruman Sergeant Schulz
Neville Brand Duke
Richard Erdman Hoffy
Michael Moore Manfredi
Peter Baldwin Johnson
Robinson Stone Joey
Robert Shawley Blondie Peterson
William Pierson Marko
Gil Stratton Clarence Harvey "Cookie" Cook (Narrator)
Jay Lawrence Bagradian
Erwin Kalser Geneva Man
Mike Bush Dancer


Both Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas were considered for the role of Sefton. Holden was reluctant to play Sefton as he thought the character was too cynical and selfish. Wilder refused to make the role more sympathetic and Holden actually refused it, but was forced to do it by Paramount.


The prison camp set was built on the John Show Ranch in southwestern Woodland Hills, Californiamarker.


The film was well received and is considered, along with The Great Escape and The Bridge on the River Kwaimarker, among the greatest World War II Prisoner of War films.

Awards and nominations

Holden won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. His acceptance speech was the shortest on record ("Thank you"), until Alfred Hitchcock said "Thanks" upon receiving an honorary Oscar in 1968. Holden's speech was not planned to be brief; by the time he received his Oscar, the show was running long — and the TV broadcast had a strict cutoff time — which forced Holden's quick remarks. Frustrated, Holden paid for a personal ad in the Hollywood trade publications to thank everyone he wanted to on Oscar night.

In addition, Wilder was nominated for the Best Director Oscar, and Strauss for Best Supporting Actor.



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