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  • Writer's pictureThomas Duncan

Stalag 17 (1953) ft. Kieran B

Guest: Kieran B (Host of the Best Picture Cast)


  • Billy Wilder, Director/Writer

  • Edwin Blum, Co-Writer

  • Franz Waxman, Music

  • William Holden as J.J. Sefton

  • Don Taylor as Lieutenant James Dunbar

  • Otto Preminger as Colonel von Scherbach

  • Robert Strauss as Stanislas "Animal" Kuzawa

  • Harvey Lembeck as Harry Shapiro

  • Richard Erdman as "Hoffy" Hoffman

  • Peter Graves as Frank Price

  • Neville Brand as Duke

  • Michael Moore as Manfredi

  • Sig Ruman as Sergeant Johann Sebastian Schulz

  • Peter Baldwin as Johnson

  • Robinson Stone as Joey

  • Robert Shawley as "Blondie" Peterson

  • William Pierson as Marko the Mailman

  • Gil Stratton as Clarence Harvey "Cookie" Cook (narrator)


  • Stalag 17 released on June 6, 1953 in the United States.

  • The film is based on the play of the same name from 1951, but was heavily re-written for the film.

  • On a budget of nearly $1.7 million, Stalag 17 would go on to gross roughly $10 million across the US, Canada, and the UK. However, it's domestic box office run placed it outside the top 10 for the year.

  • Though Charleton Heston and Kirk Douglas were considered for the lead role, the part of Sefton fell to William Holden who beat out Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift to win his only Oscar for Best Actor. His acceptance speech is one of the shortest on record ("thank you, thank you"); the TV broadcast had a strict cutoff time, which forced Holden's quick remarks. The frustrated Holden personally paid for advertisements in the Hollywood trade publications to thank everyone he wanted to on Oscar night. He also remarked that he felt that either Lancaster or Clift should have won the Best Actor Oscar for From Here to Eternity instead of him. He is said to have felt he was given the award as consolation for not having previously won it for Sunset Boulevard.

  • The film would also garner nominations for Best Director (Wilder) and Supporting Actor (Strauss).

  • Stalag 17 currently holds a 91% among critics on RT, an 84 score on Metacritic, and a 4/5 on Letterboxd.

What is this movie about?/Elevator Pitch: Survival in a POW camp came with both inside and outside threats.

Plot Summary: "Stalag 17," directed by Billy Wilder, is a gripping and darkly comedic exploration of camaraderie and suspicion within a German prisoner of war camp during World War II. The film follows the lives of American POWs, whose unity is shattered when they suspect a traitor in their midst.

Wilder skillfully blends tension and humor, weaving a narrative that keeps the audience guessing until the final reveal. The film's standout performance comes from William Holden as the cynical and resourceful J.J. Sefton, a character who encapsulates the moral ambiguity of survival in the face of adversity. "Stalag 17" is a masterclass in storytelling; balancing suspense, wit, and a poignant exploration of the human condition in the crucible of war.

Did You Know:

  • Otto Preminger always claimed that, as a director, he would only shout at actors if they were late or if they did not know their lines. Employed solely as an actor in this film, he told Billy Wilder at the start of filming that if he ever forgot his lines, he would present Wilder with a jar of caviar. Wilder later told interviewers that he soon had dozens of such jars.

  • William Holden did not like the part of Sefton as written, thinking him too selfish. He kept asking Billy Wilder to make Sefton nicer. Wilder refused. Holden actually refused the role but was forced to do it by the studio.

  • To improve the chances for commercial success in West Germany (at that time already an important market for Hollywood) a Paramount executive suggested to Billy Wilder that he should make the camp guards Poles rather than Germans. Wilder, whose mother and stepfather had died in the concentration camps, furiously refused and demanded an apology from the executive. When it didn't come, Wilder did not extend his contract at Paramount.

  • In order to keep the actors' reactions for the film's plot twists as close to genuine as possible, the film was shot in sequential order (i.e., the first scene was filmed first, and so on), which is contrary to how movies are generally filmed.

  • This film was one of the biggest hits of Billy Wilder's career. He expected a big piece of the profits. The studio accountants informed him that since his last picture "Ace in the Hole (1951)" lost money, the money that picture lost would be subtracted from his profits on this film. Wilder left "Paramount" shortly after that.

Best Performance: William Holden (Sefton)/Robert Strauss (Animal)/Billy Wilder (Writer/Director)

Best Secondary Performance: William Holden (Sefton)/Billy Wilder (Writer/Director)/Robert Strauss (Animal)

Most Charismatic Award: William Holden (Sefton)/Robert Strauss (Animal)/Billy Wilder (Writer/Director)

Best Scene:

  • Manfredi and Johnson Killed

  • Roll Call

  • Chow Time

  • Egg

  • Game of Chess

  • Sneaking into the Russian Camp

  • Lt. James Dunbar

  • Geneva Inspector

  • Price Informs

  • Christmas Day

  • Escape

Favorite Scene: Escape/Sneaking into the Russian Camp

Most Indelible Moment: Escape/Dunbar in the Watertower/The Light Cord and Black King

In Memorium:

  • Kevin Turen, 44, American film and television producer (Euphoria, X, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent).

  • John Bailey, 81, American cinematographer (Ordinary People, The Big Chill, Groundhog Day, American Gigolo), president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (2017–2019).

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Sefton: There are two people in this barracks who know I didn't do it. Me and the guy that did do it.

Oberst Von Scherbach: I'm grateful for a little company. I suffer from insomia.

Lt. James Skylar Dunbar: Did you ever try 40 sleeping pills?

Animal: ...of all the hoarding kruds!

Shapiro: I'm tellin' ya, Animal, these Nazis ain't kosher.

Animal: Ya can say that again!

Shapiro: I'm tellin' ya, Animal, these Nazis ain't kosher!

Animal: I said ya can say it again, that doesn't mean ya hafta repeat it!

Shapiro: Hey Schultz, sprechen Sie Deutsches?

Sgt. Schulz: Ja?

Shapiro: Then droppen Sie dead!

Geneva man: Who beat you?

Sefton: Nobody beat me. We were playing pinochle. It's a rough game.

Price: Are you questioning me?

Sefton: Getting acquainted. I'd like to make one friend in this barracks.

Price: Well, don't bother, Sefton. I don't like you, I never did, and I never will.

Sefton: A lot of people say that, and the first thing you know it, they get married, and live happily ever after.

Sefton: [questioning Price] When was Pearl Harbor, Price, or don't you know that?

Price: December 7th, '41.

Sefton: What time?

Price: [smugly] 6:00. I was having dinner.

Sefton: [smirks] 6:00 in Berlin.

[to the other barrack members]

Sefton: They were having lunch in Cleveland. Am I boring you boys?

Hoffy: Go on.

Sefton: He's a Nazi, Price is. For all I know his name is Preissinger or Preishoffer. Oh, sure, he lived in Cleveland. But when the war broke out, he came back to the Fatherland like a good little Bundist. He spoke our lingo, so they sent him to spy school and fixed him up with phony dog tags.

The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 4.33

Impact/Significance: 6.33

Novelty: 7.33

Classic-ness: 6.17

Rewatchability: 5.67

Audience Score: 9.0 (87% Google, 93% RT)

Total: 38.83

Remaining Questions:

  • Knowing how the bombing was done with the delay matches wasn't proof that Dunbar did the act?

  • In the winter like that, if Dunbar had been in the water for up to 12 hours, wouldn't he have died from hypothermia before nightfall anyway?

  • How did they still suspect Sefton when all the other stuff kept happening?

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