Wilder's PoW movie is a mass of contradictions, perhaps explained by the fact that it was based on a successful Broadway play which partly resisted his characteristic attempt to have his black squalor and eat his airy comedy. On the one hand, uproariously and buffoonishly funny, it can be seen simply as the natural sire of such TV sitcoms as Hogan's Heroes and Sergeant Bilko. On the other, anticipating King Rat through the character of the cynical PoW capitalist played by Holden, it satirically notes that the free enterprise ethic, extended into PoW circumstances, can no longer command Horatio Alger approval; and goes on from there to ask what price democracy when a traitor is suspected, and the PoWs gang up like Fascists to assign arbitrary blame and punishment. The problem is that the two moods aren't properly cross-fertilised, with the resolute bleakness of the settings and Wilder's direction positing a reality that is constantly undercut by the comic opera crew of Germans headed by Preminger. A fascinating film, nevertheless.
Cast and crew
Edwin Blum, Billy Wilder
William Holden Harvey Lembeck Neville Brand Don Taylor Otto Preminger Richard Erdman Peter Graves Robert Strauss Sig Ruman