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“These Nazis ain’t kosher!” – Wilder’s “Stalag 17” now on 4K

Updated: Dec 8, 2023


William Holden won the Academy Award for Best Actor as Sgt. J.J. Sefton. The next morning after an unsuccessful escape, two dead American POWs lie in the wet and muddy prison yard as a warning from Commandant Oberst von Scherbach.

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4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray, 1953, unrated


Best extra: Carryover featurette “Stalag 17 – From Reality to Screen”


DURING THE height of World War II, over 93,000 Americans were POWs captured by the Germans and the Italians. Two of the captives were U.S. Airmen Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski. Both were held at Stalag XVII B and were first interrogated by a German intelligence officer posing as an International Red Cross representative.


The Nazi officer demanded the names of Bevan’s B-17 crewmates, to which he responded, “I can’t tell you. Sorry,” he says during the 20-year-old featurette “The Real Heroes of Stalag XVII B.” The Nazi officer countered, “Well, you’ll rot in here, then,” Bevan says, recalling the early days after his Allied bomber was shot down in April 1943. 


Stalag 17 POW camp held nearly 30,000 prisoners from many Allied nations. Over 4,000 were U.S. airmen, who were kept separately. The Germans called them Kriegies, a word meaning ‘war,’ while the Allied prisoners called the German guards ‘goons.’ 


After surviving their imprisonment, Bevan and Trzcinski, who previously worked at a burlesque house on Broadway and Times Square in Manhattan – decided to team up. “We thought, let’s write a Broadway play,” Bevan says. Their experiences at Stalag 17 weren’t their first idea, but eventually, they realized, “Those guys in our camp were pretty special.”

(1) “Stalag 17” premiered on July 1, 1953 in New York City. (2) Peter Graves stars as Barracks 4 security officer Sgt. Price. (3&4) Sgt. J.J. Sefton and the other prisoners wait for the all-clear sign to send Johnson (Peter Baldwin) and Mandfredi (Michael Moore) on their daring escape from the POW camp. (5) The prisoners exit the barracks via a trap door underneath the stove and crawl toward the shower house. (6) Sefton bets two packs of cigarettes that the two POWs won’t make it out alive. (7) After exiting the tunnel, the Americans are met by a German machine gun.


On May 8, 1951, the three-act “Stalag 17” labeled a comedy/melodrama, opened on Broadway at the 48th Street Theater and ran for 472 performances. The first act was set inside the U.S. barracks two days before Christmas in 1944. Under the direction of Jose Ferrer, it starred John Ericson (Sgt. J.J. Sefton), Robert Strauss (Stosh), Harvey Lembeck (Sgt. Harry Shaprio), Laurence Hugo (Price), Frank Maxwell (Sgt. Hoffman), Mark Roberts (Lt. Dunbar) and Lothar Rewalt (German Corp. Schultz).


Director Billy Wilder, who came to the U.S. during the 1930s as a Jewish refugee from Germany, quickly became the definitive Hollywood director in “just about every genre,” says writer/director Nicholas Meyer (“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” “Time After Time”). “He made the best movie about Hollywood with ‘Sunset Boulevard,’ one of the best film noirs with ‘Double Indemnity,’ and the best comedy with ‘Some Like it Hot.’” Wilder decided to see the Broadway production as a possible next project, but not realizing Paramount was there also, and the studio quickly bought the rights for $100,000.


Since all of Wilder’s films had been released by Paramount, the partnership continued with “Stalag 17.” He and screenwriter Edwin Blum rewrote the majority of the dialogue from the Bevan and Trzcinski playscript. They also added several outdoor prison yard scenes to give it a gritty, realistic feel. 

The shocking morning roll call

The POW camp scenes were filmed at the 500-acre John H. Snow Ranch in the San Fernando Valley.



Wilder’s “Stalag 17” also picks up the story a few days before Christmas in ‘44. Two prisoners, Johnson and Mandfredi from Barracks 4, get final instructions before their daring escape from the POW camp. They exit via a trap door underneath the stove and enter a tunnel in the shower house. Back in the barracks, Sgt. J.J. Sefton played by William Holden, bets two packs of cigarettes that the two POWs won’t make it out alive. Everyone wants a piece of the action until they hear the shots ring out. The Germans were waiting for them as they crawled out of the tunnel just beyond the barbwire fence. 


During the morning roll call, the two dead Americans are lying in the mud as a warning from Commandant Oberst von Scherbach played by actor/director Otto Preminger (“Laura,” “Anatomy of a Murder”). Speculation swirls that a “stoolie” was among them, and evidence leads that way. The barracks’ security officer Sgt. Price (Peter Graves) questions Sefton as a possible suspect.   


The seeming-buffoon German guard Sgt. Johann Sebastian Schulz (Sig Ruman) is the go-between for the German spy disguised as an American POW in Barracks 4. They communicate via notes left inside a hollow chess piece, lowering a light fixture as a signal that a message is waiting. 



The 4K disc and enclosed Blu-ray copy include three commentaries, the best with author/film critic/historian Joseph McBride. He tells how Wilder originally wanted Charlton Heston to play Sgt. Sefton, but as the character was reshaped, he knew Heston wasn’t the guy. Heston, who would star in “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben-Hur,” wasn’t known for his onscreen sense of humor. So, he offered the role to Kurt Douglas, who had just starred in Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole” (1951). But Douglas turned it down and later considered it his biggest regret.


The Blu-ray includes two carryover featurettes. “Stalag 17 – From Reality to Screen” highlights the Broadway play to real life in the German camp and Wilder’s adaptation, which was a comedy set in a prisoner of war camp, says Wilder biographer Ed Sikov.  

(1) Duke (Neville Brand) accuses Sefton as the barrack “stoolie.” (2) The Americans use chicken wire as a volleyball net for recreational activity. (3) The POWs of Barracks 4 build a small circular track to race rats. (4) Sgt. Stanislaus ‘Animal’ Kuzawa (Robert Strauss) and Sgt. Harry Shapiro (Harvey Lambeck) uses whitewash paint as a stunt to see the Soviet women POWs on the other side of the Stalag 17. (5) The American prisoners are excited that Animal and Shapiro got across the prison yard without being shot. (6) Left, Playwright Edmund Trzcinski plays one of the POWs.



Paramount and Kino Lorber handled the 4K restoration, using the original black and white 35mm camera negative (1.37:1 aspect ratio). The best-surviving elements were scanned in 4K and restored and mastered in TRUE 4K. The majority of “Stalag 17” is from the 1st generation negative showing excellent clarity, and a wide and full grayscale from highlights to mid-tones to shadows with its Dolby Vision and HDR10 grading. From start to finish, imagery is washed with natural, organic film grain. But, at times, a second and third-generation element was inserted to replace damaged spots. The clarity drops, and the grain increases, but overall, those moments are brief – less than two minutes at a time.


The video and audio were encoded onto a 100 GB disc and the video outputs over 70 Megabits per second to keep the visualization at the very best quality.



The original 2.0 mono soundtrack has been restored with an uncompressed DTS-HD track, that keeps everything front and center with the dialogue and Franz Waxman (“Sunset Blvd.,” “A Place in the Sun”) score.  


There’s no doubt about it, if you’re a Billy Wilder fan, “Stalag 17” is a great addition to his 4K Ultra HD filmography. It joins “Double Indemnity” (1944), “Some Like It Hot” (1959), and “The Apartment” (1960), for which Wilder won Best Director, Best Picture and Best Screenplay.   


Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer 

(1) Sefton is caught giving a carton of cigarettes to German guard Sgt. Johann Sebastian Schulz (Sig Ruman). (2) Commandant Oberst von Scherbach (Otto Preminger) interrogates Lt. James Dunbar (Don Taylor) about an explosion at a German factory. (3) The Americans use their dog tags as Christmas ornaments on the tree. (4) Sgt. Bagradian (Jay Lawrence) shows Sgt. Price how they used a cigarette and a pack of matches to start a delayed fire. (5) Sefton discovers who’s the real stoolie.



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