I came across this superb Polish poster for The Great Escape recently. Though it is by one of my favorite poster artists, the great Wiktor Górka (1922-2004), I had not crossed paths with it before. An eccentric, stylized and yet perfectly apposite distillation of John Sturges’ 1963 WWII prison-camp adventure, this 1967 poster is a stunning piece of graphic design which renders the film, in just two colors, to its essentials: a plane, fleeing figures, stripes to denote the military, and two black circles for Steve McQueen’s motorbike, all surrounding the multi-font, playbill-styled panel for the film’s all-star cast. Górka’s best work is often in this vein: simple, witty and indelible: an ass’s head on a human body for Donkey Skin, a swastika made out of stockinged legs for Cabaret (perhaps his most famous design), and one rather adorable white whale for Moby Dick.
Growing up in Britain, The Great Escape was a perennial family favorite (in fact, in a recent UK poll, male voters selected this ultimately bleak wartime adventure as the film they would most want to watch on Christmas Day). The original keyart by realist painter Frank McCarthy (1924-2002) was reused in numerous variations starting with the US one-sheet:
The British quad, which dubs the film “A glorious saga of the R.A.F.”
The Japanese poster which adds some big heads and a titanic Japanese title treatment:
The moodier Italian poster is by one “P. Dell’Oro”:
The German re-release poster from the 1970s ups Charles Bronson, lower-billed in the original posters, to Steve McQueen’s co-star (and doesn’t even give Richard Attenborough a thumbnail head shot). I especially love this title treatment:
The Australian re-release poster from the 1980s is the first, aside from Górka’s, to show Steve McQueen on his Triumph, now the iconic image of the film:
A blood-red Japanese re-release from 2004 does the same:
One of my favorite pieces of Great Escape promotional memorabilia is the press book which offers exhibitors ideas for advertising the film, including these merchandise tie-in suggestions:
Way to trivialize a drama about Allied soldiers risking execution at the hands of the Nazis with a standee proclaiming “The Great Escape... from broken buttons and frayed collars!”
Even better is this suggestion for a “prison camp replica” display which United Artists suggest setting up “on a traffic island in a shopping center.” “If local ordinance allows, a siren can go off from time to time.”
Posters and press kit courtesy of Heritage Auctions, IMP Awards and Movie Goods. And special thanks to Briana Ross whose wonderful Film Posters page on Pinterest brought Górka’s poster to my attention.