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Deluxe edition serial number
VCL 0804 1029

Artwork copyright (c) 2004 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall



Altogether now: da da, da daaa da da da, ...


A perennial favourite, The Great Escape is one of the most legendary (and entertaining) films ever made, a product of a time when not every blockbuster action movie bent over backwards to pander to illiterate morons.  The escape itself may have turned out to not be so great after all (since virtually every escapee ends up dead or recaptured) but their adventures are pure cinematic gold, something not harmed by the stellar cast on display, with Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance and - just as important as any of them - Elmer Bernstein.  Just as he had in his previous collaboration with the director John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven), Bernstein outdid himself and wrote the definitive score of the genre - a position both scores have held ever since, in the forty proceeding years.

What can possibly said about the main title?  One of the classic film themes, it never loses its lustre despite having been heard in countless situations over the years, from loving parodies in other scores to even being the anthem of England's football supporters.  When Bernstein performed it in concert in London in 2002, virtually the whole audience started whistling along, which amused the composer/conductor (and me) greatly.  Needless to say, it appears on countless occasions on this album - and could easily appear a dozen more without outstaying its welcome.  Of course, there's more besides - much more.  Great, dynamic action music in Bernstein's unmistakable style; soaring emotion; classic suspense; a lovely, moving finale.  There's not a dull moment, not a single bar of music which is redundant.

The score, legendary as it is, has been released on CD numerous times.  The original vinyl album was a re-recording done at the time of the film with a vastly reduced orchestra; that recording was first issued on CD by Intrada, later by Rykodisc (who generously added dialogue snippets - every film music fan's dream come true) and finally, in mid-2004, by Varese Sarabande.  In between the last two releases, Varese's Robert Townson produced a re-recording in Glasgow with Bernstein himself conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, largely in the same material that was already on the other album(s).  When the final Varese issue came about, many fans gave up hope of every seeing the full score in all its glory, since if anyone were going to release it, surely it would be Varese, but this proved to be misleading because - much to everyone's surprise - Varese announced, only just after releasing the regular album in stores, that a double CD deluxe edition would be available through their CD Club.

Tragically, the legendary composer of this wonderful music died when this, one of his most classic works, was finally released in all its glory, so it ends up being a glorious tribute to his matchless gifts.  While I have to say that the original album plays very well indeed, the full score - almost three times as long! - is an absolute treat, featuring not just the celebrated main theme and action music, but much more of the emotional, touching material Bernstein composed for a small proportion of his orchestra, something he always seemed to do even in the biggest movies.  Words like "vintage" and "classic" may not have first been coined with Elmer Bernstein's score for The Great Escape in mind - but they may as well have been.  How can anyone not love it?

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Regular edition tracks

  1. Main Title (2:07)
  2. Premature Plans (2:08)
  3. Cooler and Mole (2:26)
  4. Blythe (2:13)
  5. Discovery (2:54)
  6. Various Troubles (2:40)
  7. On the Road (2:54)
  8. Betrayal (2:05)
  9. Hendley's Risk (2:24)
  10. Road's End (2:00)
  11. More Action (1:57)
  12. The Chase (2:48)
  13. Finale (3:14)

Deluxe edition disc one

  1. Main Title (2:28)
  2. At First Glance (3:09)
  3. Premature Plans (2:27)
  4. If At Once (2:30)
  5. Forked (1:26)
  6. Cooler (1:57)
  7. Mole (1:"7)
  8. X (:54)
  9. Tonight we X (:36)
  10. The Scrounger (:28)
  11. Blythe (3:20)
  12. Water Faucet (1:22)
  13. Interruptus (1:32)
  14. The Plan (:41)
  15. The Sad Ives (1:00)
  16. Green Thumbs (2:26)
  17. Hilts and Ives (:36)
  18. Cave In (1:59)
  19. Restless Men (1:54)
  20. Booze (1:46)
  21. Discovery (3:37)
  22. Various Troubles (3:52)

Deluxe edition disc two

  1. Panic (2:04)
  2. Pin Trick (:59)
  3. Hendley's Risk (1:43)
  4. Released Again (1:10)
  5. Escape Time (4:14)
  6. 20 Feet Short (3:04)
  7. Foul Up (2:36)
  8. At the Station (1:52)
  9. On the Road (3:25)
  10. The Chase (4:13)
  11. First Casualty (2:34)
  12. Flight Plan (2:11)
  13. More Action (3:10)
  14. Hilts Captured (2:57)
  15. Road's End (2:07)
  16. Betrayal (2:19)
  17. Three Gone (1:44)
  18. Home Again (1:30)
  19. Finale (1:28)
  20. The Cast (1:17)