The One That Got Away (1957)
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Plot Summary: This is the true story of Oberleutnant Franz Von Werra, the only German prisoner of war during the Second World War who escaped from numerous British & Canadian POW camps and got back to Germany.
The One That Got Away is one of the better of the second wave of WWII films from the German perspective. The fact that it's a true story gives it that special fascination that makes it particularly entertaining.
The true, dramatic story of Oberleutnant Franz von Werra (Hardy Krüger), the only German prisoner of war taken in Britain during the Second World War to escape from numerous British & Canadian POW camps and return to his homeland.
The “Battle of Britain” is at its height. Out of the vapour-traced sky a Bf-109 Messerschmitt is shot down near Winchet Hill, Kent in south eastern England on 5th September 1940. Even though the pilot is captured, he is extremely confident & an official interrogation does not deter him from his one objective—to escape & return home against all odds. In the course of his stay in allied P.O.W camps, he repeatedly tries to escape, but to no avail.
He is transferred to a P.O.W. camp in Canada where after several escape attempts he finally succeeds & escapes into the still neutral United States —before making his way back to Germany .
Swiss-born and German- raised Franz von Werra (1914-1941), lived a very exciting life in his twenty-seven years. A Luftwaffe pilot of a Messerschmitt Bf-109 in JG3 (No.3 Combat Wing) during the Battle of Britain early in the war, a prisoner-of-war who achieved legendary status, and the subject of a book and a movie several years after his death, the pivotal event in his life began in Smiths Falls Ontario, Canada at 5:30am on Friday, 24th January 1941. Oberleutenant Franz von Werra was shot down over the county of Kent in South-East England on 5th September 1940. Following interrogation in Kensington Palace Gardens in London he was shipped north to a prison camp near Grizedale Hall in the Lake District, which at the time was the only camp in Britain for captured officers.
Grizedale Hall was also known as "U-Boat Hotel", due
to the large number of prisoners from that branch of the
service. A former stately home, it lay in isolated countryside between Windemere and Coniston Water. It was the site of von Werra's first escape attempt. On an escorted exercise march on 7th October with several other prisoners, he dove over a low stone wall. He remained at large until he was spotted by a shepherd on 12th October and was recaptured. Following a punishment of solitary confinement, von Werra was shipped to another camp, Swanwick, near Nottingham.
On 20th December 1940, he made his second escape. He and four others crawled through a shallow tunnel. None of the Germans got completely away, but von Werra came very close. Using his natural charm and command of English, and posing as a Dutch pilot whose plane had crash landed, he walked into the RAF base at Hucknall. At his first opportunity he climbed into the cockpit of a parked Hurricane fighter plane which he planned to steal and fly to France. He was apprehended as he sat in the plane, trying to start the engine.
In January 1941 von Werra was shipped to Canada for internment in a prisoner-of -war camp on the north shore of Lake Superior. He was one of 33,800 German prisoners sent to Canada during World War II. The ship docked at Halifax, "an unnamed East Coat port", in the news reports of the day.
On Wednesday 22nd January a train full of German prisoners left the Nova Scotia port for a lengthy trip to Neys, Ontario. The journey took the train across through New Brunswick, Quebec City, Montreal and on to Smiths Falls. For von Werra and another prisoner, Otto Hollman, this was their last stop. They both jumped from a window of the train into a snow bank as it moved slowly through the railway yards in the bitter cold of the pre-dawn. Hollman was quickly apprehended in the same yards by Lance Corporal Lyle Thompson and CPR Constable Ernest Potter. Hollman was taken to the local jail where he entertained Police Chief John Lees and Constable Reg Wride, before being turned over to the military.
Franz von Werra escaped detection and made his way to Johnstown on the St. Lawrence River, even though a search was soon mounted. "Rural telephone operators co-operated by spreading alarm among farmers advising all to be on the lookout for suspicious characters." Following a harrowing experience and with the help of a stolen rowboat, he made his way across the partially frozen river to Ogdensburg, New York, on neutral American soil. America was not yet in the war even though the war had been fought for almost a year & a half. He was charged with illegal entry into the United States, but soon got to New York.
Over the next several weeks von Werra was at the centre of a diplomatic tug-of-war, with the Canadian authorities trying to get him returned to Canada. By all accounts von Werra enjoyed his time in the limelight tremendously. After some time in the United States, funded by German money he made his way into Mexico, on to Panama, Peru, Bolivia, and, by mid-April, to Rio de Janeiro. He flew back to Germany from Brazil. On 25th October 1941 von Werra's plane crashed off the Dutch coast near Vlissingen while on a routine mission due to an engine fire. Neither von Werra's aircraft nor his body were ever found.
Critique: Although the title is a bit of a giveaway, this is one of the most intriguing of war films, a substitute to the countless Americanised versions of escape-war-films. The picture is perfectly paced adding to the excitement and suspense of escape. Based on the true story of the only German to escape from an allied camp (officially that is), it has beautiful crisp black and white photography. What makes it a standout in film history though is the fact that a German airman is made the hero here. Actor Hardy Krüger's portrayal is an unusual mix of boyish charm, and cockiness. The film is virtually flawless except for the screenwriter's depiction of Von Werra. They make him so much more likeable and appealing than the Brits that one walks out rooting for him. Von Werra returns home and shots down several allied aircraft before he & his plane are lost on a routine mission. This little known British film is hard to get on video, so your best shot is to catch it on the tube. For those of us in the UK or Europe it can be ordered from http://www.sendit.com/, Amazon Germany http://www.amazon.de & Idealo DVD http://www.dvd-idealo.de but only in DVD format not on video. For those ordering this film from a German source the German language title is Einer Kam Durch. Also be careful as there is another film called The One That Got Away made in 1996 which tells the true story of SAS Corporal Chris Ryan behind enemy lines during the first Gulf War.
According to legend, as described in Reader's Digest's True Stories of Great Escapes, (Copyright Reader's Digest Association, 1977) Franz Von Werra was instrumental in improving conditions for Allied POW's in Germany during the war; his book about his incredible escape from Allied prison guards was banned by the German Propaganda Ministry as being too pro-British, and his escape and several other attempted escapes were all conducted in a manner befitting a gentleman and an honourable soldier.
On top of that, he escaped from Canadian authorities into America before America had entered the War. His true story may very well have been the inspiration for the classic British wartime drama 49th Parallel made in 1941 (released in the States in 1942 under the title The Invaders) & directed by the legendary Michael Powell telling the fictitious story of a party of German sailors marooned when their sub is sunk off the Canadian coast, trying to reach the still-neutral U.S.A. one step ahead of the Canadian Authorities.
Von Werra was known for wild exaggerations of his exploits, and wild excesses like keeping a pet lion at his aerodrome (Headquarters Staffel of the Second Gruppe of Jagdgeschwade 3). His claim to be a Baron is considered dubious at best. But the truth of his amazing escape is irrefutable.
On 1st July 1941, von Werra was appointed Gruppenkommandeur of I./JG 53 the "Ace of Spades" based on the Eastern front. He recorded 13 victories in this theatre, including his 20th and 21st victories on 31st July. From 7th August 1941, I./JG 53 began withdrawing from Russia to Germany for rest and re-equipment. By late September, the Gruppe had re-equipped with the new Bf 109 F-4 fighter and relocated to Katwijk in the Netherlands. Von Werra took off in Bf 109 F-4 (W.Nr. 7285) on a practice flight on 25th October 1941. He suffered an engine fire, crashed into the sea north of Vlissingen and was killed. Franz von Werra was credited with 21 victories.
QUOTE: Von Werra: "It's the duty of an officer to try and escape."
The One That Got Away Trivia:
Smiths Falls is mentioned in a scene between one of the guards and the prisoners on the train. The escape in the local railway yards is faithfully re-created. The North American premiere of The One That Got Away occurred on Thursday, 6th March 1958 at the Soper Theatre in Smiths Falls Ontario.
Julian Wintle who produced this film was also producer & executive producer of the 1960's classic cult TV series "The Avengers".
Roy Ward Baker who directed "The One That Got Away" directed "A Night to Remember" in 1958, a far superior film about the sinking of RMS Titanic than James Cameron's 1997 multi-million dollar soap opera "Titanic". Roy Ward Baker also had the honour of directing 13 episodes (1979-1989) of the classic-cult British television series Minder which ruled the airwaves from 1979-1994.