The Great Escape portrays being a prisoner of war as something of a lark. I’ve seen country clubs dirtier than the POW camp in this picture. The movie seems to take its cue from Elmer Bernstein’s jaunty theme music, a tune that demands to be whistled while you work. As it details the based-on-fact, 250-man escape attempted from a German maximum-security camp, you would think you were watching a harmless gentlemen’s challenge rather than a life-or-death scenario. And so Steve McQueen, as one of the few American prisoners among the mainly British captives, starts measuring the fence the minute he gets to camp, all while the Germans pointedly flex their muscles from their guard towers. Initial attempts to break out result in a few days in solitary and laughs all around. Over the next 172 minutes, the movie painstakingly records the details of the prisoners’ massive escape plan – all fascinating especially when anchored by an all-star cast. Yet the jovial tone still almost feels like an affront. Certainly the movie’s two nods toward the grim reality of warfare – the shooting of one prisoner and an offscreen mass execution at the end of the film – carry less weight than they should because of what surrounds them. Such glibness makes The Great Escape an enduring entertainment, not a classic.