Regular Joes, Alternative Realities

With my penchant for winding out the night with a TCM movie, last night I picked one of this month’s “star” William Holden.

I had never seen “Stalag 17” before.  Although it preceded it, it reminded me very much of “The Great Escape,” which I have seen many, many times just for the moment where Steve McQueen jumps those fences.

The main characters of “Stalag 17” are not universally as “heroic” as those in “The Great Escape.” Most especially Holden’s.

He is the barracks’ “scrounger,” a la James Garner’s character “Hensley.” Both Holden and Garner infuse their characters with roguish charm.

But Holden’s J.J. Sefton is scrounging out of pure self-interest.  This leads his bunk mates to believe he is collaborating with camp guards when a planned escape goes awry and two sergeants are killed by Nazi machine gunners who seem to know their escape route and are conveniently placed to mow them down in the mud.

The men in the barracks badly beat Holden believing him to be the bad guy his opportunistic character makes him seem. Therein begins a chess game by Holden to determine who the real collaborator may be.

I saw James Garner up close once at a pro-am golf match in Pebble Beach back in the 80s.  As is often the case, some movie stars in person do not look the same as on TV or a movie screen. Of course, Garner was much older by then and had suffered a heart attack or two. (Clint Eastwood, btw, looked just like – Clint Eastwood.)

In one of my times living in California, I once had a downstairs neighbor named Rosie who had been a screen production assistant in Hollywood.  She used to play poker with Garner and said he was a “regular Joe.”

In this day and age where everyone scrambles to find fame on You-Tube, it’s nice to know some real Hollywood stars weren’t as striving about their own fame. That they were regular Joes.

And that their “alternative realities” were kept on the silver screen, not in the Oval Office.


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