30 June 2006 | bkoganbing
A Talent For Escape
Paul Newman as Harry Frigg is a goldbricking screw-up of a soldier who has one undeniable talent. Busting out of stockade. Seems as though the man cannot stand confinement.
That talent is put to good use by General James Gregory to affect the escape of five Allied Brigadier Generals who were captured in a Turkish bath in Tunis. Two British, two American, and one Free French general. The biggest Italian victory since the seizure of Albania.
Since these five guys seem willing to sit out the war in an Italian prison camp and being of equal rank can't get together on a plan of action, the idea Gregory has is to send in an escape specialist, the best the United States Army has, with the rank of a two star general and get an escape organized. Of course it's Paul Newman.
Of course when Newman is dropped into Italy and put in that prison camp for generals only, he finds it quite unlike any stockade he's ever been in. Prison as run by Colonel Vito Scotti a former hotel manager in Genoa. All the luxury of a Club Med vacation and for Newman, the attraction of Countess Sylva Koscina whose palace is being used for this prison camp for generals.
During the course of the film, the Allies have taken Sicily, and land in Salerno and Italy switches sides. The Nazis come and prove to be a gang of real party poopers.
The Secret War of Harry Frigg is a mildly amusing comedy. Paul Newman does the best he can with it, though he's not really cast well in this part. The premise is unusual however and my favorite performance is here is that of Vito Scotti. Man really knew how to be a good jailer.
Curiously enough some of the same premise involving Italy's deposing Mussolini and switching sides was the basis for another film about allied prisoners, Von Ryan's Escape. Of course that one involved far more prisoners and had a lot less laughs.
Paul Newman never really had a big comedy triumph until he made Slapshot. But this one while not great, is droll and amusing in its own way.