Dreams of Flight: "The Great Escape" in American Film and Culture (Paperback)

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The first full-length study of the iconic 1960s film The Great Escape and its place in Hollywood and American history.

Escaped POW Virgil Hilts (Steve McQueen) on a stolen motorcycle jumps an imposing barbed wire fence—caught on film, the act and its aftermath have become an unforgettable symbol of triumph as well as defeat for 1960s America. Combining production and reception history with close reading, Dreams of Flight offers the first full-length study of The Great Escape, the classic film based on a true story of Allied prisoners who hatched an audacious plan to divert and thwart the Wehrmacht and escape into the nearby countryside.

Through breezy prose and pithy analysis, Dana Polan centers The Great Escape within American cultural and intellectual history, drawing a vivid picture of the country in the 1960s. We see a nation grappling with its own military history, a society undergoing significant shifts in its culture and identity, and a film industry in transition from Old Hollywood's big-budget runaway studio films to the slow interior cinema of New Hollywood. Dreams of Flight combines this context with fan anecdotes and a close study of filmic style to bring readers into the film and trace its wide-reaching influence. Polan examines the production history, including prior adaptations in radio and television of celebrated author Paul Brickhill's original nonfiction book about the escape, and he compares the cinematic fiction to the real events of the escape in 1944. Dreams of Flight also traces the afterlife of The Great Escape in the many subsequent movies, TV commercials, and cartoons that reference it, whether reverentially or with humor.

About the Author

Dana Polan is Professor of Cinema Studies at New York University. His previous books include The LEGO Movie and Scenes of Instruction: The Beginnings of the U.S. Study of Film.

Praise For…

"Dana Polan’s rich assessment of the film’s making coupled with a superb analysis of the film itself, script, style, themes and directorial bravura is filled with informative nuggets. Eschewing the standard star bio approach, Polan goes much deeper. . . . Written with tremendous authority and great style."
— Cinema Retro

Dreams of Flight is an act of devotion, a work of extreme connoisseurship.”

— Air Mail

"Far more than just a love letter to a foundational film from an author and devoted fan, Dreams of Flight is a rewarding work of scholarly reclamation, a volume that is always precise in its observation of the hidden dimensions of The Great Escape. . . . Through careful attention to formal choices and an impressively broad engagement with memory, history, and cinematic legacies, Dreams of Flight uncovers the many textures of its popular subject."
— Velvet Light Trap

"This book expands in myriad and often surprising directions. . . . Dreams of Flight is remarkable for the extent and imaginative richness of the research materials it brings to bear."
— California History

Product Details
ISBN: 9780520379305
ISBN-10: 0520379306
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication Date: November 9th, 2021
Pages: 288
Language: English