50 years ago world famous actors in the Fussen Countryside....

When Steve McQueen came for a shave

Cult film – Memories awakened in Pfronten

For the then 14 year old Jacky Schmoelz from Weissbach-Pfronten it was an adventure.  During the filming of the Great Escape, he experienced movie stars up very close.  Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson came to his dad for daily shaves.  50 years later he still has good contact to British fans of the cult film that visit him regularly. “Since three years ago two separate groups from England are working on recreation of this film”.  It is amazing the precision with which they are doing this. The locations are being filmed today and compared to how they looked back then. Cast extras are being sought out and many interesting stories are being told, swoons the oldies fan.

Filming in Weissbach

Then he delves into the year 1962 as during the filming the crossing in Weissbach-Pfronten became the show place for a spectacular escape scene with Hilts (Steve McQueen) on his motorcycle passing a fitting sign pointing to the Bodensee.

 Above all however Schmoelz got to know the two film stars McQueen and Bronson.  McQueen was especially nice and chatted with the children during breaks in the filming.  Bronson was much less open, however.  A couple of years ago some of the few still living persons in the film stuntman Bud Ekins and “Tunneler” John Leyton visited Jacky, as shown by a photo on his wall.

For Ludwig Schuster, all of this is long, long ago.  It was at a dance party in the Baeren Gasthaus that the film crew came by seeking extras. They found Max Schrade, Michael Hauser, Gerhard Hofmann, Gregor Nigg and Schuster. “At the railway station, we were dressed in the old soldiers uniforms”, he remembers. “I had to ride in the Jeep. They put extra dirt on the road to so it would look more dramatic in the curves.”  As a farmer, Ludwig Schuster had more time than the other extras and he was often all day at the filming.  He got 30 Marks a day and still had plenty of time to lie in the fields.


Eyewitnesses Sought

Cult Film II  Great Escape film freaks from around the world are inquiring about original filming locations in the region for a planned documentary.

Fussen – It is now 50 years ago that The Great Escape was filmed with a star studded lineup.  Numerous exterior scenes were filmed in the Fussen region. Even today, many folks remember it well, for example Margot Albrecht.  “I stood as a small child in the Jesuitgasse and had to wave”. Now film freaks from all over the world, among other places from France, Great Britain, Austria and the USA, are here to visit the filming locations and to meet the extras from back then.  A documentary is planned for 2013.

Don J. Whistance, a big fan of the The Great Escape, has been on the trail of the filming locations for several years. He recently called for a gathering in Fussen via the Internet. Thus came about contact to Christian Riml, the son of the film’s cameraman, Walter Riml. During the filming, Riml shot some 170 photos which form the basis for research. Son Christian even has a list of the hotels where cast members were accommodated, for examples in Hotels Mueller or Alpina, which operated under the name Pergola at the time. The current owner of the hotel, Ernst Jochen Holfelder, still has a guest book with entries from the actors Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson and others.

The freaks delve with great precision into each scene of the film and the locations of buildings and yes, even trees. They were especially happy to finally find the location in of the “big jump” in Weissensee-Benken. Stuntman Bud Ekins jumped over the first fence with a motorcycle, but then slid into the bottom of the barbed wire of the second fence. Hans Schwab (Hopferau) and Dieter Schwarz (Alterschrofen) still remember this scene well, hunting down McQueen to shoot him.  The then 14 year old Christopf Horle still marvels about the brand new motorcycle that arrived at Hotel Lisl dressed in the “Wehrmacht look”. What impressed him more, however, was the Mercedes 300 SL that Charles Bronson sped up in.

Without success the team sought out the bistro on the old Lech Bridge, in which Flying Officer Sedgwick (James Coburn) narrowly escapes death. Fussen filmgoers are amused as Steve McQueen approaches the signpost and exclaims “Switzerland”.  While the team of Whistance, Helma Tuerk und Dr. Riml want to work on all the scenes of the film, they are hoping for help from the local population.  “We would be happy to learn of any information and details”.  The team seems especially pleased with the support form the Editors at the Allgaeuer Zeitung and found many useful details in the archives.

Contact persons:  Helma Tuerk, Dr. Christian Riml (E-Mail: office@tirolerfilmarchiv.at), Don J. Whistance (E-Mail: donjwhistance@tiscali.co.uk)

 About the film: 

---The Great Escape deals with the mass escape from a German POW camp during WWII.  The story is based on fact.  Basis for the screenplay was the book “The Great Escape” by Paul Brickhill.

---More than a dozen world famous actors appeared.  Among them were Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance and James Coburn.

---All interior scenes of the film were filmed at the Bavaria Studios near Munich. The POW Camp was constructed in the Perlacher Forest bordering the studio.  The conclusion of the film, the escape, was filmed in and around Fussen with participation of local people.

---Information about the film: www.thegreatescapelocations.com and www.tiroler-filmarchiv.at.


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