The Escape Vault
Like many Peter (Leo Genn - The Velvet Touch), Phil (David Tomlinson - The Way to the Stars) and John (Anthony Steel - The Black Tent) find themselves in Stalag Luft III having been caught during the war and like many they see it as their duty to try and escape. It is how they come up with a cunning plan to get around the predicament that their hut is too far from the wire to feasibly tunnel. Taking their lead from the Trojan horse of Greek mythology they arrange for a group of prisoners to carry out a vaulting horse to a set position nearer the fence and do exercise whilst the vault would conceal the men digging the tunnel. Following months of work and some near misses when it comes to being discovered or trapped the tunnel is eventually ready.
"The Wooden Horse" came out over a decade before "The Great Escape" but it is a great companion movie; not only because it is also based on a true prison escape but is also set in the same prison camp Stalag Luft III. You can spot the similarities between the two from a scene where we have an engineer working on a pump to feed air into a tunnel to the meetings with those who control the prison escapes. There is also the camaraderie of the men, from the daily routine of waking up and dealing with inspections to the rallying around to help each other.
But of course what is really interesting is the mechanics of the escape plan and it is fascinating. From the first scene of vaulting where they stage it for the vault to tip over to lull the guards into a false sense of security it grabs you and none more so than when the tunnelling starts. The minute you see John under the vault with a trowel, a rug and a spade it is amazing the ingenuity of it all especially covering the tunnel when the days digging is over. And we also have the dangers with an atmospheric scene when they spot the tunnel has collapsed during exercise.
The thing about "The Wooden Horse" is that it is a very quiet movie with no over the top action scenes or big set piece moments of comedy although there are some funny scenes. But it makes it a much more dramatic and atmospheric movie especially the scene involving the tunnel collapse as they almost didn't get away with their plans.
What this all boils down to is that "The Wooden Horse" is a terrific prison escape movie with a fascinating story and a lot more drama and atmosphere than later more action packed prisoner of war movies.