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Best-seller "The Wooden Horse"
comes to screen
By cable from BILL STRUTTON in London
One of the screen sensations of 1950 is likely to be "The Wooden Horse," an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Eric Williams which all Britain has been reading these past few months.
IT deals with one of the most
spectacular escapes made from a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany.
Tin- cast, except for a small part allotted to a Danish actress, is all
It includes many former prisoners :it the notorious Stalag Luft III, from which the escape was actually
It is not one star's picture more than anybody else's. The honors will be shared fairly equally between three men. They are:
Leo Gcnn, the man with thc vel- vet voice, who scored hits in Holly- wood's ''The Snakepit" opposite
Olivia de Havilland and in "The Velvet Touch."
The second is David Tomlinson, whose latest comedy hit is in "The Chiltern Hundreds," and who is one of thc three escapees.
The third is Anthony Steele, a discovery if ever I laid eyes on one, a handsome, square-chinned, fair haired fellow, just stepping into the first starring role of what looks like being a big screen career.
In thc film, the camera follows the escape of author Williams and his brother officer, Michael Codner, from the camp-until then consid- ered by the Germans to bc escape proof, and used to hold their most prized prisoners-aircrew.
It was from this camp that the great mass escape was made later, followed by the murder, by the Ger- mans, of 50 prisoners as a reprisal.
Three-quarters of the film has been shot against backgrounds in Germany, though the Stalag itself had
to be rebuilt in the British Zone near the scene of the German sur- render of Luncbcrg Heath.
Williams and two brother officers made their escape by digging a tun- nel from the prison compound near thc barbed wire, under thc camp barriers, into open ground beyond.
How digging operations were camouflaged constitutes one of thc epic jokes of the war and one of the choicest situations a screenwriter could ask for.
Tlic men built thc now celebrated "wooden horse"-a replica of a gymnasium vaulting-horse-from old Red dross boxes. This was placed
over thc entrance to their tunnel.
A lot of athletic-looking prisoners would nundle out their wooden horse - with one of their number hidden inside. They set it up near the wire, began vaulting over it, and running back taking deep breaths, while the fellow inside opened a trap, crawled down into thc tunnel, and dug hard.
At night the gymnasts staggered back with thc horse, bearing inside the digger, plus several bags of ex-
cavated sand from thc tunnel site near the "wires."
They dug for four weary months, while their comrades, unfit for such strenuous exercise and getting notice- ably weaker, still went on vaulting
to cover them.
Everybody's nerves were on edge by the' time all was ready.
Leo Genn and Anthony Steele (known as "Peter" and "John" in the book and the screenplay) have the parts of author Williams, and Michael Codncr, who made good their escape through thc tunnel, and, dressed as foreign workers armed with papers forged by fellow pris- oners, made their way to Stettin.
Free French underground con- tacts got them aboard a Danish ship, and they finally reached Sweden.
ín thc film the camera follows the escapees to Lubeck, not Stettin, to avoid "complications" with Russian
Apart from that, "The Wooden Horse" will bc notable for its authentic, documentary-style treat-
"Wc arc not inventing anything," director Jack Lee said. "It isn't necessary. The whole book is dyna- mite as a film script."
One of the feature players-him- self a prisoner for five years, some of that time in Stalag Luft III-is actor Dan Cunningham, who toured Aus- tralia with the Old Vic Company and brought back a pretty wife, for- mer Sydney girl Mary Jane Rose.
Dan grinned ;.t mc from behind a handsome and luxuriant beard. "It's a little realistic, all tbi< again," he said. And then they called him back on thc floor for another rehearsal. He hoisted himself on to a bunk and
took up where he had left off, re- clining on one clbojv and watching somnolently while others did the work of this particular scene.
Cunningham was one of the lead- ing actors in Stalag Luft Ill's
theatre. Since the war he has been appearing in films and on the West End stage.
IN THIS SCENE from. "The Wooden Horse," Leo Genn (Peter) and Anthony Steele (John) discuss the possibility of escape jrom Stalag Luft III, realise the only hope is to dig a tunnel near the "wires," but have no idea at this stage how they can camouflage such an opération