Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The McKenzie Break

I had heard about this for years, but never saw it. Interesting idea, following an escape by German POWs from a prison camp in Scotland.

The situation is out of control at the McKenzie camp. The inmates, all of them fucking Nazi officers mostly from the U-boat corps but with some Luftwaffe mixed in, are refusing orders to report for roll call. They are so threatening that the soldiers assigned to guard them are in great danger any time they go inside, as they are assaulted with rocks and cricket bats. They are led by handsome, charismatic Helmut Griem, the senior officer (at age 29? Never mind.) There is a plot to get 28 of them out through a tunnel, get to the coast with the aid of Scottish spies, and board a U-boat so they can return to the Fatherland and kill more Brits for Hitler. Brian Keith is sent to “help” the ineffectual commander of the camp. He’s actually hoping to expose the spies on the outside.

I watched most of this movie in a total rage. I don’t know if conditions in the real camps were just as portrayed, but this is based on a real escape plot that took place in the Bowmanville camp in Canada, whose purpose was to liberate Otto Kretschmer, a fucking Nazi U-boat ace. I don’t know precisely what the Geneva Conventions require for the handling of POWs, but this guy is constantly bending over backwards so as not to violate it. Rationale: If he “mistreats” his prisoners, the fucking Nazis will repay it by being harsh to British prisoners.

I do believe in the Geneva Conventions, and I believe that inmates should be entitled to three hots and a cot, clothing, heat in the wintertime, no torture, and physical violence only when needed to enforce discipline. But the situation we see in this movie is totally out of control. The inmates run the prison, and the guards are afraid to enter. There is no discipline. There are, in fact, several riots, and many physical assaults of the guards. Later we learn that the prisoners have a metal shop, and sewing machines and cloth they make their own spiffy fucking Nazi uniforms. In the machine shop (machine shop! Are they kidding me?) they haven’t yet made firearms, but it’s only a matter of time.

The first riot takes place under three 50-caliber machine guns, and friends, had I been commanding that camp when it happened, I would have given the order to open up, and we would have had a few dozen dead fucking Nazis. I do not think this would be excessive. For one thing, they are rioting, and the Geneva Cons certainly don’t allow that. For another, they’re fucking Nazis! I have always felt that killing a fucking Nazi should not be classified as murder. A misdemeanor, at worst, like if you gun one down in the middle of the street and frighten people. If Geneva demands that a camp should include a metal shop and no retaliation for rioting, then they need to be amended.

But if I had been in command, things never would have gotten to that point. At the first hints of rebellion I would have cut off the electricity, the water, and stopped feeding the fucking Nazis. I would have rounded up the ringleaders, including Helmut, and put them in solitary on bread and water for the remainder of the war. If defiance continued I’d have locked up those cozy barracks and had them sleep on the ground.

Sorry, but I really hate fucking Nazis.

Okay, the film is a sort of poor man’s The Great Escape. It’s ingenious at times, in the ruses the prisoners think up to hide the tunnel. (My favorite scene was when the ceiling of one barrack collapsed from the weight of all the dirt they stored up there, killing ten fucking Nazis and badly hurting a lot more. Hooray!) When Brian Keith appeared to suffer remorse because he hadn’t found the dirt and thus men were killed, I completely lost interest in him. And the ending was jaw-droppingly awful.