While Stalag 17's [American] prisoners are planning their escapes, and the Germans are trying to stop them, both sides keep referring to this dopey sort of rulebook called "the Geneva Conventions." These appear to be rules about the fair treatment of prisoners - I dunno, not torturing them, for instance - and even the Nazis obey them. Weird, huh?
A lot hinges on them, as a plot gimmick, but the characters seem to take them for granted. Even though it's a war, there are still things you don't do. Which, if only for story purposes, explains why the movie isn't two hours of Otto Preminger holding William Holden's head under water ...
This isn't supposed to take anything away from the Nazis as the villains of the piece --you can see it in the kommandant's beady little burgher eyes that he wishes he could get around the Conventions - but the rules are the rules.
Even if the rules are - how did the Attorney General put it? - "quaint."
But here's the thing. If you accept that the Geneva Conventions are just an annoying formality, like recycling - and I guess we do now - it ruins the whole movie. There's no drama in it. Because the Third Reich isn't even trying. The prisoners get mail from home. They get visits from the Red Cross. They aren't even kept in cages. No one hoods them, or electrocutes them, or pretends to execute them, or places them in a "stress position" or walks them around on a leash. At one of the darkest points in the story, one of them is forced to stand for a few days without sleep. Like that even hurts.
Don't the guards want their country to win? ...
It is rather amazing, when you think about it.
In some places, people aren't allowed to vote. They should click the link: