An obsession with the movie, The Great Escape, has led Brit Don Whistance on a five-year search which has revealed several of the 1963 film’s famous locations, including the famous jump scene.
His resulting website, thegreatescapelocations.com, has now become a homage for other film and motorcycle fans.
“As a result of the website I know motorbikers have visited the jump field and Chad McQueen (the actor’s son) drove a motorbike over there last year,” Don says. “Last year a German friend from Munich drove down on his bike to search for the locations with me.”
Don’s obsession with the movie began after reading the autobiography of the actor’s first wife, Neile McQueen so he decided to go in search of Bavaria Studios and Deining, where the McQueens lived during filming.
“So 800 miles later we arrived in Munich and then drove on down to Fussen where the motorbike chase was filmed. That was in 2010 and is when the website was in its infancy,” he says.
“The research has taken place every year and from 2011 to 2014 I have flown by Easyjet and hired a car. So the research has been over five years.”
His research, which involved matching stills from the film with his travels, has revealed the exact jump site. Even though McQueen’s character, USAAF Captain Virgil Hilts (the “Cooler King”), tries to jump the barbed-wire border fence between Germany and Switzerland, it was actually filmed in the hills around Pfronten, about 100km from the Swiss border. The jump took place in the Benken area in a field, alongside a small road between Rossmoos and Benken, with the Alps in the background.
Don also found some interesting background information about the filming of the jump after interviewing the property owner, Josef ‘Seppy’ Kern.
Seppy says he remembers as a 16-year-old that they filmed for a week in his father’s field and that there were about 20 attempts to jump the fence each day.
“Steve McQueen would speed around the field with those children who were happy to take a ride with the Hollywood film star while they waited for the scene to be set up once again,” Seppy says on the website.
Don’s site also confirms the fact that McQueen didn’t do the jump in the film, even though he was a very competent rider who represented the USA in the gruelling 1964 six-day enduro. The film studio thought it was too risky, so McQueen enlisted his friend Bud Ekins to do the 4m jump and the stunt where he slides the bike into the barbed wire fence.
It was actually a wire fence with rubber bands tied to it to look like barbed wire. However, McQueen did most of the other stunt riding, including wearing a German uniform and riding as one of his character’s pursuers because the stunt riders weren’t good enough to keep up. And while he didn’t jump the fence for the cameras, McQueen did jump it after filming was over.
One of the most talked about stunts in cinematic history almost didn’t happen. It wasn’t in the script and McQueen insisted on it to give his character more screen time.
In other interesting tidbits from the site, it is believed that an unnamed Australian rider who was a also friend of McQueen’s may have performed the jump. The rider was competing in the European motocross championship and happened to be in Germany at the time. He was put in uniform and was filmed practising the stunt, so it is still not confirmed who did the jump that is shown in the final cut.
Don’s favourite page is the “Hopfen Am See” page because it is the “trip wire” scene where McQueen steals the Triumph TR6 Trophy Bird motorcycle which was dressed up to look like WWII BMW bikes. In the background is the white church which is where he lived during this part of the filming.
There are many other interesting pages that show various bike and non-bike-related scenes. Any fans of the film, McQueen and motorbikes will find the site well worth a visit.