“Amazing tales of escape.”

Breakout is a Non Fiction Films production for Discovery Channel first aired in three parts in 1998. Narrated by Rod Steiger, it provides short dramatizations of a number of remarkable escapes organized under the headings of prisoner-of-war camps, fortresses, and island prisons. Interviews with various historians supplement the dramatizations and Steiger’s narration.

The prisoner-of-war escapes covered in the first program are from Britain’s Old Mill prison (American Revolutionary War), the Confederate Libby prison (American Civil War), France’s Verdun Citadel (European Napoleonic war), Germany’s Cavalier Scharnhorst (World War I), and Germany’s Stalag Luft Three (World War II — the escape that served as the inspiration for the motion picture The Great Escape). The fortress escapes in the second program are from the Tower of London, the Venetian Ducal Palace, San Quentin, Leavenworth, and Indiana’s Lake County jail. Finally, the island escapes covered in the third program are from Britain’s floating island prisons, France’s Devil’s Island, America’s McNeil Island, and Alcatraz.

There is no doubt that the prisons discussed here and the individual escape attempts highlighted are all of great interest, and are worthy of much fuller coverage than the 10 to 12 minutes that is devoted to each in the course of these programs. The information provided and some of the interview footage with various historians that accompanies it serve as good introductions to the various escapes, but the programs’ effectiveness is greatly compromised by the uninteresting dramatizations that form the visual basis of each segment. The poorly thought-out camera work and jerky editing are so annoying that they detract greatly from the narrative information being conveyed. Nor does it help that that information is delivered in a somewhat monotonic style by Rod Steiger. Worst of all is a cheesy piece of theme music that keeps replaying so frequently that you feel you’re experiencing some sort of an audio torture.

The full frame presentation is in accord with the way it was originally aired. The image is merely average in sharpness, with somewhat soft color and adequate image detail. The stereo sound is clear enough in terms of dialogue. Unfortunately, there’s no way to turn off the music portion and just hear the narration. There are no supplements.


For anyone who already has an interest in and some knowledge of the great escapes of history, there’s nothing here that you don’t already know. For others who aren’t so knowledgeable, but think the topic’s intriguing, I’d just go directly to your local library or surf the ‘net, sparing yourself the annoying presentation you’d have to wade through in Breakout.

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