The Hole (1960)

Asked to categorize The Hole, most people would say it is a prison movie, which it is. And as with most such movies, there is an attempt to break out of that prison. But to me, it is primarily an engineering movie.

Most engineering movies involve building something, such as the title bridge in Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). Another example would be Land of the Pharaohs (1955), in which a pyramid is constructed in such a way that no one can break in and steal all the loot the pharaoh is planning on taking with him to the afterlife. In both those movies, however, engineering only plays a minor role compared to all the other goings-on. Engineering plays a major role in The Dam Busters (1955), but the best engineering movie is Flight of the Phoenix (1965), in which survivors of a plane crash build a smaller plane out of the parts of the larger plane that crashed. In that movie, more than half the time is dedicated to this engineering task.

In The Hole (1960), however, prisoners are not trying to build something, but rather to break through what has already been built and intended to keep them locked up. Perhaps because this movie was based on a true story written by one of the prisoners involved in the attempted breakout himself, what the prisoners have to do to get out is not merely implied or briefly indicated, as in most such movies, but rather is shown in great detail. One of the prisoners has broken out of prisons three times before, and so he knows all the tricks. In addition to seeing just how ingenious and resourceful he is, we also experience the physical effort that goes into breaking through concrete.

As often happens in movies about criminals, you begin to identify with them and want them to succeed. And so, it is a little disappointing that someone rats them out just before they are about to leave. On the other hand, had they escaped, the prisoner who wrote the book would probably not have written it, and then we wouldn’t have had this movie to watch. So, I guess things worked out for the best.

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