The Celluloid Pantry: American Moonshine, Independence Day, and The Great Escape (1963)

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“That explains what happened to the potatoes.”

American moonshine, recycled tea leaves, black market chocolate, and a tunnel under the stove. In The Great Escape (1963), British and American WWII POWs work together to approximate the little luxuries in life and collaborate to keep their German captors on their toes.

According to military protocol, it’s the sworn duty of all officers to: 1) try to escape; 2) to cause the enemy to use an inordinate number of troops to guard them; and 3) to harass the enemy to the best of their ability. In honor of Independence Day, the American officers try a little of all three.

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Tired from hours of surreptitious digging and scheming, the prisoners all need a break. After distilling some jet-fuel liquor from of every last one of the camp’s potatoes, Captain Hilts (Steve McQueen, above right) and Flight Lt. Hendley (James Garner, above left) decide to throw a little Fourth of July celebration and invite their British camp-mates:

“Gentlemen...free drinks…. A little present from the colonials.”

As a thirsty crowd gathers around the wicker-covered vats of alcohol, every tin cup gets filled, and everybody has an opinion:

“American moonshine. Don’t smoke while you drink it.”

“No taxation without representation.”

“Don’t get any on your clothes, Sir.”

“Up the rebels!”
“Down the British!”

“You know what that is?”
“I'll tell you what it isn't. It isn't Napoleon brandy.”

“How do you like it, sir?”
“Well, it's...To the colonies.”
“Independence.”

For more Fourth of July food in film see The Celluloid Pantry: Fourth of July Heritage Loaf and The Groove Tube (1974)

- Nora

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Nora Maynard is a freelance writer based in New York City. Her recent work has appeared in Salon, Drunken Boat, and The Millions. She recently completed her ninth marathon and her first novel, Burnt Hill Road. Nora wrote for The Kitchn from 2006 to 2011.

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