There's a reason why older Americans feel nostalgia for World War II - all its movie battles were in Technicolor and all its villains and heroes were sharply black and white.
The Great Escape II: The Untold Story (Sunday and Monday at 8 p.m., Ch. 2) takes its audience back to those good old days of yesteryear when you could tell the good guys from the bad without a scorecard.The American cause was just and the Nazis were evil - and the funny thing is they really were the bad guys.
Christopher Reeve, Judd Hirsch and Anthony Denison lead a cast that includes Michael Nader, Ian McShane and Donald Pleasence in retelling the tale - based on a true story - of the escape of primarily British prisoners from a German POW camp, and its grim sequel.
This "Escape" is a very different approach than the 1963 movie starring Steve McQueen and James Garner."
The original film was a rip-roaring adventure story with a script co-authored by James Clavell.
This version starts off in that direction, but takes a major detour into grimmer territory.
In the opening, with "Hogan's Heroes"-style music, POW Reeve escapes from Stalag Luft III, then allows himself to be recaptured by a bunch of Hitler Youth.
The plan for the big escape is under way, led by Ian McShane, with Charles Haid (Renko of "Hill Street Blues") in charge of tunneling. Denison plays a young American recently captured, and Nader and Pleasence are Nazi villains.
As a sidenote, Pleasence flew with the RAF in World War II and spent the last year of the war in the German prison camp Stalag Luft I. He played a POW in the first "Great Escape" film but this time has graduated to an S.S. villain, and he is a marvel of soft-spoken, almost finicky evil.
"This is not a remake of the movie with Steve McQueen," Reeve said in an interview. "It is a retelling of the Paul Brickhill book. At the end of the book Brickhill refers to what happened after the war - 76 prisoners escaped, three made it to England, 23 were sent back to Stalag Luft III and 50 were executed by the Gestapo in a plan instigated by Himmler and approved by Hitler.
"After the war an RAF special investigative branch working with the OSS went after the Gestapo who were responsible and 18 of them were brought to trial at Nuremburg. `The Great Escape' with Steve McQueen ends with the execution of the 50. `The Great Escape II: The Untold Story' tells what happened after the war."
Hirsch comes into the miniseries in the second episode, helping Reeve and Denison hunt Nazis.
Reeve said the Brickhill book had long been a favorite of his.
"I was about 11 when the movie came out and I must have seen it a dozen times. I read the book from cover to cover and reread it whenever I was home sick from school. The cover was falling off the book. I was fascinated by it. These men could have sat out the war playing soccer in the compound and waiting for their Red Cross parcels.
"Instead they did their duty, which was to escape. It took 600 men working together in complete confidence and trust to dig the three tunnels so some men could escape. It's a metaphor in a way - if 600 men can dig tunnels and organize an escape of that size, think what else they could do."
The miniseries illustrates both the spirit of the war years and how it began to fall apart after the war as the Americans and Soviets fought clandestine though largely bloodless battles for the services of useful Nazis, no matter how degenerate their war crimes.
"We now have a generation that does not understand about such clear issues," Reeve said. "Everything to do with the military is gray. Vietnam, the invasion of Grenada, Nicaragua - any time when U.S. forces are involved there is no clearcut sense of right and wrong. The country is divided on the issues.
"In World War II that was not the case. In our story it was clearly 600 men working together to survive against this evil empire.
"You could tell the story without distortion. The fact that the Germans could execute 50 prisoners of war and cremate their bodies so there would be no evidence - that needed to be avenged. It's very clear where our sympathies are supposed to go and very satisfying to the audience."
Reeve said the men who escaped knew they could be killed and he added:
"I guess maybe my generation - many of us would have done nothing and waited the war out playing volleyball. They were a different breed then and this is a real tribute to them."