When Airplane! appeared on the scene, people acted as if they had never seen anything like it before, but of course they had. What the Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrahams created was a two-hour cinematic vaudeville act. Set-up, punchline. Set-up, punchline. Bah-dum boom. All that was missing was a drummer in every theater to deliver the rimshots.
This is a good thing, too. Movies hadn’t been this funny since the Marx Brothers were making Duck Soup, and haven’t really been this funny since. The only thing to come close to this level of shameless wall-to-wall laughs was Jim Abraham’s and the Zucker Brothers’ short-lived TV classic, Police Squad, which inspired the Naked Gun movies.
Stalag 17 would have been a tight little World War II adventure if the writers had show more restraint in using their poor man’s version of Martin and Lewis (Harvey Lembeck and Robert Strauss).
Never having seen the play, I can’t say for certain if they’re hijinks are faithful to the original material, but I’d guess that they are. However, one part of adapting material from another medium to film is removing or changing the things that don’t work on screen. The antics of Shapiro and “Animal” should have been cut or sharply curtailed. Unfortunately, I think producer/director Billy Wilder probably felt some obligation to carry over Strauss and Lembeck from the original Broadway production of the play.