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Ryan, an American POW, leads his fellow prisoners on a dangerous escape from the Germans in Italy. Having seemingly made errors of judgement, Ryan has to win the support of the mainly British soldiers he is commanding. Written by
The most daring escape ever conceived. It begins at Pescara. It spreads into high adventure as they highjack their own prison train. It shoots past Rome... Florence... Bologna... It hightails into the Majola Pass with Messerschitts in hot pursuit... and makes a final frenzied lunge for Switzerland- and freedom! See more »
This movie's opening prologue states: "ITALY, AUGUST 1943. With the Allies poised to strike, the Germans seized control of Italy. So the war-weary Italian nation fought on, a prisoner of the German armies." See more »
Colonel Ryan orders the prisoners to remove their clothes and burn them. However, Private Ames starts undressing before the order is given. See more »
The film credits and all promotion publicity still say "A Cinemascope Picture", and Alfred Newman's "extended" 20th Century-Fox fanfare is still heard on the soundtrack as the picture begins, but most of the film was actually shot in Panavision, at Frank Sinatra's insistence. See more »
Told by associates that he needed to branch away from the "Rat Pack home movies" he'd been doing since The Manchurian Candidate, Frank Sinatra signed on for this 1965 POW epic that ranks as among his best films.
Colonel Joseph Ryan is shot down in Italy in August 1943, around the time of the Allied invasion of Sicily. Hidden from the Germans by Italian soldiers, Ryan winds up in a prison camp run by the sadistic Battaglia (Adolfo Celi, best known as Emilio Largo in 1965's James Bond epic Thunderball). The primary residents of the camp are the members of the Royal Army's 9th Fusilleers, headed by Major Fincham (Trevor Howard) and a few American prisoners. Fincham and the 9th Fusilleers have been waging their own private war against Battaglia, and when their commander dies (one of several trying to escape), British resistance hardens. But with Sicily on the ropes, Italy is bound to quit the war, and with malaria breaking out, Ryan, now senior among the POWs, is convinced by the other American prisoners that the camp needs to cooperate with Battaglia and get medicines and so forth.
This is the moral dilemma that begins the rocky relationship between Ryan and Fincham and his men. Ryan shows Battaglia escape tunnels dug by the POWs in exchange for medicine, bath water, and clean clothes, but is betrayed by the camp commander. So Ryan gives an audacious order, one that embarasses Battaglia (and brings humor to Captain Oriani, his XO and a officer who sympathizes with the prisoners) and leads Ryan to a sweatbox to rot away, a punishment that earns him respect by the British prisoners.
But when Italy surrenders a few days later, Fincham puts Battaglia on trial, even though, as Ryan points out, with Italy out of the war, Battaglia is now a civilian. Ryan convinces the vengeance-minded British to stuff Battaglia in the sweatbox to rot, which angers the more vengful Fincham. But they all have to put their squabbles aside as the Germans are marching into Italy.
Ryan leads the prisoners on a march across the land, but they are captured by the Germans and placed in a train for a German Stalag; making it worse, injured prisoners are slaughtered (off camera but clearly heard) and the one who betrays Ryan and Fincham turns up long enough to quietly gloat - and earn seemingly permanent hatred by Fincham toward Ryan.
But Ryan isn't through yet, as he leads a daring second escape, seizing the train, only to have to keep going north to escape detection, with their one chance being a one-way trip to neutral Switzerland.
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