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If you've seen both The Great Escape and The Train, you'll have a rough
idea of what to expect from Von Ryan's Express. An American pilot
(Frank Sinatra) arrives in an Italian POW camp and finds himself the
senior officer, in charge of a motley group of British prisoners under
the command of Major Fincham (Trevor Howard). Sinatra and Howard clash,
and eventually lead the prisoners in a daring take-over of their German
prison train. With the help of a turncoat Italian officer (Sergio
Fantoni) they point their loco towards neutral Switzerland.
This is all pretty implausible, but its fairly entertainingly done. Sinatra does well with a surprisingly unsympathetic character, and his tetchy relationship with Howard provides much of the enjoyment of the film. Howard's role is relatively stereotyped, but he's a good enough actor to know this and still make his character believable. Director Mark Robson and his screenwriter Wendell Mayes have an understanding of British army attitudes that's obviously influenced by too many viewings of Bridge on the River Kwai. While Howard is a military martinet and a man of principle, it's Sinatra's practicality and collaboration with the enemy which initially brings the men dividends.
However, Mayes and Robson have ensured that it's not quite as simple as all that and Sinatra is faced with some of the dilemmas of war which were explored a couple of years earlier in The Guns of Navarone, e.g. is it better to shoot an unarmed man or woman and save lives, or let them go and risk the lives of many more? Here though, screenwriter Mayes doesn't offer the easy solutions which undercut The Guns of Navarone. Sinatra's decision to let an Italian officer go free results in the death of some of his own men. Later on he's faced with the choice of shooting an unarmed woman in the back or risk compromising his escape plan.
Unlike some of its contemporaries, Von Ryan's Express isn't afraid to kill off some of its major characters, and this at least stops things from getting too predictable. Although the supporting cast includes Wolfgang Preiss, John Leyton, Michael Goodliffe and Adolfo Celi, only Edward Mulhare, as the British padre who has to impersonate a German officer, gets a chance to really shine.
Like a lot of war films of its era, some of the action scenes aren't all that realistic. When the heroes ambush a platoon of German soldiers in a tunnel, the Germans all collapse decorously to the ground as if they've just fainted. No mangled limbs or hideous death throes. It's one of those films where you suspect the Germans will get up and brush themselves off as soon as the camera stops rolling.
Like The Train though, Von Ryan's Express benefits from using real trains (this time on the Italian railways) and a minimum of model work. This allows it to stand up pretty well for modern audiences. Many of the hazards faced by Sinatra and the others will be fairly familiar to anyone who's seen The Train or Northwest Frontier, but they're all produced with enthusiasm, and handled with some skill, and screenwriter Mayes ensures that there are still a few surprises in store.
From a slow start this build into an exciting if somewhat unrealistic
war film. However, it was designed for entertainment and not to depict
any remotely historical fact.
The cinematography and scenery look good and although no expert on trains, they look from the right period. The characters are not fleshed out but as this is an adventure film this lapse is not too important. Some of the main characters are also casualties by the end thus avoiding the usual Hollywood line from that period of everyone escaping without a scratch.
I'm not a big fan of Sinatra as an actor but he does well here depicting a flawed character who appears both likable and unlikeable. It is established early in the film that Col Ryan is not a career airman and has limited military experience and so it is not surprising that he makes some key mistakes although he does learn from them.
The supporting cast is good although with the exception of John Leyton far too old to have been on military service.
Not up with the very best WW2 films but well above the average.
This is a very logical and well-considered storyline developed from
David Westheimer's WWWII thriller by Wendell Mayes and Joseph Landon
The escape that ends this film, a trainborne flight across Italian
lines toward Switzerland provides a vivid action climax when the train
is attacked; it is a bit implausible only because of the length of time
the train has to go on unstopped. The film begins its exciting
adventure narrative with the arrival of "Von Ryan", then Ryan, among a
group of busy British and American sorts trying to escape from a stalag
run by a sadistic commandant. They are being punished, but will not
give up their attempts. As the now-ranking senior officer, Ryan orders
them to stop escaping, then betrays their tunnels to the enemy in
return for decent conditions. He is betrayed; then he issues an order
that causes him to be put into solitary. he gets respect from this; but
he is now "Von Ryan" for the remainder of the film. the war ends; the
prisoners revolt successfully and capture the Commandant. Then they
have to move overland to escape, and"Von Ryan's" sparing of some
prisoners costs lives. But it his great idea once they are captured and
put aboard a train to be taken to imprisonment in Germany is to steal
the train and head for safety elsewhere. They succeed; against all
odds, even though he must kill an Italian officer's loyal betrayer, a
beautiful woman; and by ruse, attack, feint, false messages and speed,
they do what is necessary. Then as they head for Switzerland, the
German planes attack. And at the last, Ryan runs after the train, the
last of all--and becomes a legend the hard way. Music by Jerry
Goldsmith, makeup by Ben Nye, cinematography by William H. Daniels ,
art direction by Hilyard B. Brown and John Martin Smith all under the
direction of producer-director Mark Robson add up to a recipe for a
first-rate color adventure film. As Ryan, Frank Sinatra is not entirely
miscast and tries very hard, sensibly underplaying his role, matched
every step of the way by Trevor Howard who mostly reacts and gives
speeches about the way things ought to be done, very effectively.
Edward Mulhare comes off Academy Award level in the film, and others
such as John van Dreelin, Sergio Fantoni, Adolfo Celi as the
Commandant, and Vito Scotti do well. Raffalla Carra is the girl Ryan
must kill, Wolfgang Preiss, Brad Dexter, John Leyton and Richard
Bakalyan are soldiers on one side or another. There are many exciting
scenes provided, none moreso than Mulhare's impersonation of a German
officer; the death of the girl, the final attacks on the train, several
of the scenes set in the Stalag and the train's progress which is
counterpoised many times to German language scenes of what their
pursuers are doing; dialogue scenes lead here to action, action to
reassessments, to challenges and to consequences. This is sometimes a
slick film, but never a boring one, I suggest. Its characters are not
developed as they would have been in a dramatic film; this is an
adventure-level film with dramatic elements. And it is a good and
occasionally thrilling ride, with the curious sense about it of a dream
and a symbol both. Its theme is the courage to dare; and in the
enigmatic Ryan, it finds an appropriate hero, a bit tarnished about the
edges as a soldier but a first-rate result-getter nevertheless.
Von Ryan's Express which was a best selling action adventure novel in
the sixties combines some of the best elements of The Great Escape and
Bridge Over the River Kwai.
Culture clashes abound in Von Ryan's Express, Britsh versus American, Italian versus German. Sometimes the participants seem to forget just who was the enemy.
Frank Sinatra is an American Army Air Corps flier shot down near Rome before the invasion of Italy. The Italians grab him and take him to an Italian prisoner of war camp run by a strutting Mussolini wannabe in Adolfo Celi. The prisoners are mostly British and in fact members of a single regiment, the 9th Fusiliers. Command has now devolved to Major Trevor Howard with the death of their colonel. Sinatra becomes the ranking POW when he arrives.
Sinatra and Howard clash over several issues. Watching the film you'll see I believe that Howard was right. But Sinatra has the rank.
When the Italians switch sides as the landing at Salerno commences, the Italian soldiers desert and Sinatra and Howard have to make some hard decisions. They opt to move towards the sea, but are captured by the Germans and put on a train north. They recapture the prison train from the Germans and decide to keep going north to Switzerland.
It'a pretty impossible tale, but that doesn't mean it ain't entertaining. Sinatra keeps his swinging hipster persona in check and Trevor Howard was born to play those British military roles.
Of the rest of the cast my favorite performance is that of the British regimental chaplain Edward Mulhare. The fact that he went to graduate study in Germany and speaks it fluently is of inestimable help to the escaping prisoners.
For those who like action war films, this is your cup of British tea.
*** Warning ***: I make a few references to this film's plot in the
I think if I was living during 1943 and was involved in World War II then being with Frank, Trevor and the rest of the boys as portrayed in this film is where I'd want to be. Racing up Italy in a captured POW train, honorable American and British soldiers fighting pesky Nazis, and just trying to make it to beautiful Switzerland. Who could ask for more? You have adventure, killing in self-defense (well mostly), outsmarting the enemy, and a gorgeous young Italian woman on the train with you! Sure beats being a German soldier stuck in Stalingrad in 1942!
And let's face it, if you're looking for a WW II film with historical accuracy about specific WWII events or a "war is heck, here's why" kind of film then this is not the kind of film you're going to like.
But to me this film offers something many others don't by how it relates to everyday life and its struggles. So what am I saying, escaping from a German POW camp and fighting Nazis is a daily life struggle for anyone nowadays ?? No, of course not. But I like the way misfortune then opportunity seem to go hand in hand in this movie. A misfortune is turned into another opportunity simply by trying or moving forward. The following two lines best sum up this film: Captured German Major: "But still you have NO choice!" British Major: "And nothing to lose by trying to make one!"
Nothing is mapped out they way they want it and each misfortune has its cost in lives lost, but they push on. Each loss looks like it is rewarded with something positive... British physician (who up 'till now has been supportive of Colonel Ryan): "Roll, roll where?...Maybe this is the end of the line". Italian Captain (just running in): "Colonel Ryan, the conductor has a plan, he thinks he can get us all to Switzerland!" British Major: "Switzerland?...You're mad!" (The Italian major explains the conductor's plan) British Major: "You know it may just work" Colonel Ryan: "Let's move!"
Sometimes we are all fighting those "Nazis/demons" in our life and we are all just trying to escape to "Switzerland" and like the end of the film says: "I once told you Ryan, if only one gets out it's a victory".
I read in another review of this film where it was said Frank Sinatra looked like he was sleep walking through it -- well then way to go Frank! No award grabbing performance from "ol' blue eyes" here, just a man who acts and feels like he's just been in a POW camp (the Rat Pack must've just broken up or a gig in Vegas got canceled or something). I think this is one of Frank S.'s best movies, yes much better than that depressing "Manchurian Candidate" (1962).
And give this film credit for one thing: Here at least the Germans speak German and the Italians speak Italian. There's none of that English with a heavy German or Italian accent stuff here. And filming outside when possible with picturesque Italian and Switzerland scenery are an added bonus.
I know there are several other WWII films made during the 1960s that get mentioned a lot, but off-hand I think there are only two or three made during the '60s that offer or have any value: "The Train" (1965) and "Closely Observed Trains" (1966) are the only two I can think of (hmmm...that's odd, but all three involve trains).
If you liked "Von Ryan's Express" then please recommend other war films from any decade. I'm always on the look out for a good war film. And if you didn't care for this film, well then when you're through picking this one apart tell me of one you did like. Thanks.
"Von Ryan's Express" is overall a satisfying WW II actioner. The movie is
long but never boring, there's some excitement and suspense, and some
The only problems I found with the movie is that the above is at the expense of characters - not enough time is given to these characters, so we don't have as much of a personal stake - so whether the characters live or die doesn't matter as much as it could have. Also, some of the special effects, even for 1965, are somewhat embarrassing.
It's still a good movie, and it's worth watching - it's just not the classic it could have been.
Awesome warlike movie with memorable images and outstanding acting by
well-known faces . This is a splendid film about a daring breakout from
an Italian concentration camp with all star cast and magnificently
realized by Mark Robson . The 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¨ . There appears Ryan, an American POW Colonel (Frank
Sinatra , his leather jacket was later worn by Bob Crane in Hogan's
Heroes and was later worn by Greg Kinnear in Auto Focus) and a British
military (Trevor Howard who was second choice for Major Fincham after
Peter Finch turned it down and Jack Hawkins was possible for this part)
is the officer in charge until Ryan takes over the escape plan . Ryan
leads his fellow prisoners as foreign soldiers (James Brolin , John
Leyton , Edward Mulhare) as Italian local military (Sergio Fantoni ,
Adolfo Celi and Vito Scotti as Train Engineer) on a perilous getaway
from the Germans (led by Wolfgang Preiss as Major Von Klemment) in
Italy . Having seemingly made errors of judgement, Ryan has to get the
support of the mainly British soldiers he is commanding . As they
aboard a German train to neutral Switzerland .
This great action tale contains thrills, intrigue, tension, excitement galore, entertainment and lots of fun . Suspenseful WWII epic packs exceptional plethora of prestigious actors incarnating the motley group of POWs , giving good acting and support , as a sensational Frank Sinatra whose character , Colonel Ryan, remains today as attractive iconography ; Edward Mulhare as an army priest posing as a Nazi officer , Brad Dexter as roguish Sgt. Bostick ,Sergio Fantoni as Capt. Oriani , a very young Raffaela Carra and Michael Goodliffe, who was an actual Prisoner of War during WWII , being captured at Dunkirk and spent the next five years in a German POW camp . Excellent production design and art direction with evocative scenarios by Walter Scott . Rousing and lively soundtrack , nowadays a classic score, by Jerry Goldsmith . Colorful cinematography by William H Daniels , Greta Garbo's usual cameraman .
The motion picture lavishly produced by Saul David was well realized by Mark Robson. In the early 40s Robson was much involved with the low-budget terror unit in charge of producer Val Lewton , for whom made ¨Seventh victim¨, ¨The ghost ship¨, and ¨Island of the dead¨. In the late 1940s Robson joined Stanley Kramer's independent company and directed his biggest commercial hit to date with ¨The champion¨. Years later Robson made another good film about corruption in boxing world titled ¨The harder they fall¨ with Humphrey Bogart. In the late 1960s, his work did decline . His last movie was a jinx one titled ¨Avalancha express¨. Robson and his main star, Robert Shaw, died suddenly from heart attacks. And of course , ¨Von Ryan Express¨ was one of his best films . A top-notch cast , spectacular images , tense images and noisy action help make this one a superior effort of its kind . Well worth seeing , this is the ordinary War movie that Hollywood does so well . This one is certainly one of the best movies ever made about the WWII escapes . Rating : 7 . Two thumbs up , essential and indispensable watching for WWII lovers , a real must see.
what a marvellous performance by Sinatra and Trevor Howard in this classic World War 11 movie.A great script and some strong supporting roles make this movie a wonderful piece of entertainment.Sharp movie fans may even notice a young James Brolin in a small role,but the greatest thing about this movie is the wonderful line uttered by Trevor Howard to Frank(as Von Ryan)when Sinatra tries to tie a knot to show how to strangle a german guard (which fails) and Trevor Howard shows Sinatra how to really tie a strangle knot ,and says the immortal line"learn that from the cowboy films did you?".what a great put down,its worth watching just for that.The ending is a surprise and really leaves one a bit flat but all in all wonderful escapism.
Loads of WWII action as Sinatra leads band of Allied POWs in theft of prison train and attempted escape run through Italy to Switzerland. Many tense moments and spectacular location photography create a realistic feel even if the basic plot is pretty far-fetched. After all they've been through, when Trevor Howard is still calling Frank "Von Ryan" an hour into the film you figure The Chairman is going to punch him senseless but that never actually happens. Memorable final scene. One of my favorite war movies.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sinatra is a cool American, whose P-38 is shot down over Italy in
August 1943... The Allies were landing in Southern Italy, when Ryan is
brought to an Italian prisoner of war camp...
Sensing that the end is underway, the Italians were trying to get out of the war, and the Nazis were trying to keep the Allies out and the Italians in...
A Fascist bully (Adolfo Celi) has ruled the POW camp, but with the collapse of Italian rule, he is thrown out...
The British prisoners - professional soldiers of the 9th Fusiliers, whose constant attempts to escape have led to half rations and the withholding of medicine - headed by a heated Major (Trevor Howard), are not in agreement with the unpopular pilot, Colonel Joseph Ryan... They think him insufficiently hostile to the Italians and have given an insulting 'von" to his name, insisting that he is in the wrong army...
The British get along with Ryan, however, when the escape is engineered... They seize a German train, and, impersonating German troops even as they evade German pursuers, try to make a run for it to the Swiss border... The viewers can forget about realism from that moment on... 'Von Ryan's Express' is pure adventure and courts no moral dilemmas in its story...
Director Mark Robson tries to combine the suspense of 'The Great Escape' with the exciting action of 'The Guns of Navarone,' and he's successful enough... The pace is quick... The Italian locations are attractive... The confrontations with German troops are well handled...
Ryan is a pragmatic character not unlike the far more tragic Col. Nicholson in 'The Bridge on the River Kwai.' As a colonel master-minding commando raids, he brings the film to a great climax on an Alpine viaduct...
With the exception of a strange and shocking scene where a sexy escapee is gunned down in the back, ' Von Ryan's Express' gives us the necessary thrills to be pleased...
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