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If you've seen both The Nice Escape and The Train, you'll have a rough concept 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 support of a turncoat Italian officer (Sergio Fantoni) they mission their loco towards neutral Switzerland.This is all cute 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 nice enough actor to know this and still create his hero believable. Director Tag Robson and his screenwriter Wendell Mayes have an understanding of British units attitudes that's obviously influenced by too many viewings of Bridge on the River Kwai. While Howard is a military martinet and a boy of principle, it's Sinatra's practicality and collaboration with the opponent which initially brings the boys dividends.However, Mayes and Robson have ensured that it's not quite as easy as all that and Sinatra is faced with some of the dilemmas of fight which were explored a couple of years earlier in The Guns of Navarone, e.g. is it better to shoot an unarmed boy or girl and save lives, or allow them go and risk the lives of many more? Here though, screenwriter Mayes doesn't offer the simple solutions which undercut The Guns of Navarone. Sinatra's decision to allow an Italian officer go gratis effects in the death of some of his own men. Soon on he's faced with the choice of shooting an unarmed girl in the back or risk compromising his escape plan.Unlike some of its contemporaries, Von Ryan's Express isn't scared to slay off some of its major characters, and this at least stops things from getting too predictable. Although the helping cast contains 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 possibility to really shine.Like a lot of fight movies of its era, some of the action scenes aren't all that realistic. When the heroes ambush a platoon of German troops 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 movies where you suspect the Germans will receive up and brush themselves off as later as the camera stops rolling.Like The Train though, Von Ryan's Express benefits from using true trains (this time on the Italian railways) and a minimum of model work. This allows it to stand up cute 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 several surprises in store.
*** Warning ***: I create a several references to this film's plot in the comments below. I think if I was living during 1943 and was involved in Globe Fight II then being with Frank, Trevor and the rest of the men as portrayed in this movie is where I'd wish to be. Racing up Italy in a captured POW train, honorable American and British troops fighting pesky Nazis, and just trying to create it to pretty Switzerland. Who should ask for more? You have adventure, killing in self-defense (well mostly), outsmarting the enemy, and a superb young Italian girl 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 movie with historical precision about specific WWII happenings or a "war is heck, here's why" type of movie then this is not the type of movie you're going to like.But to me this movie offers something many others don't by how it relates to daily life and its struggles. So what am I saying, escaping from a German POW camp and fighting Nazis is a everyday life struggle for anyone nowadays ?? No, of course not. But I like the method misfortune then occasion seem to go hand in hand in this movie. A misfortune is turned into other occasion simply by trying or moving forward. The following two lines greatest sum up this film: Captured German Major: "But still you have NO choice!" British Major: "And nothing to lose by trying to create one!"Nothing is mapped out they method they wish it and every misfortune has its cost in lives lost, but they push on. Every loss looks like it is rewarded with something positive... British physician (who up 'till actually 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 receive 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 movie says: "I once said you Ryan, if only one gets out it's a victory".I read in other review of this movie where it was told Frank Sinatra looked like he was sleep walking through it -- well then method to go Frank! No award grabbing performance from "ol' blue eyes" here, just a boy who acts and feels like he's just been in a POW camp (the Rat Package must've just broken up or a gig in Vegas got canceled or something). I think this is one of Frank S.'s greatest movies, yes much better than that depressing "Manchurian Candidate" (1962).And give this movie credit for one thing: Here at least the Germans speak German and the Italians speak Italian. There's none of that English with a massive German or Italian accent items here. And filming outside when possible with picturesque Italian and Switzerland scenery are an added bonus.I know there are few another WWII movies made during the 1960s that receive 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 suggest another fight movies from any decade. I'm everytime on the look out for a nice fight film. And if you didn't care for this film, well then when you're through picking this one apart say me of one you did like. Thanks.
Von Ryan's Express which was a greatest selling action journey novel in the sixties combines some of the greatest elements of The Nice Escape and Bridge Over the River Kwai. Culture clashes abound in Von Ryan's Express, Britsh vs American, Italian vs German. Sometimes the participants seem to forget just who was the enemy.Frank Sinatra is an American Units Air Corps flier shot down near Rome before the invasion of Italy. The Italians grab him and take him to an Italian prisoner of fight 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 actually devolved to Major Trevor Howard with the death of their colonel. Sinatra becomes the ranking POW when he arrives.Sinatra and Howard clash over few issues. Watching the movie you'll see I trust that Howard was right. But Sinatra has the rank. When the Italians switch sides as the landing at Salerno commences, the Italian troops desert and Sinatra and Howard have to create some difficult decisions. They opt to transport towards the sea, but are captured by the Germans and place on a train north. They recapture the prison train from the Germans and decide to hold going north to Switzerland.It'a cute 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 enjoy those British military roles.Of the rest of the cast my favourite 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 support to the escaping prisoners.For those who like action fight films, this is your cup of British tea.
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