Col. Joseph L. Ryan, played by Frank Sinatra (From Here to Eternity), is an American POW in Italy during World War II. Ryan is imprisoned with a group of British soldiers who nickname him “Von Ryan” because his command decisions inadvertently help the Nazis. “Von Ryan” tries to redeem himself by plotting a daring escape across the Swiss Alps.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Very interesting actioner feels like a cousin of David Lean’s war epic The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). If Lean’s movie emphasized British’s stiff-upper-lip wrongheadedness, Von Ryan’s Express latches onto American naiveté. It’s surprising to see a Hollywood war movie where the Britons are portrayed as far better soldiers than the Americans. Ryan’s ill-conceived choices result in the death of many soldiers, a curious thing that really adds an unexpected dimension to the movie.
Swiftly directed by Mark Robson from a screenplay by Wendell Mayes and Joseph Landon based on David Westheimer’s book, Von Ryan’s Express has great pace, never letting up — I particularly found the film’s climax very exciting. Most of the visual and sound effects don’t show their age — the miniatures and matte work are well-integrated into the narrative — and you always feel fully engaged.
Sinatra is a bit too laid back — perhaps done on purpose in order to accentuate the character’s inefficiency — but Trevor Howard (Ryan’s Daughter), who plays a British officer, is forceful and charismatic. The supporting characters could have benefited from more exposition, but this is an action movie so not fleshing out minor characters is not a huge problem. Aldofo Celi (Thunderball) plays a cowardly fascist. Fans of TV’s Knight Rider will enjoy seeing the late Edward Mulhare as a chaplain.
Jerry Goldsmith’s (Planet of the Apes and The Omen) music score reinforces the film’s many exciting sequences. Nicely shot by veteran cameraman William Daniels (Greta Garbo’s favorite cinematographer).
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Von Ryan’s Express has some fantastic action set-pieces, but the thrills aren’t operating in a vacuum — the insane nature of the combat experience is an essential element of the narrative. It’s an action-packed war movie with a brain. Color, 117 minutes, Not Rated.