Thursday, August 28, 2014

Von Ryan's Express (1965)

I have had this one in the larder for a long time because it reminds me of the kinds of films I watched with my father the entire time growing up. We loved any kind of war picture especially if they involved a good heist or a good escape. Kelly's Heroes, The Devil's Brigade, The Great Escape, Where Eagles Dare, The Dirty Dozen, and The Guns of Navarone, were big hits at our house, especially on a weekend afternoon.

I am not a great fan of Frank Sinatra but the movie poster convinced me that this was the film I wanted to watch this evening. I mean look at all that adventure I've been promised. This is just the kind of image that is meant to put butts in the seats.

The story is simple. Frank Sinatra plays an airman whose plane crash lands in fascist Italy. In a prisoner of war camp he gathers allies for an escape from the prison during the last days of the war.

I enjoyed the American vs British perspectives on how best to spend their time in prison. Frank wants to sit it out and wait for liberation. The British all want to escape despite the punishments they receive from their Italian Commandant. Something has to break and with Sinatra in command, it's his decision to make. There in lies the conflict and the basics of a very compelling wartime story. When the situation changes, Sinatra has to make the decision to fight.

In doing my research I have heard many call this one of the greatest war movie of all time. After getting totally engrossed in the story, I am inclined to agree. This one was off my radar forever but now I can't recommend it highly enough. No one is reinventing the wheel here but the whole production was great fun to watch. It's rare for me to find a movie I haven't already seen before.

VON RYAN'S EXPRESS (1965). While hardly the cream of the 1960s crop of rip-roaring World War II adventure yarns — in other words, it can't begin to touch The Great Escape, The Guns of Navarone or Where Eagles Dare — Von Ryan's Express nevertheless qualifies as choice escapist fare, the sort best watched on a lazy Saturday afternoon when it's just too hot/cold/rainy/what-have-you to venture far from the couch. Frank Sinatra, typically solid (he remains an underrated dramatic actor, Oscar for From Here to Eternity notwithstanding), stars as Colonel Joseph Ryan, a POW whose initial efforts to cooperate with his German captors earn him the nickname "Von Ryan" from the other prisoners. But once the POWs are herded onto a train headed for another internment camp, it's Ryan who leads the revolt against the Nazis, taking over the train and steering it toward Switzerland and freedom. Many fine vignettes make up this popcorn picture, culminating in a ferocious battle on an Italian mountainside where the train's occupants must defend themselves against strafing German airplanes. The cast also includes Trevor Howard as the senior British officer, a young James Brolin in his first credited screen role, and Adolfo Celli, who was also appearing as the villainous Largo in the same year's 007 outing Thunderball.


Jordan said...

I'm not sure what you've got against Sinatra.

Yes, personally he was a pretty awful guy, and his "Rat Pack" persona is annoying...but he's extremely talented as an actor.

His performances in The Manchurian Candidate and From Here to Eternity (for which he won his Oscar) are superb. He's one of those "big personalities" who can make his entire (actual, abrasive) persona vanish onscreen when necessary.

Kal said...

I think I only knew him as the asshole that he was in later days. I like him in Both of those films that you mentioned but he never could fool me enough as an actor to make him convincing. I have that same problem with Tom Cruise.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

That's a pretty rip-roaring trailer alright. I always liked Trevor Howard in a movie. Frank Sinatra at the beginning of his movie career was a very fine actor indeed but after a while, he just started phoning in his performances.

Mike said...

Love this movie!

ThoughtCriminal said...

The movie was a complete train wreck... And I mean that in a good way. The train wreck scene was awesome.