Fox didn’t have it good in the 1960’s, among other things a disastrous Cleopatra had them financially reeling and as such either a big hit was needed or the brakes would have to be pumped production-wise across the board. They decided to gamble big, by filming Von Ryan’s Express, the rights from the novel which they had purchased for $125,000. Filmed in Panavision, Frank Sinatra would take the lead role and the movie would go direct to Italy, to pick those real beauty shots, as well as building extravagant model set pieces and an actual prison camp. The gamble was a success, Von Ryan’s Express was a big hit both commercially and critically.
Taken from the book released two years prior, the film is set in an Italian prisoner of war camp, where Col. Joseph L. Ryan (Frank Sinatra) is locked up with British prisoners, after his Army Air Corp plane crashes in a nearby town. On the outside, Ryan has seen which way the wind is blowing in the war, but on the inside he finds dogged British determination to escape. This makes little tactical sense to Ryan and a power struggle develops between he and Maj. Eric Fincham (Trevor Howard). As fate would have it, the have to make their escape whether they like it or not, thus an adventure develops aboard their getaway vehicle, a train.
This film has aged very well, not surprising because of the ensemble of talent involved. Frank Sinatra will remind you that he really could act, pulling off cool and sullen in a way that pre-dates even Steve McQueen, and Jerry Goldsmith steals the show with his iconic score – with early traces of Rambo II’s ripping and menacing music found here. The novel is also translated well to the screen, it is impressively paced.
Many movies of this ilk, of this era, would push the run time too far in chasing that ‘epic’ status, but this one clocks in at just under two hours. It’s very well paced, a movie that resists the temptation to have an opening blow out of some type and instead cleverly introduce and gel characters, but gradually upping the steam (pun intended) before reaching one of the best finale set pieces of the mid-20th century. Sinatra insisted on the fatalist ending change by the way, I think the film is better for it.
Reviews Von Ryan’s Express By The_Night_Rider From ManlyMovie.Net