Von Ryan's Express (1965) Poster

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"If only one gets out, it's a victory."
farne19 December 2004
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.
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Hey it works for me...
z_crito20014 January 2001
*** Warning ***: I make a few references to this film's plot in the comments below.

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.
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A first-class as well as entertaining WWII story of escape from a prisoner-of-war concentration camp aboard a train
ma-cortes15 February 2014
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.
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"You'll Get The Iron Cross For This, Von Ryan"
bkoganbing7 June 2006
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.
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Adventure Thriller, Well-Made; Unusual Action Premise
silverscreen88813 July 2005
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.
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Not far off being amongst the best
nick_elliston10 August 2005
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.
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Satisfying WW II yarn
Wizard-815 August 1999
"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 action.

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.
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Sinatra shines in classic war movie
lonniebealeusa21 June 2002
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.
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Exciting if implausible
RNMorton26 May 2003
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.
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Better Than You Think
DD-93123 December 2001
Warning: Spoilers
I first saw this movie in the theatre when I was ten years old (in 1965), and I immediately decided it was my favorite movie of all time. Think about it. A ten year old kid deciding what was the best movie of all time. Now I'm older, and VON RYAN'S EXPRESS is no longer my choice for the best movie of all time. It's not even in my top ten. Can you believe it? I've got to tell you, though, I've seen it more recently, and it's still a damn good movie.


This may be the last movie Frank Sinatra did where he served the script rather than go the movie star route. His character is not likeable (Hence the "Von" Ryan moniker), makes mistakes, and is clearly driven by guilt in his decisions. When he shoots the woman in the back while dressed as a Nazi in front of the Italian boy - I consider it the last great scene of his career. And the way he gets shot in the back at the end and goes down on the tracks is a cinematic image I'll never forget. By the way, I don't think many people know how remarkable the ending of this movie is. Not only was it unusual for a major star to die at the end of a movie back in 1965, but the fact is, the original novel this movie is based on ends with Ryan SURVIVING, making it to Switzerland with the train! They actually changed the plot to go for a bigger downer of an ending!


Anyway, damn good cast (especially Trevor Howard), the plot is very solid, and my only quibble, about the German planes looking nothing like WWII German aircraft, is not limited to VON RYAN'S EXPRESS. After all, those same aircraft were used as WWII German aircraft in THE GREAT ESCAPE.

This movie takes me back. In the best way.
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Great adventure war movie ruined by a poor end
Luigi Di Pilla20 June 2005
It begins slow and gets faster and faster until the end. The color is wonderful and the music from Jerry Goldsmith well tuned to each scene. The screenplay is well adapted and the special effects good executed. The train scenes are very interesting to see and for all old locomotive lovers a must see. I liked the escape by train from south of Italy to the mountains of Switzerland.

I share the opinions on IMDb that Frank Sinatra delivered one of his best performance of his career. Interesting seeing also Wolfgang Preiss that has for me the right profile for a SS. He characterizes in several war movies always a high SS and this in a very believable way. The end therefore was very poor and it seemed to me that they wanted just to stop somewhere the story.

After THE TRAIN with Burt Lancaster and THE GREAT ESCAPE with Steve Mc Queen this is another good adventure war movie to add to my best of DVD collection. If you ask me which one of these three I like the most I would classify it as follows: 1) THE GREAT ESCAPE (read my critic) 2) VON RYAN'S EXPRESS 3) THE TRAIN (black and white, read my critic)

My vote: 7/10 that matches exactly the rating on IMDb.
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Robson's film gives us the necessary thrills to be pleased...
Nazi_Fighter_David6 October 2002
Warning: 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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Von Ryan's Express on Reel 13
eplromeo83 February 2009
I had last seen VON RYAN'S EXPRESS (Mark Robson, 1965) a long time ago as a kid as one of many WWII movies that my father loved and wanted to introduce me to. Watching it again as an adult on Reel 13 last night, I realized that the film is not as strong or fun as I remembered. As a matter of fact, it is probably among the weaker films of its genre. Its superior contemporaries are films like THE GREAT ESCAPE (John Sturges, 1963), THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (J. Lee Thompson, 1961) and THE TRAIN (John Frankenheimer, 1964). The difference, I believe, is personality. All three of the films feature characters, both leading and supporting, that are significantly more fleshed out, three-dimensional and therefore, interesting.

While VRE contains some impressive and well-choreographed action sequences, it isn't worth a damn without stronger character detail. The titular Colonel Ryan lacks any distinguishing characteristics or traits. He's a two-dimensional cookie-cutter war hero and its no wonder Frank Sinatra looks so bored playing him. The usually reliable Trevor Howard is frustratingly annoying as the head of the British forces in the film – Major Fincham. His only character feature is that he is a wet blanket for two hours, constantly whining, complaining and naysaying at every turn. It might have been a much better film if Sinatra had just shot him in the early going.

Another positive aspect of VON RYAN'S EXPRESS is the level of detail put into the WWII accuracy. While I'm no history expert and they could have made dozens of mistakes that I didn't catch, everything seemed to be precise, from the style of trains and plains to the uniforms to the military procedures. Even if they missed something, Robson and screenwriters Wendell Mayes and Joseph Landon take great pains to explain how things work so that we understand how our heroes overcome each obstacle that falls in their path. It is always clear and sensible how each approaching problem is solved. The tradeoff, however, as is common amongst plot-heavy films, is that you run the risk sacrificing character development. Great films are a balance of plot and character. The three films I mention above managed to achieve that. VON RYAN'S EXPRESS did not.

(For more information on this or any other Reel 13 film, check out their website at www.reel13.org)
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"You'll Get Your Iron Cross, Von Ryan!"
stp4321 February 2003
Told by associates that he needed to branch away from the "Rat Pack home movies" he'd been doing since The Manchurian Candidate, Frank Sinatra signed on for this 1965 POW epic that ranks as among his best films.

Colonel Joseph Ryan is shot down in Italy in August 1943, around the time of the Allied invasion of Sicily. Hidden from the Germans by Italian soldiers, Ryan winds up in a prison camp run by the sadistic Battaglia (Adolfo Celi, best known as Emilio Largo in 1965's James Bond epic Thunderball). The primary residents of the camp are the members of the Royal Army's 9th Fusilleers, headed by Major Fincham (Trevor Howard) and a few American prisoners. Fincham and the 9th Fusilleers have been waging their own private war against Battaglia, and when their commander dies (one of several trying to escape), British resistance hardens. But with Sicily on the ropes, Italy is bound to quit the war, and with malaria breaking out, Ryan, now senior among the POWs, is convinced by the other American prisoners that the camp needs to cooperate with Battaglia and get medicines and so forth.

This is the moral dilemma that begins the rocky relationship between Ryan and Fincham and his men. Ryan shows Battaglia escape tunnels dug by the POWs in exchange for medicine, bath water, and clean clothes, but is betrayed by the camp commander. So Ryan gives an audacious order, one that embarasses Battaglia (and brings humor to Captain Oriani, his XO and a officer who sympathizes with the prisoners) and leads Ryan to a sweatbox to rot away, a punishment that earns him respect by the British prisoners.

But when Italy surrenders a few days later, Fincham puts Battaglia on trial, even though, as Ryan points out, with Italy out of the war, Battaglia is now a civilian. Ryan convinces the vengeance-minded British to stuff Battaglia in the sweatbox to rot, which angers the more vengful Fincham. But they all have to put their squabbles aside as the Germans are marching into Italy.

Ryan leads the prisoners on a march across the land, but they are captured by the Germans and placed in a train for a German Stalag; making it worse, injured prisoners are slaughtered (off camera but clearly heard) and the one who betrays Ryan and Fincham turns up long enough to quietly gloat - and earn seemingly permanent hatred by Fincham toward Ryan.

But Ryan isn't through yet, as he leads a daring second escape, seizing the train, only to have to keep going north to escape detection, with their one chance being a one-way trip to neutral Switzerland.
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Tosses away it's own merits
onepotato212 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I watched this on Hulu.com last night. Early on I was really struck by the location footage, convincing grimy sets, dark cinematography, and the inability to guess where it was all going. All of this is pretty amazing for the time, and for a Sinatra vehicle. Even after it was clearly only going to be a pot-boiler, I was willing to keep watching.

But by the ninety minute mark all of its potential is pretty much expired, as it anxiously rushes to become something much smaller; a prison break movie. It's clearly only going to be a piece of escapism. And things begin to drag. The premise (of the Oh-Come-On! variety) becomes ridiculous, and a bundle of moments constructed to raise tension just made me roll my eyes. The only way the movie could be of interest is if the escape was a true event. It's not. So every belabored, manufactured moment of the last hour (It's too long) damages more and more of the good will created in the earlier, better half. It just tries much too late to become "meaningful."

Some aspects of the production don't even try to look like the early forties. The female role is completely out of 1965. Trevor Howard plays another Brit pain in the arse.
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"A bird-colonel out-ranks a bird-brain, clear?"
bensonmum212 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Von Ryan's Expess is an enjoyable enough WWII escape film, but it's far from perfect. The plot is simple and straightforward – a band of allied POWs, led by Colonel Joseph L. Ryan (Frank Sinatra), take over a German prisoner train and use it to find freedom in Switzerland. While the plot may be far-fetched, it makes for an interesting idea for a movie. The acting is good, but I don't think this is Sinatra's best moment. Regardless of what others have said, I'm of the opinion that almost anyone could have played the part of Colonel Ryan – and probably played it better. The real star to me is Trevor Howard. He steals every scene in which he appears. Locations, sets, and the use of a real train give the film a fairly authentic feel. The scenes filmed in the mountains are particularly impressive.

But, as I stated, Von Ryan's Express is not perfect. Beyond the problems I have with the story's absurdity and Sinatra's acting, the movie runs on far too long. Tighter editing, particularly early on in the film, might have made for a better film. There really isn't much going on before the escape gets underway that couldn't have been edited by about 15 minutes. Also, some of the action sequences are far from realistic. There are too many scenes where the German soldiers fall like dominoes while being completely unable to hit anything with their guns. It just looks silly.

In the end, even with the shortcomings, Von Ryan's Express is an entertaining movie. But it's those shortcomings that keep me from rating it any higher.
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Get on board with Frankie Blue Eyes.
hitchcockthelegend7 July 2010
Out of 20th Century Fox, Von Ryan's Express is directed by Mark Robson & stars Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard. It's adapted by Wendell Mayes & Joseph Landon from the novel by David Westheimer. William H. Daniels is on photography and Jerry Goldsmith provides the score. Contary to what some sources say, this is not filmed in Panavision, it is filmed in Fox's trusted CinemaScope in De Luxe Color. Unless the opening credits are telling lies that is!

Italy, August 1943. With the Allies poised to strike, the Germans seize control of Italy. So the war Weary Italian nation fought on as a prisoner of the German armies.

Reeling from the critical kicking and gargantuan financial whack of "Cleopatra", 20th Century Fox desperately wanted a hit to put the company back on an even keel. Treating the project with kid gloves, producer Saul David (director Robson co-produces) for his first producing gig for Fox takes one of the biggest names in showbiz and shoots on location in Italy and Spain. The film was a big hit that got a strong critical response and a box office take that made it the 10th highest grossing film of 1965. Of note also is that it turned out to be Sinatra's highest grossing - and biggest earning - film of the 1960s.

With some changes from the novel, notably the ending, Von Ryan's Express isn't setting out to be a deep and meaningful war movie. It wants to entertain, to thrill the audience, to take them out of the stuffy prison camp and onto a fast moving train. And it does this, in spades, pitting our protagonists into a boys own adventure. We accompany Sinatra, Howard and over 500 American and British prisoners-of-war across 1943 Nazi controlled Italy - and hopefully to the safety of Switzerland. Once the film leaves the "Bridge On The River Kwai" like prison camp, where the characters for the story are formed, the film turns into a rip-roaring adventure piece that's flecked with moments of genuine suspense.

Directed with vigour and a sense of fun by Robson, and aided no end by the fine cast, the film is all about being an old fashioned type war movie. It's not bogged down by the need to adhere to history or "the horrors of war" message making, this thrives on just being an action/adventure movie, one that uses real life events as its backdrop. If you like a war movie but want escapism with some beer and snacks, well this is the one for you. There are some strong character moments to keep it emotionally viable too - with the ending particularly memorable, and dare I say it, bold (altered at Sinatra's request apparently). Even the appearance of a female on board our machismo packed train (Raffaella Carrà) serves an important purpose. For where it at first seems out of place, a token offering, it ultimately makes for a critical piece of the film.

Technically the piece scores high too, with effective stunt work, smart action set pieces (the last quarter bridge confrontations are thrillingly executed), sharp detailed colour and ear busting sound work (check out the Messerschmitt attack, wow!). This be an all encompassing piece of entertainment. Easily holding up on revisits over the years, Von Ryan's Express is a safe recommendation to the action/adventure/war film fan. 8/10
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A Train Too Far
Sonatine9727 July 2003
An overlong WWII "prison escape" actioner, starring the singer-turned-actor Frank "My Way" Sinatra and stout, dependable Brit, Trevor "It will never work!" Howard.

Coming very much on the heels of the more famous "The Great Escape", Von Ryan's Express (VRE) is very much style over content compared to its more involving & character-driven bigger brother.

For Steve McQueen, we now have Frank as, Jo Von Ryan, an America POW encamped with a load of Brit POWs in deepest Italy. The first half of the film concentrates on the grimness & harsh reality spent in the sweltering prison camp, where living conditions are unbearable and the Italian guards (led by a wasted Adolfi Celi) brutal.

But, unlike The Great Escape, very little time is spent fleshing out the lead characters into people we can care about. Instead, director Mark Robson, just touches the edges with the usual stereotypical characterization that simply doesn't work at all.

Sinatra is your typical New Yorker with attitude, and Howard, is your typical British Stiff-Upper-Lipped cynic who doesn't like been told what to do by a Yank. And that's about it as far as characterisation before Robson, moves the film up a couple of gears to an all-out actioner.

Some of the action sequences are quite well done, even though the majority of the shots are taken on board a train on its way to Switzerland. But to me, Robson, fails to capitalise on turning each key sequence into something really memorable. He first sets a scene up, but then fails to develop it other than to resorting to a hamfisted shootout that's all over in a matter of minutes.

Compare this style to that of The Great Escape, when the sequences are developed and ratcheted up gradually, resulting in a very satisfactory pay off at the end of each one.

None-the-less, VRE does have its moments, but I think the choice of Sinata as the action hero just doesn't quite ring true somehow. Every time disaster strikes I keep on thinking he is going to grab the nearest microphone and burst into song with "My Way" or something.

Even the direction and script is only moderately well done, the cinematography is quite excellent, especially with some very good exterior shots of the Swiss Alps. The music, also, is quite useful, and helps pace the movie without drowning it too much in pathos, especially the rather shocking (by Hollywood standards)finale

That said, VRE still falls way short in the suspense & entertainment stakes of any comparable film of its era such as The Great Escape, Guns Of Navarone or the truly excellent Where Eagles Dare.

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"I took a trip on a train.................."
ianlouisiana6 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Mr Sinatra brings his Las Vegas schtick to the European theatre of war.He plays a USAF Colonel whose plane is shot down in Italy(and that can't have been easy).He is captured and ,complete with nifty band-aid,sent to a prisoner of war camp run by that nasty Adolfo Celi(complete with nifty corset). He is very grumpy(what did he expect - Room Service?)and not popular with his fellow Americans(all four of them). Mr Sinatra does not feel that trying to escape from the camp at this late stage in the campaign,balancing the risks against the likely benefits,is a worthwhile exercise.The British contingent led by uber-grump Mr Trevor Howard clash violently with his opinion which amounts to Camp policy as he outranks the Brit major. At this point the film could have developed into an interesting study of conflict between the two senior officers but John Sturgess is no David Lean and "Von Ryan's Express" trundles up the track already trod by countless second-rate war movies . Music Hall Italians who make "'ello 'ello" seem like "Bicycle thieves" and Germans who should seriously consider contacting the Race Relations Board are outwitted or slaughtered by POWs escaping after the end of the campaign as predicted by Col Sinatra,during a train ride to more northern climes. The ultimate body count must make "Where Eagles Dare" seem like "Winnie-the-Pooh and the Blustery Day".I'm amazed the Germans had enough blokes left to make a go of the rest of the war. I hope with all my heart that nobody has ever taken "Von Ryan's Express" remotely seriously.It is gratuitously insulting to combat troops of every European nation that fought in the second world war.Bernard Manning would make a more convincing Air Force Colonel than Mr Sinatra,but he wouldn't look as snazzy in a brown leather blouson. "I took a trip on a train.....and I thought about you",he crooned on "Songs for Swinging Lovers".Well,he got it half right.If he'd really thought about anybody but himself he'd have got on a bus.
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(*Movie Quote*) - "And, Such Things Do Not Happen In America?"
strong-122-47888510 December 2015
Released in 1965 (and starring a noticeably scrawny, 50-year-old Frank Sinatra as the title character), I honestly found this WW2, hero-worship, drama to be hardly worth getting very excited about.

With its decidedly weak, paint-by-numbers storyline, this film certainly pushed the limits of daring and resourceful heroics just a little too far for their own good.

If nothing else - This 2-hour war/drama (set in 1943 in Italy) definitely went well out of its way to prove to its audience that the Nazis were all just a bunch of bungling "dummkopfs" (natch). And, in the same breath, this film repeatedly reinforced Colonel Ryan's complete adaptability and quick-thinking as though it were his second language, or something.

Anyway - For me, the comical highlight of this picture came about in a scene involving a pair of nylon stockings. I mean, you really need to see this scene for yourself in order to believe it in all of its utterly laughable absurdity.
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War or train film?
MerchantVenturer9 January 2005
Having read several other comment features on this film I haven't much to add.

I think it is a rattling good story, well acted and directed, with the additional virtues of superb scenery and plenty of railway action. I often wonder whether the film appeals more to war buffs or railway buffs.

My main purpose in writing this short comment is to answer a query posed by another member in his/her comment.

I was told many, many years ago that the railway scenes through the mountains involving the tunnels were filmed on the line that runs from Innsbruck, Austria up to the mountain resort of Seefeld. The line is still open, used mainly by trains travelling from Innsbruck to Munich (Munchen), Germany (and vice versa).

I have travelled this stretch of line and have little doubt this is the route used in the film.
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Production Values Lift Ludicrous Film
verbusen19 June 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I've watched VRE many times over the last 40 plus years. It was shown constantly on broadcast TV when I was a teen in the 1970's New York City (Sinatra, New York favorite), and because it's a decent action war film, I usually always watched it. I just rewatched VRE today (after at least 20 years) on a cable movie channel and showed it to my wife for her first time. I once would have rated this film a 9 or maybe a 10 even, but now it ranks as a 6 for me. My wife did watch it all so it is a decent escapist film. However, we started to make fun of it because the whole premise is they are escaping the Germans to go to Switzerland to "be free". When you got to Switzerland in real life during WW2 they put you in an interment camp until the end of the war, something the film never discusses. So Ryan is getting everyone killed off to save his reputation in general since he really messes up in the beginning of the film, getting shot down and captured in the first place and sparing the Camp CO. If you remember while watching the film, nearly every one of the POW's dies.....twice. It's hysterical but at the end they have the same amount of prisoners as at the beginning. And ammunition? This has a 1940's B Western mentality, unlimited ammo in the guns. And almost all of the WHOLE German army are armed with sub machine guns. Yawn. A flamethrower would have been cool at the end no matter what side used one. And Italiano Frank Sinatra doesn't understand a single word of Italian? And he's a Colonel flying a fighter plane with no wingman and decides to crash on the land instead of out at sea? Yawning on my 20th rewatch but the wife did stay around to see the ending (and laughed when she saw it). I give it a 6 because although the story is stupid, the production values are really high with the location shooting (it's a better film then the really lame Sinatra war film None But The Brave (also from 1965) which I give a 4 of 10 and also co stars Brad Dexter, (the least memorable Magnificent Seven member)). The fighter planes at the end were also cool as they were actual German planes not Mustangs (nor actual 109's but at least they were trainers from the period (108's)), so it's better then watching Battle Of The Bulge using American cold war tanks as Tigers. Finally, run through the tunnel! Why is it shorter to run around a mountain instead of through a tunnel anyway?
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Exciting war drama with good cast and filming!
secondtake30 March 2013
Von Ryan's Express (1965)

Not exactly a Frank Sinatra vehicle, but he is the leading figure in a movie that has lots of ulterior motives. And it pulls off an action film about World War II with pizazz.

When the war ended there was a lot of consternation about the difference in the roles of the two European antagonists--the Germans and the Italians. That's maybe the biggest ongoing theme of this movie, and clearly the Italians are being shown as victims and eventually as heroes to the Americans once the troops start to arrive and the Nazi occupation is pushed out. This is set and filmed in Italy, and the locations are terrific. And so is the filming, nicely dramatic widescreen stuff.

Sinatra represents, in almost all his film roles, a kind of regular guy who isn't overly engaged but who is gentle and relaxed and ready to do the right thing. He's a real American archetype just as much as Bogart was, and his characters (including this one) mix a compelling personal demeanor with a moral fiber that makes him admirable. He doesn't seduce the woman who really is ready to let him. He doesn't put criticize his British counterpart in the prison until he has to. He stands up to the enemy but doesn't every sound arrogant or nasty. He's the ultimate good guy and is presented this way for the ongoing reason often seen in post-war American films, establishing a national character in film characters that matches the best of what was really in the air and on the ground in the U.S. at the time.

It's all pretty wonderful to watch. You admire him and wish there were more people like him around.

The plot is exciting as heck. What starts as a kind of prison break movie shifts to another kind of escape and survive movie, with a train running right through enemy territory. Filled with daring, with this one American amidst mostly British soldiers, the enemy is dispatched, tricked, and evaded several times. When the good guys fail, it's only temporarily.

And ultimately the good guys, beyond Sinatra's American type, are the Italians, who are shown to hate the Germans and are glad for the invasion by the British and Americans.
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Understated War Epic
vostf17 May 2012
Von Ryan's Express looks like a project never going full steam because of its star. There's this idea of an anti-hero, or more accurately reluctant and cautious hero. Sounds good for Sinatra's image, to look more like a common man, not a hero bigger than life kicking German butts with a big smile. But it's pretty awkward actually.

Sinatra's character is slow in taking decisions and you're never too sure that taking command is not something he regrets the minute after he comes forward to give orders. On the whole, except for the final suspense, the movie drags its feet in line with Col. Ryan's reluctance to assume the mission of escaping. Trevor Howard is good, as always, but his role seems too much tailored to make Sinatra look nice and good.

Eventually, while you would expect a breath-taking action war movie, you get much more self-conscious a war movie (mid-60s were starting to look at war on a different angle) and thus it feels mostly unfocused. Wrong angle then: too challenging an approach which is continually conflicting with the main subject of a troop on the move. The Great Escape may have been too pompous, it was really focused and having most of the action unfolding in the POW camp was essential.
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A couple of interesting things
jeremy321 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
By 1965, there were a zillion WWII movies made. By the time the Beatles came along, the public must have been tired of this. However, this movie does provide adventure and some atypical moments. Usually movies about WWII show Americans as "good" and the British as "snobs". In this movie, however, the relations were more as they truly were. They got along okay, but there were true tensions and differences that were not based solely on perceived class mentality differences. I can only say that Frank Sinatra is probably the best ever singer turned actor. He truly was a great actor on his own accord. He has to convince the seasoned veteran British Major (Trevor Howard) that he is truly deserving of being a higher ranking Colonel. The other thing I like is that it wasn't all a happy rah, rah movie. Colonel Ryan ends up shooting an Italian woman in the back (disguised as a German soldier, in front of a throng of Italian civilians), who was running away (and would have probably ratted them out to the Nazis). This is not an easy scene. I also like that Ryan dies in the end. Usually, it is a happy ending. The ending is not-so-happy, because Ryan dies saving the rest of his soldiers' lives. Lastly, it really was filmed in Italy.
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