Tuesday, 6 September 2016

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Von Ryan's Express (Mark Robeson, 1965)

Man, I love this movie. I have a thing for thrillers set on trains, and this is one of the best.

Frank Sinatra stars as US fighter pilot Colonel Joseph Ryan.

Shot down over Italy during the Allied invasion in 1943, Ryan is captured by the Italians and sent to a POW camp. Ryan finds himself imprisoned with the remains of a British regiment, led by Major Fincham (Trevor Howard). With their differing philosophies toward their situation (Fincham wants to escape while Ryan wants to wait for the Allies to arrive), the two are immediately at loggerheads.

Due to the Allied advance, the Italians flee the camp, and the prisoners attempt a breakout. They are caught by the Germans, and put on a prison train heading north.

What follows is a moving version of The Great Escape (John Sturges, 1963), as Ryan and his men stage a takeover of the train and then orchestrate passage to the Swiss border. 

A great old school war picture, Von Ryan's Express is more concerned with suspense and character than action. Hemmed in all sides by the German war machine, the prisoners are forced to using all manner of subterfuge to avoid detection.

The acting is generally good. Sinatra and Howard are great, but Edward Mulhare is the real standout as the regiment's German-speaking governor. He is the 'star' of the film's best suspense sequence -- masquerading as an SS officer, he has to get off the train and convince the authorities to re-route the train. 

I don't want to spoil too much, but if you have a chance, check this one out. An under-seen gem.

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