Von Ryan’s Express Ryan, an American POW, leads his fellow prisoners on a dangerous escape from the Germans in Italy. Having seemingly made errors of judgment, Ryan has to win the support of the mainly British soldiers he is commanding.
“You’ll Get The Iron Cross For This, Von Ryan”
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.
Von Ryan’s Express 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.
Von Ryan’s Express 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.