Von Ryan's Express


1h 57m 1965
Von Ryan's Express

Brief Synopsis

Ryan, an American POW, leads his fellow prisoners on a dangerous escape from the Germans in Italy. Having seemingly made errors of judgement, Ryan has to win the support of the mainly British soldiers he is commanding.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Action
Adaptation
Thriller
War
Release Date
Jan 1965
Premiere Information
New York opening: 23 Jun 1965
Production Company
P--R Productions
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Von Ryan's Express by David Westheimer (Garden City, New York, 1964).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 57m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

In August 1943, Maj. Eric Fincham, a professional British soldier, is the ranking Allied officer in an Italian prisoner-of-war camp. He has tried to lead escapes but has always failed, and now he must relinquish his leadership to American Col. Joseph L. Ryan. Ryan's hard manner wins him the nickname "Von Ryan," and though he obtains better living conditions for his fellow prisoners, he is not popular among them. Ryan renews the plans for escape, and with Italian cooperation the prisoners take over a freight train transporting them into Germany and flee across Italy toward Switzerland. They are chased by a German troop train, attacked by German aircraft, and pursued by another Nazi train. Ryan kills Gabriella, an Italian collaborator, and he himself is killed, though most of the men arrive safely in Switzerland.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Action
Adaptation
Thriller
War
Release Date
Jan 1965
Premiere Information
New York opening: 23 Jun 1965
Production Company
P--R Productions
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Von Ryan's Express by David Westheimer (Garden City, New York, 1964).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 57m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Award Nominations

Best Sound Effects Sound Editing

1965

Articles

Von Ryan's Express -


"The most dangerous film ever made," asserted producer Saul David of Von Ryan's Express (1965), a World War II action movie filmed largely in the Italian Alps. Unlike other combat films of the era, this was not an all-star film but a vehicle for Frank Sinatra as a fighter pilot who crash-lands in Italy. He is taken to a POW camp where he clashes with the ranking British officer (Trevor Howard) over whether to organize an escape and how to deal with their captors. Eventually the action shifts to an extended sequence on a train that is taken over by the Allies; it hurtles through mountainous Nazi territory with breathtaking drops and with a German troop train hot on its tail.

In an article published at the time of the film's release, director Mark Robson detailed his meticulous prep work and the challenges of the production. "Our 'set' was half of Italy," he wrote, "from beyond Rome and across the Alps, following the course of a 16-boxcar freight train which was our major 'prop' in the story of the escape of 600 American and British prisoners of war from Nazi-controlled Italy." Robson spent three months preparing by simulating every move with a toy train and tracks. "I used a strong flashlight to represent the sun in planning what the lighting would be at all times of day on a northbound train."

Despite the planning, Robson was surprised to learn on location that the train cars he had to work with had slanted roofs, not flat-tops, which forced him to reimagine the hand to hand combat planned for atop the moving cars. He was also at the mercy of the Italian railway system, sharing the tracks with regular trains. "When I would get word that a fast freight or a passenger express train was coming our way, just when I was halfway through a sequence, I had to think fast how to get the action I wanted in the same matching light before I would have to pull the train into a side track."

After Italy, the company moved to El Chorro, Spain, "for scenes on a narrow railroad trestle in the mountains, with a 3000-foot drop to a gorge below." Trevor Howard came close to losing his life on this location. "As Howard led a group of men on foot across that trestle," Robson recalled, "two rotten ties gave way beneath him. Luckily, the thick cartridge belt he wore caught on a projection, and the two other actors -- Edward Mulhare and Sergio Fantoni -- pulled him to safety."

After the location work, the film shot for a month on a Twentieth Century-Fox soundstage, including scenes of actors rolling out from under a moving train, between wheels which had a ten-foot clearance between them. To achieve the strafing of the train by aerial rockets, miniatures were used in combination with a real train. Most of the action was filmed without sound, with about 70% of the entire film's dialogue added via post-production looping sections.

The picture was based on a novel by David Westheimer, who got the idea from his own experience as a prisoner of war in Italy. Frank Sinatra read it and wanted to star in a film version but he learned that Fox already owned the rights. Fox had recently lost a lot of money with Cleopatra (1963) and needed a hit. The studio was now back under the control of president Darryl Zanuck, who had left in 1956 in order to be an independent producer. Zanuck installed his son, Richard, as head of production, and Richard approved a deal for Sinatra that paid the star $250,000 plus fifteen percent of the gross.

Sinatra received superstar treatment. He clashed with director Robson, demanding that his scenes be shot consecutively. Author James Kaplan wrote that once on location, this proved difficult and expensive to achieve, which Robson explained to his star. "I know all that," Sinatra replied in front of cast and crew. "I didn't tell you how to schedule the picture. I just told you what I wanted, and you told me, in front of witnesses, that you could do it. That was the deal. So now do it! You hear?"

Sinatra was flown daily to the Italian Alps set on a chartered helicopter supplied by Fox, while everyone else made an hours-long drive. Actor James Brolin, appearing in one of his earliest movies, later told Trevor Howard's biographer Michael Munn of driving with Howard to the location in an old Citroen. "We'd be on the set from 8:00 and by about 10:30 nobody's shot anything. Then the helicopter arrives. Out steps Frank Sinatra. Everybody's ready for him in front of the cameras. The director calls 'Action! Camera!' and then you hear 'Cut! Print!' and he's back in the helicopter and off home, and we're still standing there. I think Trevor was a bit put out by all this favored treatment, which is understandable."

But the result was a solid performance by Sinatra that drew enthusiastic reviews, as did the crisp, well-paced film overall, which was a major commercial hit. "Sinatra at his best as an actor," said the Hollywood Citizen-News. "Fast, suspenseful and exciting," declared Variety. "The best of its kind since The Great Escape (1963)," said The Hollywood Reporter. "The action sequences on the train are thrillingly handled. The logistics of these scenes are enormous. Yet the picture slips along as slick as a highball express."

SOURCES:
James Kaplan, Sinatra: The Chairman
Timothy Knight, Sinatra: Hollywood His Way
Michael Munn, Trevor Howard: The Man and His Films
Mark Robson, "Filming the Unexpected." Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, July 18, 1965

By Jeremy Arnold

Von Ryan's Express -

Von Ryan's Express -

"The most dangerous film ever made," asserted producer Saul David of Von Ryan's Express (1965), a World War II action movie filmed largely in the Italian Alps. Unlike other combat films of the era, this was not an all-star film but a vehicle for Frank Sinatra as a fighter pilot who crash-lands in Italy. He is taken to a POW camp where he clashes with the ranking British officer (Trevor Howard) over whether to organize an escape and how to deal with their captors. Eventually the action shifts to an extended sequence on a train that is taken over by the Allies; it hurtles through mountainous Nazi territory with breathtaking drops and with a German troop train hot on its tail. In an article published at the time of the film's release, director Mark Robson detailed his meticulous prep work and the challenges of the production. "Our 'set' was half of Italy," he wrote, "from beyond Rome and across the Alps, following the course of a 16-boxcar freight train which was our major 'prop' in the story of the escape of 600 American and British prisoners of war from Nazi-controlled Italy." Robson spent three months preparing by simulating every move with a toy train and tracks. "I used a strong flashlight to represent the sun in planning what the lighting would be at all times of day on a northbound train." Despite the planning, Robson was surprised to learn on location that the train cars he had to work with had slanted roofs, not flat-tops, which forced him to reimagine the hand to hand combat planned for atop the moving cars. He was also at the mercy of the Italian railway system, sharing the tracks with regular trains. "When I would get word that a fast freight or a passenger express train was coming our way, just when I was halfway through a sequence, I had to think fast how to get the action I wanted in the same matching light before I would have to pull the train into a side track." After Italy, the company moved to El Chorro, Spain, "for scenes on a narrow railroad trestle in the mountains, with a 3000-foot drop to a gorge below." Trevor Howard came close to losing his life on this location. "As Howard led a group of men on foot across that trestle," Robson recalled, "two rotten ties gave way beneath him. Luckily, the thick cartridge belt he wore caught on a projection, and the two other actors -- Edward Mulhare and Sergio Fantoni -- pulled him to safety." After the location work, the film shot for a month on a Twentieth Century-Fox soundstage, including scenes of actors rolling out from under a moving train, between wheels which had a ten-foot clearance between them. To achieve the strafing of the train by aerial rockets, miniatures were used in combination with a real train. Most of the action was filmed without sound, with about 70% of the entire film's dialogue added via post-production looping sections. The picture was based on a novel by David Westheimer, who got the idea from his own experience as a prisoner of war in Italy. Frank Sinatra read it and wanted to star in a film version but he learned that Fox already owned the rights. Fox had recently lost a lot of money with Cleopatra (1963) and needed a hit. The studio was now back under the control of president Darryl Zanuck, who had left in 1956 in order to be an independent producer. Zanuck installed his son, Richard, as head of production, and Richard approved a deal for Sinatra that paid the star $250,000 plus fifteen percent of the gross. Sinatra received superstar treatment. He clashed with director Robson, demanding that his scenes be shot consecutively. Author James Kaplan wrote that once on location, this proved difficult and expensive to achieve, which Robson explained to his star. "I know all that," Sinatra replied in front of cast and crew. "I didn't tell you how to schedule the picture. I just told you what I wanted, and you told me, in front of witnesses, that you could do it. That was the deal. So now do it! You hear?" Sinatra was flown daily to the Italian Alps set on a chartered helicopter supplied by Fox, while everyone else made an hours-long drive. Actor James Brolin, appearing in one of his earliest movies, later told Trevor Howard's biographer Michael Munn of driving with Howard to the location in an old Citroen. "We'd be on the set from 8:00 and by about 10:30 nobody's shot anything. Then the helicopter arrives. Out steps Frank Sinatra. Everybody's ready for him in front of the cameras. The director calls 'Action! Camera!' and then you hear 'Cut! Print!' and he's back in the helicopter and off home, and we're still standing there. I think Trevor was a bit put out by all this favored treatment, which is understandable." But the result was a solid performance by Sinatra that drew enthusiastic reviews, as did the crisp, well-paced film overall, which was a major commercial hit. "Sinatra at his best as an actor," said the Hollywood Citizen-News. "Fast, suspenseful and exciting," declared Variety. "The best of its kind since The Great Escape (1963)," said The Hollywood Reporter. "The action sequences on the train are thrillingly handled. The logistics of these scenes are enormous. Yet the picture slips along as slick as a highball express." SOURCES: James Kaplan, Sinatra: The Chairman Timothy Knight, Sinatra: Hollywood His Way Michael Munn, Trevor Howard: The Man and His Films Mark Robson, "Filming the Unexpected." Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, July 18, 1965 By Jeremy Arnold

Von Ryan's Express - Frank Sinatra in the WWII Action Adventure - VON RYAN'S EXPRESS


Twenty years after the victory, WW2 war movies had undergone several 'tone' changes to maintain their audience, and with the advent of the James Bond movies they went through another. The pre-Bond The Guns of Navarone had made high adventure and light escapism out of what previously had been a solemn subject, and by 1965 pictures like Operation Crossbow presented exaggerated fiction as fact, without apologies. After the socko success of the mostly realistic 1963 The Great Escape, ex-airman turned novelist David Westheimer wrote Von Ryan's Express, a wild yarn that borrowed ideas from Escape and The Bridge on the River Kwai. Fox put it into production almost immediately, probably because temperamental star Frank Sinatra was enthusiastic to play the lead.

Synopsis: American flying Colonel Joe Ryan (Frank Sinatra) is tossed into an Italian P.O.W. camp run by a Fascist buffoon, Commandante Battaglia (Adolfo Celi) and his competent Captain Orinari (Sergio Fantoni). Led by the stubborn Major Fincham (Trevor Howard), the prisoners are resisting their confinement by digging escape tunnels and staging protests. Ryan risks being labeled a collaborator by showing Battaglia where the tunnels are, so that the sick and starving prisoners can receive proper treatment. When Battaglia refuses to keep his part of the bargain Ryan forces the distribution of new uniforms by having the men burn the rags they're wearing. One night the prison guards disappear, indicating that the Allies will soon liberate the camp. Ryan forbids Battaglia's execution by Fincham's kangaroo court. The prisoners march south but are re-captured, this time by German troops tipped by Battaglia. When the Germans shoot the wounded and herd the prisoners onto a Germany-bound train, Fincham dubs Ryan "Von Ryan" and vows to get even. That's when Ryan formulates a daring, lunatic plan: hijack the train, and somehow connive to re-route it to neutral Switzerland instead of Germany.

Von Ryan's Express helped pull 20th Fox out of its Cleopatra insolvency. The expensive war drama combines clever studio work in Los Angeles (the entire prison camp) with extensive location filming in Italy. Exuberant performances, especially that of blustery co-star and scene-stealer Trevor Howard, put over a clever pastiche of proven ingredients: a cruel prison camp, a mass escape, a daring caper. The spirit of high adventure is well served when the climax takes Von Ryan's runaway train high into the Italian Alps.

The continuous action and suspense remove the curse from the film's many clichés. The Italians are mostly lovers who don't want to fight, or duplicitous cowards like the commandant Battaglia. The Germans are sinister Gestapo agents, pompous officers and faceless soldiers easily garroted or gunned down. And with Frank Sinatra in charge, the film is skewed in the direction of an Ocean's Eleven romp: impersonating German soldiers is fun. Edward Mulhare's chaplain milks plenty of laughs when disguised as a high-ranking German martinet. He's only too convincing, of course. Sinatra makes an extremely unlikely German guard with no knowledge of the language beyond, "Ja." Yet he pulls off a tense bluff with a Gestapo creep who wants to buy his American pilot's watch.

The dialogue for Frank Sinatra's high-ranking Army Air Corps officer is custom tailored with Ring-a-Ding hipster talk, indicating that Ryan's furloughs must have been spent hanging out with very progressive Jazz musicians. Frankie is also given a sexy Italian foil in Rafaella Carra, who plays the consort of Wolfgang Preiss's scoffing Major. As is typical for 1960s films, Carra's outfit and hairstyle look more like Paris 1965 than Napoli 1944. Also somewhat anachronistic are the purring electronic organ riffs in Jerry Goldsmith's dynamic score, that would be a good fit for The Man From Uncle. But the elaborate footage of real trains in authentic Italian settings keeps Von Ryan's Express firmly on the rails.

The clever plot loses no opportunity for excitement, stalling Ryan's 'escape express' in the cliffs and tunnels of an Alpine pass. The machine guns get so much use they begin to sound like angry sewing machines. The deservedly famous ending goes against audience expectations; in 1965 it provided a 'word of mouth' kick that made Von Ryan's Express one of the year's most successful releases.

The Oscar-nominated Special Effects range from some good miniature trains (almost the entire nighttime firebombing scene) to some dynamic but weakly superimposed plane-fired rockets. The train sequences use a great deal of so-so rear-projection. But the picture's scariest scenes show the prisoners escaping from the moving railroad train by rolling out from underneath, darting between the wheels. It looks as if real stuntmen did that; I'll stay back at the motel.

Down the cast list we find John Leyton, the only actor both in this film and in The Great Escape. James Brolin, Richard Bakalyan and close Sinatra buddy Brad Dexter are Ryan's fellow Yank fliers.

Fox's Cinema Classics Collection two-disc release of Von Ryan's Express stretches the definition of a special edition. The feature transfer improves slightly on the earlier (2002) plain-wrap release but the volume of extras hardly requires a second disc. Fox's handsome repackaging job starts with the cover reproduction of the film's exciting poster art, an all-action image that mesmerized kids at matinees. Ol' Blue Eyes was fifty when the film was made, and it's amusing now to see his face painted atop the body of an Olympic sprinter. An insert for liner notes is very informative, while the 'lobby cards' are just four miniature color stills in a nice envelope.

The main extra is a making-of featurette that can't quite justify classic status for this efficient popcorn picture. We learn that producer-director Mark Robson had difficulties with the uncooperative Sinatra (really?) and Richard Zanuck explains yet again how Fox at this time was practically in receivership. The show lauds Sinatra's insistence that the ending be changed to alter the fate of his character. Although it's a smart choice that provides an extremely effective finale, it should be obvious that the star was just making sure that viewers would leave the theater thinking of him and not the train or the other characters. A second, less memorable featurette is entitled Hollywood and Its War Films.

Jon Burlingame shares screen time with Jerry Goldsmith's relatives on a pleasant career overview for the famous composer. A 'tribute' to Goldsmith's music turns out to be an annoying digest version of the film. Goldsmith is wonderful but the Von Ryan's Express score is not the best choice to billboard his talent. A second track on the main disc isolates the film's original music cues and adds commentary from Nick Redman, Lem Dobbs and John Burlingame. TV spots, trailers and a still gallery fill out the extras list. Fox's price is attractive, however, and that exciting cover illustration is hard to pass up!

For more information about Von Ryan's Express, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Von Ryan's Express, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson

Von Ryan's Express - Frank Sinatra in the WWII Action Adventure - VON RYAN'S EXPRESS

Twenty years after the victory, WW2 war movies had undergone several 'tone' changes to maintain their audience, and with the advent of the James Bond movies they went through another. The pre-Bond The Guns of Navarone had made high adventure and light escapism out of what previously had been a solemn subject, and by 1965 pictures like Operation Crossbow presented exaggerated fiction as fact, without apologies. After the socko success of the mostly realistic 1963 The Great Escape, ex-airman turned novelist David Westheimer wrote Von Ryan's Express, a wild yarn that borrowed ideas from Escape and The Bridge on the River Kwai. Fox put it into production almost immediately, probably because temperamental star Frank Sinatra was enthusiastic to play the lead. Synopsis: American flying Colonel Joe Ryan (Frank Sinatra) is tossed into an Italian P.O.W. camp run by a Fascist buffoon, Commandante Battaglia (Adolfo Celi) and his competent Captain Orinari (Sergio Fantoni). Led by the stubborn Major Fincham (Trevor Howard), the prisoners are resisting their confinement by digging escape tunnels and staging protests. Ryan risks being labeled a collaborator by showing Battaglia where the tunnels are, so that the sick and starving prisoners can receive proper treatment. When Battaglia refuses to keep his part of the bargain Ryan forces the distribution of new uniforms by having the men burn the rags they're wearing. One night the prison guards disappear, indicating that the Allies will soon liberate the camp. Ryan forbids Battaglia's execution by Fincham's kangaroo court. The prisoners march south but are re-captured, this time by German troops tipped by Battaglia. When the Germans shoot the wounded and herd the prisoners onto a Germany-bound train, Fincham dubs Ryan "Von Ryan" and vows to get even. That's when Ryan formulates a daring, lunatic plan: hijack the train, and somehow connive to re-route it to neutral Switzerland instead of Germany. Von Ryan's Express helped pull 20th Fox out of its Cleopatra insolvency. The expensive war drama combines clever studio work in Los Angeles (the entire prison camp) with extensive location filming in Italy. Exuberant performances, especially that of blustery co-star and scene-stealer Trevor Howard, put over a clever pastiche of proven ingredients: a cruel prison camp, a mass escape, a daring caper. The spirit of high adventure is well served when the climax takes Von Ryan's runaway train high into the Italian Alps. The continuous action and suspense remove the curse from the film's many clichés. The Italians are mostly lovers who don't want to fight, or duplicitous cowards like the commandant Battaglia. The Germans are sinister Gestapo agents, pompous officers and faceless soldiers easily garroted or gunned down. And with Frank Sinatra in charge, the film is skewed in the direction of an Ocean's Eleven romp: impersonating German soldiers is fun. Edward Mulhare's chaplain milks plenty of laughs when disguised as a high-ranking German martinet. He's only too convincing, of course. Sinatra makes an extremely unlikely German guard with no knowledge of the language beyond, "Ja." Yet he pulls off a tense bluff with a Gestapo creep who wants to buy his American pilot's watch. The dialogue for Frank Sinatra's high-ranking Army Air Corps officer is custom tailored with Ring-a-Ding hipster talk, indicating that Ryan's furloughs must have been spent hanging out with very progressive Jazz musicians. Frankie is also given a sexy Italian foil in Rafaella Carra, who plays the consort of Wolfgang Preiss's scoffing Major. As is typical for 1960s films, Carra's outfit and hairstyle look more like Paris 1965 than Napoli 1944. Also somewhat anachronistic are the purring electronic organ riffs in Jerry Goldsmith's dynamic score, that would be a good fit for The Man From Uncle. But the elaborate footage of real trains in authentic Italian settings keeps Von Ryan's Express firmly on the rails. The clever plot loses no opportunity for excitement, stalling Ryan's 'escape express' in the cliffs and tunnels of an Alpine pass. The machine guns get so much use they begin to sound like angry sewing machines. The deservedly famous ending goes against audience expectations; in 1965 it provided a 'word of mouth' kick that made Von Ryan's Express one of the year's most successful releases. The Oscar-nominated Special Effects range from some good miniature trains (almost the entire nighttime firebombing scene) to some dynamic but weakly superimposed plane-fired rockets. The train sequences use a great deal of so-so rear-projection. But the picture's scariest scenes show the prisoners escaping from the moving railroad train by rolling out from underneath, darting between the wheels. It looks as if real stuntmen did that; I'll stay back at the motel. Down the cast list we find John Leyton, the only actor both in this film and in The Great Escape. James Brolin, Richard Bakalyan and close Sinatra buddy Brad Dexter are Ryan's fellow Yank fliers. Fox's Cinema Classics Collection two-disc release of Von Ryan's Express stretches the definition of a special edition. The feature transfer improves slightly on the earlier (2002) plain-wrap release but the volume of extras hardly requires a second disc. Fox's handsome repackaging job starts with the cover reproduction of the film's exciting poster art, an all-action image that mesmerized kids at matinees. Ol' Blue Eyes was fifty when the film was made, and it's amusing now to see his face painted atop the body of an Olympic sprinter. An insert for liner notes is very informative, while the 'lobby cards' are just four miniature color stills in a nice envelope. The main extra is a making-of featurette that can't quite justify classic status for this efficient popcorn picture. We learn that producer-director Mark Robson had difficulties with the uncooperative Sinatra (really?) and Richard Zanuck explains yet again how Fox at this time was practically in receivership. The show lauds Sinatra's insistence that the ending be changed to alter the fate of his character. Although it's a smart choice that provides an extremely effective finale, it should be obvious that the star was just making sure that viewers would leave the theater thinking of him and not the train or the other characters. A second, less memorable featurette is entitled Hollywood and Its War Films. Jon Burlingame shares screen time with Jerry Goldsmith's relatives on a pleasant career overview for the famous composer. A 'tribute' to Goldsmith's music turns out to be an annoying digest version of the film. Goldsmith is wonderful but the Von Ryan's Express score is not the best choice to billboard his talent. A second track on the main disc isolates the film's original music cues and adds commentary from Nick Redman, Lem Dobbs and John Burlingame. TV spots, trailers and a still gallery fill out the extras list. Fox's price is attractive, however, and that exciting cover illustration is hard to pass up! For more information about Von Ryan's Express, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Von Ryan's Express, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Filmed in Italy.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1965

Released in United States 1998

Released in United States on Video May 25, 1989

CinemaScope

Released in United States 1965

Released in United States 1998 (Shown in New York City (Walter Reade) as part of program "A Salute to Sinatra" August 21 - September 8, 1998.)

Released in United States on Video May 25, 1989