Sunday 23 April 2023

Movie Review: Von Ryan's Express (1965)

Genre: World War Two Escape Thriller
Director: Mark Robson
Running Time: 117 minutes

Synopsis: In 1943, US Air Force pilot Colonel Joseph Ryan (Frank Sinatra) is captured in German-occupied Italy and thrown into a POW camp. He becomes the highest ranking prisoner, clashing with his predecessor British Major Eric Fincham (Trevor Howard). In the chaos of Italy's surrender all 400 inmates escape, but are eventually recaptured by the Germans and placed on a prisoner train. Ryan and Fincham lead the men in overpowering the guards, but plotting a path out of Nazi-controlled territory will be a challenge.

What Works Well: The adaptation of David Westheimer's book offers compelling dilemmas: Ryan's more humanistic approach to war backfires more than once, causing serious harm, earning him the title von Ryan, and pitting him at odds with the crustier Fincham. The production qualities are high, with sparkling on-location cinematography by William H. Daniels. Once the journey approaches Milan, the final chapter perks up considerably and director Mark Robson orchestrates stellar war action: the prisoner-commanded train plots a course towards freedom, but the Nazis pull out all the stops to recapture their prisoners.

What Does Not Work As Well: The plot tries too hard to amalgamate The Bridge On The River Kwai with The Great Escape, and is often stranded in search of purpose. The supporting cast is underpowered and lacking in memorable characters. The middle act on the rail tracks notably sags, both Sinatra and Howard taking a back seat to repetitive scenes of an American Chaplain impersonating a German commander and an Italian mistress introduced for decorative reasons.

Conclusion: Uneven but ultimately satisfyingly raucous World War Two adventure.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.


  1. This is a rare case where the movie has a much more downbeat ending than the book does. The book is a corker, if I remember, but it's been years since I read it.

    1. And the movie's ending works quite well in the context of the character's arc and lessons learned.


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