Thursday, June 17, 2021

#2,586. Von Ryan's Express (1965)


Frank Sinatra plays Colonel Joseph L. Ryan, a WWII American pilot whose plane is shot down over Italy. He soon finds himself the ranking officer at an Italian-run prisoner of war camp, and immediately butts heads with British major Eric Fincham (Trevor Howard), whose ultimate goal is to make life as difficult as possible for the camp’s commander, Battaglia (Adolfo Celi).

With the Allies closing in, the Italian guards abandon their posts, essentially turning the camp over to the prisoners. But a miscalculation on Ryan’s part results in every POW being re-captured by the Nazis and loaded into railway cars bound for Germany.

With time running out, Ryan and Fincham realize they must work together to find a way off that train before it reaches its destination.

Sinatra is solid as the title character, as is Trevor Howard as Fincham, the overzealous officer who believes in shooting first and asking questions later. Both of their characters face moral dilemmas throughout the movie - i.e. how best to handle a captured enemy soldier - and it’s the battle of wills that develops between the two that gives the movie its dramatic center (against Fincham’s advice, Ryan shows mercy to an enemy officer at one point, with disastrous results).

An exciting, often tense movie with a handful of great action sequences (culminating in a nail-biting finale), Von Ryan’s Express is nonetheless at its best when exploring how war can cause a man to rethink his principles, especially when the line between life and death grows narrower by the minute.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

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