Von Ryan's Express: Cinema Classics Collection – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com


Mark Robson


Frank Sinatra … Colonel Joseph L. Ryan
Trevor Howard … Major Eric Fincham

The Movie

Long before Will Smith’s music career became secondary to his acting, Frank Sinatra turned a legendary music career into one of the most prolific acting careers of his generation. He did drama, heist capers, comedy and action without missing a beat. He also did several war films, with two being the most prominent: From Here to Eternity and Von Ryan’s Express. Both are symbolic of the sort of war films produced in that era. From Here to Eternity was a drama based around the events of Pearl Harbor, focusing on the relationships of those on the island during the attack.

Von Ryan’s Express is the other type, closer to The Great Escape as it’s much more about the action than the drama. Sinatra stars as Colonel Joseph Ryan, captured during WW II by Mussolini’s Fascists and placed in a prison camp. Trying to keep him and the men in the camp alive, Ryan breaks up several plans of escape by his fellow prisoners and earns the nickname “Von Ryan” because of it. Earning the ire of those around him, Ryan convinces the inmates to escape with a most interesting plot. After the Italians surrender, and their quick recapture by invading Nazi forces, they are put on a train to be sent to prisoner camps. Ryan’s resolve is to commandeer the train and ride it to freedom in Switzerland.

Unlike most war films, this one is entirely based on fiction as opposed to fact, so it’s a lot less somber and much more outgoing than the typical war film. It’s closer to The Great Escape than The Thin Red Line in terms of tone, much more of an action-adventure film than a meditation on man’s inhumanity to one another. As a less serious affair than the genre generally dictates – as well as it’s not based on a true story – the story-telling abilities Mark Robson can utilize are much greater because he doesn’t have to stay within the confines of a story.

It doesn’t hurt he has one of the great actors of the period in a role designed for him. The script seemingly was written for Sinatra to play, and years later it was discovered that the script had in fact been rewritten for his style, but nevertheless Sinatra is golden in the role. Ryan is the sort of character he made his career on, and it doesn’t hurt that he has the great British character actor Trevor Howard as a nemesis. As Major Fincham, head of the British contingent of soldiers in which both men find themselves, Howard and Sinatra have a great chemistry opposite one another. The story is engaging enough to make us interested, the two keep us interested with the way they interact with each other.

Von Ryan’s Express remains as one of the better known films from Sinatra by aficionados, but unfortunately he’s remembered more so because of the films he’s done that have been remade by other actors.

The Audio

Presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 format, the film takes full advantage of he format. The film’s sound is as strong and powerful as any modern war movie, as the film’s often imitated score comes through wonderfully.

The Video

Von Ryan’s Express is presented in a widescreen format with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. It’s a good transfer, but nothing special, as the film’s colors are a bit soft and thus the picture is good but not great.

The Extras

Reliving the Adventure of Von Ryan’s Express is a look back at the film’s production. Initially based on an autobiography, the script was later fictionalized and adapted into a Sinatra action film. It’s a breezy 13-minute look back at the proceedings, detailing in particular how difficult Sinatra was to work with.

Hollywood and its war films is a look back on how the war film has evolved from being more jingoistic to being more violent and gritty. With a series of film critics and historians weighing in, it’s a unique perspective on how war films developed into being more about how war affects men than anything else.

The Music of Von Ryan’s Express is a quick feature about the film’s music. It highlights all the film’s scenes that use the now legendary score.

Bringing Movies to Life: The Legacy of Jerry Goldsmith is a feature about the film’s composer. Nominated for nearly 20 Oscars, and winning only one, it’s a short but interesting piece. Goldsmith was one of Hollywood’s most prolific and memorable composers, having been the man behind the soundtracks for Patton, The Omen, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Planet of the Apes, and many others besides Von Ryan’s Express.

There is a Still Gallery as well as the original TV Spots and Theatrical Trailer included as well.

The DVDLounge’s Ratings for
Von Ryan’s Express: Cinema Classics Collection
(OUT OF 10)