Ain't It Cool News (
Movie News

A Movie A Day: Quint catches VON RYAN’S EXPRESS (1965)
I once told you Ryan, if only one gets out, it's a victory.

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] Okay. I still didn’t get much sleep, but I’m bound and determined to make this a full AMAD installment. We follow over writer Wendell Mayes from yesterday’s THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS… Mayes had a fascinating career. He not only wrote today’s VON RYAN’S EXPRESS, but also had a hand in previous AMAD In Harm’s Way as well as the great and underseen Gregory Peck Western Thriller STALKING MOON, cheesy-but-still-goddamn-awesome THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and DEATH WISH. This film hit in a weird time. This was two years before THE DIRTY DOZEN and KELLY'S HEROES sort of put a big old period on this type of film, but came after other great men-on-a-mission WW2 flicks like GUNS OF NAVARONE and to a certain extent THE GREAT ESCAPE. I’m afraid it kind of got lost amongst those giants, at least in popular knowledge. I don’t know if I’d say VON RYAN’S EXPRESS is as good as any of those movies, but it is an immensely enjoyable film and worth a viewing if you haven’t seen it. Basically you got Frank Sinatra as an American pilot that is shot down in Italy during WW2. Fascists at this point, the Italians are on sketchy ground with the Nazis, the alliance stretched thin. So while Sinatra is a POW, he’s not in German hands. Rather he is put in an Italian POW camp filled with mostly British soldiers where he’s given the nickname Von Ryan for working closely with the Italians, knowing that Italy’s surrender is close. He works to keep as many of the POWs alive, going so far as to betray an escape plan in order to barter for medicine and a healthier living area. When the POW camp is abandoned, Ryan leads the POWs out, but they quickly fall into German hands and are gathered together on a prisoner train. The bulk of the movie is set on the train and our guys taking it and using it to flee to Switzerland.

As with all movies of this type, the film rests upon how well drawn the characters are and one of this film’s many strengths are the character types. Sinatra is… Sinatra. Suave, cool, badass, but he’s paired with a British soldier played by the great Trevor Howard and boy does Howard play him grouchy. I love it. This poor bastard has been leading these captives for months, watching his people get sick and die all the while carefully planning a tunnel-digging to freedom only to have this bloody American come in and in a day pull rank and ruin all his planning. It’s a great dichotomy. Howard doesn’t trust Sinatra and is constantly second guessing him, but is too steeped in army protocol to directly contradict him. Sinatra has to gain Howard’s respect. The flick plays smart, taking twists at unexpected times. We see well-laid plans go awry when you least expect them to and have to watch our characters scramble to avoid catastrophe, thinking on their feet. It’s a pretty common staple now, but I’m used to movies of this period setting up what seems like minor action set pieces, taking time to go over each detail so we know what we’re seeing it when it happens. Usually if something goes wrong, it’s at the end of these sequences, but here they really threw me for a loop a couple of times. Since I neglected the amazing work of Franz Waxman in yesterday’s THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS, I will not make the same mistake today. Jerry Goldsmith composed a fantastic score here… a score that’s a little atypical. The action is pounding, but there are some bizarre strings that pop up during the POW camp scene. It’s not exactly a comedy score, but it’s something unique that really benefits these moments, keeping it from being depressing. I guess what I’m trying to say is the score is adventurous and really sells the adventure aspect of the flick. Mark Robson directed the film, a man who cut his teeth with Val Lewton on such flicks as BEDLAM and THE 7TH VICTIM. We’ll be getting to those and a few more Robson films in the coming months, but I will say that while the direction isn’t exactly world-changing in VON RYAN’S EXPRESS, he does a very nice job setting the time and place. The action scenes are well staged, too. The final push for the border gets crazy big… hundreds of soldiers, a ticking clock, German planes versus good guys with machine guns… Good stuff.

Like many films of this era, I noticed the ending on this one is abrupt as all hell. They didn’t believe in prolonged finales. We spend 2 hours getting to know a myriad of characters, but when we don’t need the lead anymore the movie’s just over. I kind of like it this way… My imagination fills in the gaps. Where did the rest of the group go? What did Howard do from this point on? I like to think he knocked up a few Swiss milkmaids and then went back out to bitch-slap some Nazi fools before the war ended. Maybe he could even crossed over into other AMADs… maybe he stole Julie Andrews away from Christopher Plummer and taught the Von Trapp kids some good old pub songs? Hey, it’s the same time period. Von Trapp’s Express anyone? Final Thoughts: Once our guys get on that Nazi-controlled train the movie had me completely. I was engaged at every stop-off, at every run-in with soldiers, the Gestapo (one of my favorite scenes in the movie, actually, when the Gestapo follows Sinatra dressed in a Nazi uniform back onto the train and you think he’s fucked… but then you find out exactly what the Gestapo agent wanted) and prisoners on the train, including the too-hot-for-words Raffaella Carra who plays an Italian mistress of a high ranking Nazi. Her character actually belongs in noir more than in this movie, but I loved that twist… she’s dark, conniving, beautiful and quite cold. Give it a view, definitely. Before I hit the schedule for next week, Harry pointed out that you can (legally) watch this entire movie in 480p on Hulu. I’ve embedded below:

The schedule for the next 7 days is: Sunday, August 3rd: CAN-CAN (1960) Monday, August 4th: DESPERATE CHARACTERS (1971) Tuesday, August 5th: THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY (1972) Wednesday, August 6th: QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX (1970) Thursday, August 7th: START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT ME (1970) Friday, August 8th: Hell Is A City (1960) Saturday, August 9th: THE PIED PIPER (1972) Tomorrow we follow Sinatra to a 1960 musical called CAN-CAN co-starring Shirley MacClaine, who both featured in previous AMAD Some Came Running (1958). This installment marks the 2 month anniversary of the column. I thought I was going hit a big bump with SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS… the DVD was dirty and almost didn’t play on my laptop’s picky DVD player, but praise be to Jeebus that we’ve hit 2 months without much interruption! Here’s to many more months! Thanks for reading along! -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis

Readers Talkback
comments powered by Disqus