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20th Century Fox presents
Von Ryan's Express (1965)

"You'll get your Iron Cross soon, Von Ryan!"
- Major Fincham (Trevor Howard)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: May 12, 2001

Stars: Frank Sinatra, Trevor Howard, Raffaella Carra
Other Stars: Brad Dexter, John Layton, James Brolin, Adolfo Celi
Director: Mark Robson

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:45m:33s
Release Date: May 15, 2001
UPC: 024543013112
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+B+B+ D+

DVD Review

As Italy's power in the war winds down, American fighter pilot Joseph Ryan (Frank Sinatra) crashes behind enemy lines and he's sent to a prisoner-of-war camp, which is mostly populated by British soldiers. Unfortunately, when Italy surrenders to the allies, the prisoners are still behind German lines, so an elaborate escape is masterminded by Ryan, and agreed to by Major Fincham (Trevor Howard), the headstrong British military leader. Here we have the set-up for the World War II thriller, Von Ryan's Express, one of Sinatra's better films.

As Ryan believes in cooperating with the Italians in order to survive, he earns the nickname 'Von Ryan', intended as an insult to his loyalties. Von Ryan, however, is certainly no coward. As these prisoners go about their escape, they wind up on board a German prisoner transport. Their only hope is to overtake the train and pretend to be the actual Germans who control it. Obviously, this is going to be very difficult, very daring, and very crazy but, like most classic escape films, it has to work. In the process, Ryan, Fincham, and all the prisoners will have to get past legions of German soldiers—in disguise—when only one of them speaks the language!

Von Ryan's Express works best as a classic escape yarn, with World War II providing the perfect backdrop for the plot. What makes this a little different from similar films (The Great Escape, Stalag 17) the more intense aspect of the escapees' linear path, straight into danger. It's not a case of secretly getting out of Germany, but more a case of having to take the most obvious and dangerous route possible. It's action/suspense at its finest, with excellent direction and craft to make it work.

What really made this entertaining for me was the excellent grouping of character actors. I'm not really a fan of Frank Sinatra in any capacity, but he works well here because the director didn't really make him the 'star', but rather just one of the characters. Trevor Howard is as always, outstanding as the angry, rebellious British Major. The supporting cast is filled with wonderful faces, like Italian actor Adolfo Celi as the warden of the initial Italian prisoner camp (and he even gets to speak in his own tongue, no dubbing). Edward Mulhare plays Captain Constanzo, the meek priest who, as the only German-speaking prisoner, must pass as a commanding German General in order to help the escape. A young James Brolin can be spotted as well, along with classic "teen delinquency" film star Richard Bakalyan, among the handful of American prisoners.

Other than some minor historical inaccuracies, there's really no flaws in this movie. Everything moves at a very good pace, and it's genuinely exciting thanks to some good, old-fashioned storytelling. Director Mark Robson obviously has a solid grasp on the Cinemascope format, as the visuals compliment what's going on very well, and it must have been pretty hard to make all that work in a film where most of the action is inside a train. Certainly, there are better movies of this sort, but Von Ryan's Express easily competes. As such, it's stood as one of my top picks out of World War II thrillers (next to Kelly's Heroes and Where Eagles Dare) when you're in the mood for something that has nothing to do with history, but more to do with pure adventure.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic transfer here is pretty impressive. It has a good amount of clarity and sharpness, and it really leaves a 'film-like' impression, especially thanks to the good color and lack of any compression problems. I detected a hint of slight ringing in some scenes (edge-enhancement perhaps), but it was fleeting and didn't really effect anything. What keeps the film out of the 'A' class, however, is the fact that the source print is really dirty, seemingly not cleaned up at all. Just about the entire movie has speckles and scratches all over it. It isn't very distracting, but it does effect nighttime and darker scenes to a certain extent. Overall, though, I think most people will be pleased with this excellent widescreen transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes
DS 2.0English (Stereo)yes

Audio Transfer Review: The disc features a new stereo track, enhanced from the original mono. This new track is very nicely handled. It's not the same as modern surround tracks, obviously; but it does have a nice, balanced tonality to it. Music and most sound effects are charged up a bit with the enhancement, and as such, they really impress. Most dialogue seems to decode to the center channel, and is perfectly understandable and never harsh or muffled. I wish more older movies had these kinds of soundtracks (if they're not going to have full-on 5.1 sound). Also included is the original Mono audio, and a French Mono track. You can really feel the loss of wide-frequency and enveloping sound with the Mono tracks, but if you're more into the purist-side of audio, the original track will do.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Longest Day, Patton, The Sand Pebbles, The Thin Red Line, Tora! Tora! Tora!
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:19m:33s

Extras Review: I was surprised to see this film hit DVD with no substantial extras, but I guess it's not too big a loss. The only 'features' are some trailers; one for Von Ryan's Express and 5 more for other 20th Century Fox war movie releases. The presentation is average, with a keepcase insert featuring chapter listings.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

It's a little bare-bones, but this disc fits pretty well into the collection of any fan of good WWII movies. It's a bit implausable, but that's always been sort of the point with these types of stories. Definitely worth at least a rental.


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