Von Ryan Express
Directed by Mark Robson
Produced by Saul David
David Westheimer (novel)Wendell Mayes
Frank Sinatra - Trevor Howard - Raffaella Carrà - Brad Dexter - Sergio Fantoni - John Leyton - Edward Mulhare - Wolfgang Preiss - James Brolin - John van Dreelen - Adolfo Celi - Vito Scotti - Michael Goodliffe - Release date(s) - 1965 - Running time - 117 min
Von Ryan's Express is a 1965 World War II film produced and directed by Mark Robson. It starred Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard. It is based on the 1964 novel of the same name by David Westheimer.
Colonel Joseph L. Ryan (Sinatra) is an American pilot who is shot down and taken to a Prisoner of War camp in Italy, run by the cruel Major Battaglia (Adolfo Celi) populated mainly by British prisoners.
Ryan, as senior officer, assumes command of the prisoners. The British commanding officer had recently died as a result of the harsh discipline, and Ryan clashes with his successor, Major Eric Fincham (Howard).
When the Italians attempt to flog an American for stealing, Ryan discovers he was stealing medicine which Fincham has ordered be stashed for an escape attempt. Ryan orders that the drugs be dispensed as necessary. He then shows the Italians the prisoners' escape tunnels in return for Red Cross parcels. Ryan then orders the prisoners to strip and burn their filthy clothes so Battaglia will have to issue new ones. Battaglia does so, but throws Ryan into the sweat box as a punishment.
That night, on hearing of the Italian capitulation, the guards flee, leaving the camp unguarded. The British put Battaglia on trial as a war criminal, and allow his second-in-command and interpreter, Captain Oriani (Sergio Fantoni), to defend him. Battaglia portrays himself as a broken man who has repudiated fascism, and Ryan orders him released.
However, the Germans return and capture them all. Fincham is furious at the thought that Oriani betrayed them, but when they are put on the train, they find a severely battered Oriani in the prisoner carriage. Battaglia is gloating outside, and they realise they have been betrayed to the Germans by the former commandant. The impression of collaboration with the Italian guards earns Ryan the nickname "Von Ryan" from the irate Fincham. The prisoners manage to seize control of the train by escaping through the bottom of the carriage, climbing onto the roof, and strangling the guards. After taking control of the roof, at the next stop, they jump on the remaining guards, and capture the German commander of the train, Major Von Klemment (Wolfgang Preiss) and his Italian mistress, Gabriella, (Raffaella Carrà).
Oriani persuades the Italian drivers to help, and the German-speaking Allied Chaplain, Captain Costanzo (Edward Mulhare), is enlisted to impersonate the German commander to ensure their passage through the next station.
Eventually Von Klemment escapes and is shot. Ryan then has to reluctantly shoot Gabriella as she escapes, to prevent her betraying them.
By this time a German troop train has been sent in pursuit, and Von Ryan's train is attacked by three German fighter aircraft. One aeroplane is shot down, but the other destroys a section of track. The POWs then take a section of the track behind them and replace the damaged track in front of them. Meanwhile Ryan, Fincham and the others try to hold off the German soldiers. The track is repaired and the train started, and Ryan and Fincham run behind the train to get aboard. Fincham reaches the train, and desperately reaches for Ryan, urging him to run faster. But Ryan is gunned down just short of the train, which then crosses over to neutral Switzerland.
However, in the book, Ryan survives and makes it into Switzerland with the other prisoners. At novel's end, he bursts into laughter when he discovers that the words "VON RYAN'S EXPRESS" have been painted by one of the prisoners on the outside of the train. (The movie does not retain this incident.) In addition, the book delves into the character of Ryan, whose carelessness as an air cadet cost the life of a fellow cadet