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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
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  • Aug. 3, 2008, 4:11 a.m. CST

    Two months in

    by Napoleon Park

    still gping strong, another great review, and at last we get a link to where we can watch the movie for free on-line. Let's hope it doesn't take another two months to do that again.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 4:21 a.m. CST

    Gotta Love Those Old Lines

    by TroutMaskReplicant

    "I once told you Ryan, if only one gets out, it's a victory" I need to learn to write like that. Also, I was just pondering today the use of epilogues in films. Some of those old films have jarring climactic endings that cut straight to the credits. I'm thinking of Vertigo for instance, but even 80's films like The Fly and Robocop have them. Interesting.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 4:22 a.m. CST

    Heh, I love Hulu

    by Lukecash

    Damn fine service. sure you see a few commercials. But they are a few seconds and boom, you are back to the movie.<pP Sinatra was pretty underrated for an actor. Sadly, he was part of the "old school" acting groupo...the type that a young Brando just buried with his more natural acting.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 4:23 a.m. CST

    Napoleon Park-

    by Lukecash

    Unfortunately, not everything is free and online like this. Hulu is a great little site. Somebody Should make a site that has all of the great films that are in public domain up...I would go to a site like that.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 4:28 a.m. CST

    Von Ryans' Express was 5 years BEFORE Kelly's Heroes.

    by No Respectable Gentleman

    And I'd advance an argument that this is the first MODERN action film. Think about it. The POW camp is gritty and grotty like nothing in THE GREAT ESCAPE. The Germans speak subtitled German and the Italians speak subtitled Italian. There's brutal mid-60s "profanities" and even nudity (of a sort). The hero shoots a woman in the back. The hero gets killed at the end. The music is totally masculine (apart from that early burlesque stuff).

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 5:31 a.m. CST

    Different ending in the book

    by evilned1

    I found the book in the library a long time ago. As usual, they changed the ending in the movie and did so radically. In the book, the train is stopped in Switzerland and Col, Ryan lived. He gets off and is walking back when he spots someone painting a big sign on the side of one of the box cars. It read "Von Ryan's Express" Ryan looked at it, and in an obvious realization that he and the others were safe now, collapsed into hysterical laughter. When I read that after seeing the movie, I decided the makers had screwed up. This ending would have worked better. Just my opinion.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 5:58 a.m. CST

    No Respectable Gentleman

    by chipps

    thanks for the spoiler warning.<p> I just love the fact that you have all these dudes floating around who sat out the war drinking martinis and go on to make a shitload of 'look how tough i am' movies. How did people give them credibity. Fucking John wanye and the like, convincing dudes to join the army just in time for vietnam. pussies. not too mention real tough guys who actually fought and shit go on to play 'nice guy roles' like jimmy stewart. Course then there are dudes lee marvin who kicked ass in the movies and out.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 6:03 a.m. CST

    Keep 'em coming Quint.

    by Manos

    Don't burn yourself out, but keep 'em coming.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 6:56 a.m. CST

    Hulu sucks ass

    by brock landers baby

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 7:25 a.m. CST

    As I've said before, this was the only

    by Grammaton Cleric Binks

    Sinatra movie that ever impressed me. I mean it's the only one I've seen in it's entirety as others I've caught bits and pieces then turned it off. Movies like this were made when men were men, not boys. Movies like this are hard to make today because we see boys in the lead roles. Saving Private Ryan is a good example of putting men in this type of role.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 7:54 a.m. CST

    dude you need to get two or three days ahead

    by Rupee88

    on this project and then get your sleep when you need it. not to sound like your mother, but you are kind of nuts to force yourself to watch a movie every day...just watch two in a day when you aren't to can't be objective if you are in a sleep deprived state anyhow.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 8:05 a.m. CST

    but I'm enjoying the series

    by Rupee88

    and didn't mean to sound unnappreciative ....this is a cool part of AICN now and I am enjoying it.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 8:06 a.m. CST

    Re: abrupt endings.

    by rbatty024

    I have always had a suspicion that the reason older films have abrupt endings is because they viewed themselves as more similar to short stories than novels. Ever since Poe short stories have traditionally done without a denouement. A short and sweet ending is sometimes an improvement and some recent films should take note.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 8:07 a.m. CST

    Good movie.

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    And the isolated Jerry Goldsmith score on the DVD is priceless. 60's/70's Goldsmith was his prime period.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 9:09 a.m. CST

    Keep it up Quint!

    by Rando Calrisian

    Great job Quint. Someone said it earlier, but this will make a great book if you can make it through a whole year. I've been impressed with the range of films you've been selecting. You've even had me going into my own collection and watching the titles I just never put in the DVD player. It's amazing how many there are. Unfortunately, they are rarely the ones you are watching, but there have been a few. BTW Netflix is also offering a bunch of that can be watched instantly now. You can actually invite people from all over the world to watch a movie at the same time as you - very cool. <br> <br> Keep up the great work!

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 9:46 a.m. CST

    Here's another true story about Wayne:

    by rbatty024

    Back in the day I installed two-way mirrors in his pad in Brentwood, and he come to the door in a dress.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 9:56 a.m. CST

    probably my favorite sinatra movie

    by palewook

    its a solid war movie.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 10:09 a.m. CST

    Kelly's Heroes

    by Charlie_Allnut

    Kelly's Heroes came out after this movie, not before. Von Ryan's is a great little known gem.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 11:43 a.m. CST

    Hey Hulu has The Dana Carvey Show...

    by Alonzo Mosely

    Featuring a very young Carrell and Colbert... <p> Sorry, I always loved Von Ryan's Express, need to watch it again, haven't seen it in at least a decade...

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 12:37 p.m. CST

    No love for Sinatra

    by Project424

    I've seen Ocean's Eleven and The Manchurian Candidate and that's it... am I missing anything?

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 12:37 p.m. CST

    M-o-M, never saw any more than a clip or

    by Grammaton Cleric Binks

    two of The Man with the Golden Arm. Am I missing out? I'll get the detail on Crystal Lake in the other post too.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 12:39 p.m. CST

    I forgot all about Manchurian Candidate

    by Grammaton Cleric Binks

    Never seen it, but I guess I should.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 12:49 p.m. CST

    original Manchurian Candidate is a classic.

    by palewook

    another great Sinatra film. the remake is truly a shell of the original.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 2:06 p.m. CST

    Sinatra met Mia Farrow while making this film

    by Tacom

    She was filming that TV show Peyton Place in the nearby and Sinatra came by and they started seeing each other. I don't get what he saw in her though. I don't know how a man that got to fuck Ava Gardner would be satisfied with Mia Farrow!

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 2:48 p.m. CST

    That being said, Tacom...

    by palimpsest

    why have Mia Farrow when you can have her much younger adopted daughter? Woody, you old rascal...

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 2:52 p.m. CST

    GOLDEN ARM is great

    by palimpsest

    as is the 60s MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. He's also very good in THE DETECTIVE (tho that's a wildly dated movie indeed).

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 2:54 p.m. CST

    monsters vs aliens bootleg trailer is out

    by bacci40 one part incredibles, one part doom patrol and one part dr strangelove....oh, and i thought colbert was above doing voice work...fuck him

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 3:02 p.m. CST

    Sinatra! Wayne! Marvin! Bronson! Cobern! Douglas! Lancaster

    by bswise

    All great... But how 'bout Christian Effing Bale in the NEW TERMINATOR TRAILER!!!

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 3:07 p.m. CST

    Yes, that shamelessly off-topic.

    by bswise

    Sorry Quint. Seriously, this is a great column.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 3:38 p.m. CST

    Ava Vs Mia...

    by Alonzo Mosely

    I think you are missing Tacom's point... It was nothing to do with their ages and everything to do with how one had the physical attributes of a healthy woman and the other a healthy 12 year old boy...

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 3:49 p.m. CST

    Mebbe he wanted his chimneys cleaned.

    by palimpsest

    Just a thought.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 3:53 p.m. CST

    So you are saying it was Mia or Dick Van Dyke?

    by Alonzo Mosely

    I had never considered that... That would be a tough choice...

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 4:51 p.m. CST

    john wayne story

    by chipps

    I think i saw it on parkinson, anyway a story that michael caine told of wayne was that when he first came to hollywood he was waiting in the lobby of a famous hotel for a meeting with someone. While waiting wayne walked past, stopped, looked at him and said 'are you that actor what's in that movie alfie?' caine said 'yes'. then wayne said (if you wan't to do well in movies) "talk low, talk slow, and don't say too much"

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 5:28 p.m. CST


    by BringingSexyBack

    I watched that ages ago in school and haven't been able to find it anywhere. Not even on Netflix.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 8:49 p.m. CST

    Awesome column

    by speed

    Along with Harry's movie roadshow a few years back, Mori's 25 years ago summer flicks and the original Sly stuff, this stands as great stuff for AICN.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 9:07 p.m. CST

    Men on a Mission

    by William Munny

    OK - some parts are goofy. And Sinatra does a little bit of his Rat Pack schitck - listen to how he talks when they're typing up the fake German orders. It's like he's performing at the Sands in Vegas. But as an adventure story - this is great stuff. I saw VRE when I was 10 - in 1965 - and I've probably seen it 10 times since that first formative viewing. Sinatra wears a very nice looking Dubow A2 pilot's jacket at the beginning - and you don't see it again until the very end of the movie. Also, anyone notice the watch that Sinatra wears? The one that the Gestapo agent is coveting? I wonder what make/model of watch that is? Ever wonder why most adventure movies feature a watch of some type on the protagonist? It's a very common staple of adventure-type stories. Must be part of the writer's code. BTW, Sinatra suggested the final ending twist that we all see. The director and producers wanted something more positive. Can't imagine that movie any different now. It just wouldn't have worked.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 9:15 p.m. CST

    bswisem M-o-M, I've said it before: take

    by Grammaton Cleric Binks

    The Dirty Dozen, add The Magnificent Seven, dont' forget The Duke, and Clint Eastwood, and there you have it: Hollywood's original bad mo fos.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 9:51 p.m. CST

    bad ass film

    by Gungan Slayer

    this film is awesome dude. Really enjoyable. filmed partially near Malaga, Spain too, where I'm from.

  • Aug. 4, 2008, 6:49 a.m. CST


    by Grammaton Cleric Binks

    You can't take out a component of The Magnificent Seven, even if you feel it's the weakest. But you're right about Peck. I'm so used to thinking Atticus Finch that I forgot all the hard roles he did. Don't get between him and a whale. Plus, he took on Satan and almsot won. Furthermore Atticus can shoot better than Mark Walberg's Shooter. I haven't seen enough Mitchum, but I do know him and Peck did Cape Fear, and he was hardcore, so I'll take your word for it.

  • Aug. 4, 2008, 11:08 a.m. CST

    I've seen MIRAGE BringingSexyBack

    by Tacom

    I saw it on AMC a few years ago. It's all right. It's from the writer of CHARADE.

  • Oct. 17, 2008, 6:51 a.m. CST

    Hogan's Heroes played straight?

    by Napoleon Park

    Both Goldsmith's "not quite comedy" poppy strings and Sinatra's leather jacket are reminding me of a certain infamous '60s sit-com.<p>A month and a half after this review appeared the film is airing on AMC so I just dropped in to check out Quint's review. I have some chores to run so it's nice to know I can catch it later on Hulu.