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Click above to purchase "Von Ryan's Express" at amazon.com

 

Von Ryan's Express

review by Anthony D.

 

Studio: Fox

Running Time: 117 minutes

Starring Frank Sinatra, Trevor Howard

Written by Wendell Mayes and Joseph Landon

Directed by Mark Robson

Retail Price: $24.98

Features: Theatrical Trailers

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Stereo, English Mono, French Mono, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Chapter Search

A highly original, and thoroughly engrossing World War II drama comes our way thanks to 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. "Von Ryan's Express" is the action-oriented tale of a rag-tag Italian prisoner of war camp's population who hijack a German train following Italy's surrender to the allies. Academy Award winner Frank Sinatra is cast as downed American Colonel Joseph L. Ryan, whose presence in the camp outranks the former British high-ranking officer, Major Fineham, the ever enjoyable Trevor Howard. Once Ryan makes a deal with his Italian captors, he is branded "von Ryan" by the British inmates, who see his trade-off as German-sympathetic. Once Italy is liberated, and the prisoners left to their own devices, Ryan trusts the camp's Italian Captain Oriani (Sergio Fantoni - looking like he mistakenly wandered in from FOX's "How to Marry a Millionaire"). To safely escort the p.o.w's on a freedom run to the sea. The plans are thwarted when they are intercepted by German forces, who load them onto the titular vehicle, bound for a German prison camp. Once aboard, the inmates take over the asylum, so to speak, killing the Nazi guards and posing as high ranking German officers. With a real German train hot on their trail, and many explosions along the way, "Von Ryan's Express" takes a trek through Italy that no tourists gets to see. The supporting cast is filled with familiar faces as well: Italian character actor Vito Scotti (whose credits are too numerous to mention) as the train's engineer, future Bond villain Adolfo Celi ("Thunderball") as the treacherous camp commander, future television ghost Edward Mulhare ("The Ghost and Mrs. Moore") as a comic chaplain and future Mr. Barbra Streisand, James Brolin in an under-written, merely eye-candy role.

 

"Von Ryan's Express" boasts a nearly pristine anamorphic widescreen transfer, in its first appearance on dvd. A few speckles show up in the opening sequences, but after that it is clear sailing, or training, as the case may be. "Von Ryan's Express" also has the high-gloss look of many of the films of the early 1960's, which is to say, the film is always lovely to look at, despite the grittiness of its subject matter. Filmed in CinemaScope, "Von Ryan's Express'" director Mark Robson makes full-use of the 2.35:1 framing, this is definitely not a film to be seen panned and scanned. Night scenes, though more often "day for night" sequences acquire a minimal graininess, while process photography's rear projection screens are far-too-obvious. Not rich in the color spectrum, "Von Ryan's Express" retains its muted earth tones for the prison sequences, and once train-bound relies on various degrees of grey or brown. Clarity is outstanding, with textures coming through, and Old Blue Eye's blue eyes shimmering brightly. The Italian mountains and countryside are beautifully rendered as well.

For its premiere in the digital format, Fox has enhanced "Von Ryan's Express" with a newly mixed Dolby Stereo soundtrack, though the original mono track has been preserved in addition to a French mono soundtrack. The new mix is pleasant enough, keeping the dialogue centered, and allowing Jerry Goldsmith's non-martial score to occupy a wider soundstage. Goldsmith has always been one of my personal favorite composers, and his work on "Von Ryan's Express" certainly does not disappoint. Here, Goldsmith's score is high on percussion, occasionally ironic, and always action-oriented. Post-production recording of dialogue is present throughout, but never bothersome. The Oscar-nominated Sound effects of gunfire and explosions are quite well represented, but don't expect the realism of "Saving Private Ryan" (oh, c'mon, this is the first and only time I'll mention Colonel Ryan's cousin...) from those effects.

The film's theatrical trailer is presented in all its widescreen glory, with a sonorous narration, the trailer plays up the final third of the film, the all-action sequences of course. Also included under the "Fox Flix" moniker are the trailers for Fox's other WWII epics: "The Longest Day," "Patton," "The Sand Pebbles," "The Thin Red Line" and "Tora! Tora! Tora!" successfully whetting one's appetite to see those films.

Although I was familiar with many of Mark Robson's other films (notably "Bedlam," "The Bridges at Toko-Ri," "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness," "Peyton Place" and of course, "Valley of the Dolls"), somehow "Von Ryan's Express" had eluded me until now. I found its highly original story to be quite engrossing, but could have done without the disposable female, and the almost "Hogan's Heroes" attempt at humor early on. It's nice to see that Fox took the effort to remaster the soundtrack, and to present this library title in an anamorphically enhanced presentation. Though it's not a classic, the film is likely to gain a few more fans thanks to FOX's better than average presentation. Besides,"Braveheart's" men only "moon" through their kilts to get their point across, the men of "Von Ryan's Express, nearly four hundred of them, not only drop trou, but give "the full monty" to prove their point, and there's nothing like giving your all for your cause, now is there?

(3.5/5 - NOT included in final score)

(3/5)

(3.5/5)

(.5/5)

(3.5/5, NOT an average)

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