One year, one film: 1965
Von Ryan’s Express, dir. Mark Robson
Starring Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard
Recommended | HIGHLY RECOMMENDED | Must-See
Frank Sinatra was a multi-talented man, an actor who made many an enjoyable film and, of course, one of the greatest singers of all time. Von Ryan’s Express is, in my opinion, one of his best films. Sinatra stars as Colonel Joseph Ryan, an Army Air Force pilot during World War II. His plane is shot down over Italy, and he is taken to a prison camp. He strives toward better conditions for the prisoners, which backfires on him when he angers the man who runs the camp. Things get worse for the prisoners when they’re rounded by up by the Germans and packed onto a train… but Ryan and his fellow prisoners are determined to be set free, and hatch a plot to make it happen.
Von Ryan’s Express is an exciting film, action-packed and suspenseful. Though it starts a bit slowly, it quickly comes to grasp the viewer’s attention, becoming a thrilling watch. But did the critics of 1965 enjoy this adventurous war flick?
It’s very fitting that we get to end the “One year, one film” series with a film that Bosley Crowther wasn’t a huge fan of. We’ve looked at his reviews many times during this journey through forty years of film history and his opinions have often been negative. In the case of Von Ryan’s Express, he simply thought the book was better than the film, and thought the casting of Frank Sinatra took away from the main character. “In the book, the American Air Force colonel who leads the audacious break of a large group of American and British prisoners while they are being transported to Germany aboard a train is a tough spit-and-polish fellow, a slam-bang martinet. In the film he is Frank Sinatra, which means he’s something of an off-hand hood,” writes Crowther. He admits that the film is exciting and action-packed, with very nice scenery, but criticizes the lack of authenticity in the rest of the film.
Variety gave a much more positive review of the film, praising the performances and the direction. The film on the whole is described as “fast, suspenseful, and exciting” — all descriptors I’d agree with, and all things that add up to a very good watch.
NOTE: As mentioned above, this is the final post in the “One year, one film” series! We’ve made it all the way from 1925 through 1965, highlighting one film per year along the way. The series will officially wrap up with an overview of all of the films covered, to be posted later this week. Since TMP’s readers seem to like reading excerpts from contemporary reviews, I plan to continue using this format every other Sunday, but not in chronological order and not under the “One year, one film” name. Stay tuned!