Monday, April 26, 2010
Von Ryan's Express: The Other Great POW Escape Film of the 1960s
The film opens in Italy in 1943 when an Italian unit captures downed American pilot Colonel Joseph L. Ryan (Frank Sinatra). When he arrives at the POW camp, Ryan finds a stubborn group of mostly British soldiers led by Major Fincham (Trevor Howard). The camp’s Italian commandant has mistreated the prisoners as punishment for their repeated escape attempts. As a result, the prisoners’ former commanding officer has died in a sweat box, malaria and scurvy are rampant, and food rations have been cut in half.
It’s interesting to note that Frank Sinatra insisted on changing the film’s original ending. I won’t spoil the climax, but believe that he made the right decision. It’s just one more reason to check out the marvelous Von Ryan’s Express. While it will never match the fame of The Great Escape and its iconic Steve McQueen motorcycle chase, Von Ryan’s Express deserves to rank alongside it as the best World War II action film of the 1960s.