Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Movie review - "Von Ryan's Express" (1965) ***1/2 (warning: spoilers)

Frank Sinatra is not remembered as one of the top action heroes but he was rarely better cast than in this tough war film which is also the quintessential Mark Robson picture. It's part Bridge on the River Kwai and part The Great Escape as pilot Sinatra crashes in Italy and winds up in an Italian-run POW camp where Trevor Howard is doing his best to impersonate Alec Guinness in Kwai. Howard and Sinatra scowl and shout at each other and Sinatra pulls rank but the prisoners have disdain for him - come to think of it, Howard spent a lot of the 60s shouting at an American co star with better billing (Marlon Brando, Yul Brynner, Rod Taylor). This goes on for half an hour then they all escape and the movie gets going - in fact, it seems like an entirely separate film.

This is different from many POW escape movies in that the number of escapees is so large and we see how many there are - there's always these extras. They are captured, put on a train, but capture the train, and the action is fast paced and well done.

There's a strong support cast including Edward Mulhare (effective as a reverend), a young James Brolin, Sinatra crony Brad Dexter, Sergio Fantoni (eye patch wearing "good Italian), former Bondi villains Adolfo Celi, and Raffaella Carra as the girl - whose death would be more effective if her part had been bigger and her relationship with Sinatra stronger. A death that does work incredibly well though is Sinatra's - extremely well shot and moving, and helps elevate this movie to a high pantheon. (And compensate for all those scenes where Sinatra easily mows down Germans beforehand.)

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