Von Ryan’s Express (1965): Mark Robson’s WWII Adventure, Starring Sinatra and Trevor Howard

Mark Robson directed Von Ryan’s Express, a well executed World War II adventure, starring Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard.

The screenplay concerns the risky escape of some Allied prisoners by hijacking a freight train and fleeing through German-occupied Italy to Switzerland.

David Westheimer, who published the novel in 1963, had been a POW during World War II. He witnessed the bombing of Bolzano in 1943 from a box car. The film changed several aspects of the novel, most notably the ending, which is more upbeat.

The movie was one of Sinatra’s most commercially successful films.

Sinatra plays Colonel Joseph Ryan, a USAAF P-38 pilot who is shot down over Italy. He is taken to a POW camp, run by the cruel Major Basilio Battaglia. Ryan insists that Battaglia salute him as a superior officer, which is reluctantly translated by the sympathetic second-in-command, Captain Vittorio Oriani.

Spoiler Alert:

In the last reel, the prisoner train moves out as the men run for the rear platform. Fincham, Corporal Giannini and the other survivors reach back for Ryan’s outstretched hand, but Ryan is gunned down by Gortz just as the train crosses into Switzerland.

Frank Sinatra as Col. Joseph L. Ryan
Trevor Howard as Maj. Eric Fincham
Raffaella Carrà as Gabriella
Brad Dexter as Sgt. Bostick
Sergio Fantoni as Capt. Oriani
John Leyton as Lt. Orde
Edward Mulhare as Capt. Costanzo
Wolfgang Preiss as Maj. von Klemment
James Brolin as Private Ames
John van Dreelen as Col. Gortz
Adolfo Celi as Maj. Bassilio Battaglia
Vito Scotti as Peppino the italian engineer
Richard Bakalyan as Cpl. Giannini
Michael Goodliffe as Capt. Stein
Michael St. Clair as Sgt. Dunbar
Ivan Triesault as Obergruppenfuhrer Wilhelm von Kleist