Run, Von Ryan!Von Ryan's Express
is a 1965 World War II
adventure film starring Frank Sinatra
and Trevor Howard, based on a novel by David Westheimer.
Colonel Joseph L. Ryan (Sinatra), an American pilot, is shot down in Fascist Italy
and put in a Fascist prisoner of war camp there, where he becomes the new ranking officer among the Allied prisoners. He's nicknamed 'Von Ryan' by the mainly British prisoners for his initial concessions to the jailers, spoiling previous escape preparations in order to improve current conditions for the prisoners. Despite proving that he's willing to both push their jailers and suffer for his beliefs, the name catches on when Ryan sparing the life of the camp commander in the wake of the Italian surrender leads to the POWs being recaptured by the Germans, who load the survivors on a train headed for a German camp. In the shadow of the Italian Alps, Ryan and the British POWs take control of the train; trapped behind enemy lines, their only option is to pretend to still be under German control and avoid suspicion while heading for neutral Switzerland
. But it's not long until the Germans are in hot pursuit.
While making the film Sinatra met his future wife Mia Farrow (29 years his junior), who was shooting the TV show Payton Place
on the same lot.
Von Ryan's Express contains examples of the following tropes:
- Heel-Face Turn: The prison camp's second-in-command Oriani. His eyepatch suggests he was an Italian who's actually faced battle, and is openly courteous to the Allied prisoners. When Mussolini falls and the prisoners seize control of the camp, he switches sides and offers to help the POWs escape despite Fincham's concerns. He does.
- The Hero Dies: Ryan himself at the end.
- Honor Before Reason: Ryan shows up with a camp divided between American and British POWs. It's because Fincham insists on constant attempts to tunnel out of the camp (and is hoarding much-needed medical supplies for those attempts). Ryan, knowing that the Allies are landing in Italy as they speak and that real freedom is weeks if not days away, uses his rank to overrule Fincham.
- Karma Houdini: The corrupt Major Battaglia. He suffers some public humiliation and a few hours in the hot box for maltreating the prisoners, but he's fat and happy after being rescued by the Germans (who are all too happy to imprison his second in command, Captain Oriani).
- Gortz, who famously shoots Ryan in the back.
- The Lancer: Fincham. He doesn't like it. Until Ryan dies at the end.
- Mook Lieutenant: Gortz has a retinue of them with him at all times.
- Naked People Are Funny: When Ryan orders the entire camp of men to strip and burn their clothes to force the corrupt commandant Battaglia to issue fresh clothes he'd been hoarding for the black market. Borders on Fan Disservice considering how many guys just don't work on their tan lines...
- Never Trust a Trailer: All the advertisements played up the whole angle of the prisoners despising Ryan ("Who was the man they hated worse than Hitler?"), but aside from two scenes, it never really plays into the plot, and Ryan gets along s
- Playing Against Type: This was the first role Sinatra had that didn't ask him to sing.
- Prison Ship: Actually a train.
- Punch Clock Villain: Captain Oriani. As Battalia's executive officer, he's duty bound to follow orders, but at the same time is clearly opposed to and disgusted by Battaglia, is far more humane than his superior, and joins the prisoners after Italy surrenders.
- Punishment Box: The "hot box," an old truck.
- Revenge Before Reason: Fincham wants to kill von Klement for the massacre of the British wounded, even though that was done by the SS and von Klement is regular German Army. He's called out on this by Costanzo.
- There's a bit of Revenge by Proxy in Fincham's reasoning. Although he never actually admits it, it seems that since he can't actually get the ones responsible for the massacre, he's rather coldly willing to take any German he can get.
- Shoot the Dog: Ryan killing Gabriella to keep her from alerting the Germans.
- The SS recapturing the escaping POWs shoot the sick prisoners rather than treat them.
- Smug Snake: Major Battaglia.
- Spared by the Adaptation: Battaglia. He committed suicide in the book.
- Train Job: A variant where the POWs hijack the train they are being transported on.
- Those Wacky Nazis: Not so wacky in this movie. They're brutal in this film.
- Title Drop: The novel had one at the end — Ryan makes it across the border, and laughs to discover someone painted "Von Ryan's Express" on the side of the train.
- Would Hit a Girl: Ryan. This was part of the reason Sinatra insisted on Ryan dying at the end.