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Film: Von Ryan's Express
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:

  • Adaptational Heroism: Oriani. In the novel, he is the pro-Nazi officer who abuses the prisoners and ultimately betrays them to the Germans, not Battaglia.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Battaglia.
  • Appropriated Appellation: "Von Ryan", which changes from an insult to a nickname through the film.
  • The Big Board: A German diagram showing the status of their railroad system.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The train makes it into neutral Switzerland, but Ryan and half the speaking cast die fighting the waves of Nazis approaching the final bridge.
    Fincham: (final lines) I once told you Ryan, if only one gets out, it's a victory...
  • Canon Foreigner: Gabriella, and to a lesser extent, Gortz.
  • Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: Ryan and Fincham. Ryan is a self-declared "90 Day Wonder" who was drafted in to serve as an Army pilot, earning his rank of colonel due to age and education. Fincham is a major but has lived his whole life as a battlefield soldier, and obsesses over discipline and adhering to a code of behavior that Ryan can't fathom. They clash early and often over every step Ryan implements, with Ryan proved right some times and Fincham proved right (painfully so) at other times.
  • Death by Adaptation: Numerous characters but most famously Ryan himself.
  • Dirty Business: What war is for people like Fincham. He's able - and more than willing - to do a lot of the nasty stuff Ryan can't even think of.
  • Eye Patch Of Power: Captain Oriani.
  • Face-Heel 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.
  • Fainting: Costanzo does a very good job of impersonating von Klement, but upon returning to the train it is revealed the effort of maintaining the disguise was too much for him and he promptly faints.
  • Fascist Italy
  • Good Is Not Nice: Fincham, and Ryan on occasion.
  • Great Escape
  • The Hero Dies: Ryan himself at the end.
  • Hold the Line
  • 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.
  • The Hunter: SS officer Colonel Gortz, tasked with recapturing the POWs. He's very good at what he does.
  • 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.
  • 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...
    "Parade....strip!"
  • 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.
  • World War II
  • Would Hit a Girl: Ryan. This was part of the reason Sinatra insisted on Ryan dying at the end.


UnstoppableRailroad IndexAtlas Shrugged
Fantastic VoyageCreator/Magnetic VideoThe King and I
A Very Long EngagementMilitary and Warfare FilmsThe War Game
The Manchurian CandidateFranchise/Frank SinatraSammy Davis Jr
Stalag 17Works Set in World War IISlaughterhouse-Five
Viva Maria!Films of the 1960sThe War Game

alternative title(s): Von Ryans Express
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