Run Time: 162 Mins Total
What To Expect: A fine piece for collector’s and fans of classic WW2 adventure movies
Fox didn’t have it good in the 1960’s, among other things a disastrous Cleopatra had them financially reeling and as such either a big hit was needed or the brakes would have to be pumped production-wise across the board. They decided to gamble big, by filming Von Ryan’s Express, the rights from the novel which they had purchased for $125,000. Filmed in Panavision, Frank Sinatra would take the lead role and the movie would go direct to Italy, to pick those real beauty shots, as well as building extravagant model set pieces and an actual prison camp. The gamble was a success, Von Ryan’s Express was a big hit both commercially and critically.
Taken from the book released two years prior, the film is set in an Italian prisoner of war camp, where Col. Joseph L. Ryan (Frank Sinatra) is locked up with British prisoners, after his Army Air Corp plane crashes in a nearby town. On the outside, Ryan has seen which way the wind is blowing in the war, but on the inside he finds dogged British determination to escape. This makes little tactical sense to Ryan and a power struggle develops between he and Maj. Eric Fincham (Trevor Howard). As fate would have it, the have to make their escape whether they like it or not, thus an adventure develops aboard their getaway vehicle, a train.
This film has aged very well, not surprising because of the ensemble of talent involved. Frank Sinatra will remind you that he really could act, pulling off cool and sullen in a way that pre-dates even Steve McQueen, and Jerry Goldsmith steals the show with his iconic score – with early traces of Rambo II’s ripping and menacing music found here. The novel is also translated well to the screen, it is impressively paced.
Many movies of this ilk, of this era, would push the run time too far in chasing that ‘epic’ status, but this one clocks in at just under two hours. It’s very well paced, a movie that resists the temptation to have an opening blow out of some type and instead cleverly introduce and gel characters, but gradually upping the steam (pun intended) before reaching one of the best finale set pieces of the mid-20th century. Sinatra insisted on the fatalist ending change by the way, I think the film is better for it.
This August, HMV and Fox Home Entertainment are giving the film a loving send up with a premium package set containing the film on Blu-ray, DVD and a Digital Copy.
For many, this might be the first time looking at Von Ryan’s Express on Blu-Ray/1080p (me too). I have only caught the movie in the past, in muggy standard definition on television. And so the Blu-Ray release is a welcome one, with the first thing noticeable being an upgrade in color definition. Dull uniforms are the order of the day in WW2, but here there is an increased vibrancy for example, sharp but not crushed. Rolling through the Italian countryside, you can expect that new injection of life to work well and compliment the cinematography.
The image quality is unsurprisingly an improvement overall too, although it can be a mixed bag. The film is cleaned up, but not molested with digital noise reduction. This means that there is a healthy dose of grain (sometimes unhealthy), increased vitality and clarity, but it varies from scene to scene. Some interior shots struggle and are hit with occasional artifacts, but otherwise the overall presentation is worthy of its release.
The release has a reasonably healthy amount of extras. Around 45 minutes in total, not including the isolated Score track with Commentary by Jon Burlingame, Len Dobbs & Nick Redman. These extras feature four featurettes, not surprisingly the bulk of it focusing on Goldsmith’s masterful and thunderous score. All of them are in standard definition however, but whether Fox could’ve gone the extra mile (or would have) for less than an hour’s worth is open to question.
Finally, this is a premium release. Along with the expected DVD and digital bundle, each release includes a collectible slipcase and 4 collectible artcards featuring the films key art. This is a nice touch and makes it a contender for anyone’s home media shelf space, it’s one of those Blu-Ray releases which leaves you not wanting to ‘handle’ it or its contents too much. A keeper.
Von Ryan’s Express Premium Collection Blu-Ray releases in the UK August 13th