Von Ryan’s Express (1965)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Von Ryan’s Express</strong> (1965)

(On TV, October 2018) The 1960s were a strange time for war movies, as they (influenced by the Vietnam debacle) steadily evolved from the war-is-an-adventure tone of the 1950s to the war-is-hell tone of the 1970s. Von Ryan’s Express is an unsatisfying mid-way point along that evolution: While it does present itself largely as an adventure in which WW2 Allied POWs escape the clutches of the Nazis thanks to complex train-bound shenanigans, it also features a rather depressing ending that cuts short any willingness to cheer all the way to the ending credits. This ending (reportedly motivated by star Frank Sinatra’s desire to avoid sequels) is all the more maddening because it’s not quite tonally consistent with the rest of the film, which is a good old-fashioned outwit-the-Nazis romp on rails in the closing days of the war. Sinatra is dependably charismatic in the lead role, with a decent ensemble of supporting character actors. The production values are high and so is the verisimilitude of the results. The tension runs high, and Von Ryan’s Express does, up until its last few moments, seem aimed to become a sure crowd-pleaser. But then there’s the ending … which I’ve already discussed.

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