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Von Ryan's Express-pivotal film in Sinatra's Career?


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In many ways this film stands out as pivotal in Frank's movie career. By the mid-1960's, the Rat Pack films had run their course and were played out. (Sergeants 3 anyone?). At the same time, 20th Century-Fox was looking to re-establish themselves after almost closing for good a few years earlier.

So this combination of Frank doing an action film without his buddies tagging along, and Fox flexing their muscle doing the type of film that they excelled in during the post WWII era results in VRE.


On the heels of The Great Escape, and based on a best selling novel by David Westheimer, this is a good, old fashioned war flick, a lot of which was shot on location in Italy. But some scenes were shot on the Fox lot, like the prison camp scenes. They could have done those cheaper overseas, but the studio wanted the rest of Hollywood to know they were back in business.


Notable for being one of the first Fox films to be shot with Panavision lenses, at the insistence of Sinatra; he knew CinemaScope had major limitations, especially during close-ups.


Also notable is that he was introduced on-set, by co-star John Leyton, to Mia Farrow, who was doing the Peyton Place TV series at the same time.

(Maybe they'll ask Ronan Farrow to play Ryan in the remake, ha ha!).


The film was a big success, partly because Sinatra thought the ending would be stronger with his character not making it, which also prevented any possibility of a sequel.


Another aspect of the film that lends an air of realism is that the Nazis speak in German, with subtitles, as do some of the Italian characters who speak in their own language. Fox's war movies, especially after The Longest Day, were more realistic in this regard than WW2 movies from other studios were (Battle of the Bulge).


Behind the camera were key players like cinematographer William Daniels, who also shot Frank in Some Came Running, Ocean's 11 and Assault on a Queen; composer Jerry Goldsmith went on to score other films for Sinatra like The Detective and Contract on Cherry St.


Brad Dexter was a Sinatra crony until he made the fatal mistake of advising him NOT to marry Farrow; after that, Dexter was persona non grata as far as Frank was concerned.


The most uncomfortable moment in the film for me is when Ryan has to do away with the Italian girl; he kind of seals his own fate by doing this, and this scene gives the movie some gravitas, some weight. Makes you reflect on the absurdity of war.


All in all, VRE was the right film at the right time for Frank Sinatra.

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Thanks for some of the background on this very good film, I've seen it more than a few times. Interestingly it comes out after both *The Great Escape* (John Leyton was in that one too) and the excellent Burt Lancaster film *The Train* . Sort of a combination of the two previous films. The location filming adds a lot to this film and it has a good supporting cast (especially Trevor Howard and Edward Mulhare). Frank seems to retain an unruffled appearance throughout the picture, even in his final death scene he has a clean well pressed look, but that's a minor detail , right? His killing of the girl (an unfortunate necessity) represents just how ugly war can get. Previously he had a very charitable view of his enemies , like the prison commandant whose life he spared, that turned out to be a costly mistake. All in all, a film that strikes a good balance between giving us the action we like to see and the ugly realities of any war.

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