Nomination: Best Effects, Sound Effects - Walter Rossi
|Photo Courtesy 20th Century Fox|
Von Ryan's Express was based on the novel of the same name by David Westheimer, who like his protagonist was shot down over Italy and spent time in a prison camp run by the German Wehrmacht. Unlike his protagonist, Westheimer did not lead an escape of his fellow prisoners by stealing a train and taking his men to freedom in Switzerland. The story is an exciting one, and the screenplay by Wendell Mayes and Joseph Landon perfectly mixes tension, action, and comedy to create a very exciting story out of a simple premise. The only thing they failed to do was to create a compelling lead character, and despite Sinatra's unrivaled screen charisma, Colonel Ryan has no evident personality. There are scenes early in the film that attempt to set him up as an antihero reminiscent of Paul Newman's Hud, but these aren't developed much further and the resulting character is almost entirely one-dimensional.
Though the supporting characters are equally underdeveloped, the supporting cast is wonderful, particularly Trevor Howard (who I also appreciated in Sons and Lovers) and Edward Mulhare. Raffaella Carra is seductive in her performance of the poorly contrived Gabriella, but brings little to the role other than her beauty.
Von Ryan's Express is full of scenes of train engines, gunfire, airplanes, and gunfire from airplanes, and thus was all but a lock for a nomination in 1966. Walter Rossi did outstanding work, and I'm curious to see The Great Race to see what topped him for an Academy Award.
With a more compelling protagonist, Von Ryan's Express could have been a truly wonderful film. Without one, it is still an enjoyable and well plotted POW escape film, but ultimately it falls short of many of its contemporaries.