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Mark Robson
Frank Sinatra, Trevor Howard, Raffaella Carrà, Brad Dexter, Sergio Fantoni, John Leyton, Edward Mulhare, James Brolin
Writing Credits:
David Westheimer (novel), Wendell Mayes, Joseph Landon

Singer. Actor. Superstar. Legend. Academy Awardr Winner Frank Sinatra, known to his legions of fans as "ol' blue eyes," remains a true Hollywood icon. Available together in this collectible DVD set are ten signature films, spanning the heart of Sinatra's acting career. From a toe-tapping musical to gripping dramas to thrilling action-adventures, these movies capture the phenomenal range and talent of this acclaimed performer.

Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1/16x9
English Stereo
English Monaural
French Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 117 min.
Price: $49.98
Release Date: 4/3/2012

Available As Part of the 10-DVD “Frank Sinatra Film Collection”

• Trailers


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Von Ryan's Express: Frank Sinatra Film Collection (1965)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 8, 2012)

One of Frank Sinatra’s more notable “late career” films comes via 1965’s Von Ryan’s Express. Set in 1943, US pilot Col. Joseph L. Ryan (Sinatra) crashes in German-occupied Italy. This lands him in a POW camp mainly populated by British soldiers. The Brits attempt escape any way they can, while Ryan and the smattering of US prisoners feel that Italy will be liberated soon so they should just sit tight and await relief, even though camp commander Major Battaglia (Adolfo Celi) runs the place with an iron fist.

This sets up conflicts between Ryan and acting officer in charge Major Eric Fincham (Trevor Howard). Ryan’s rank makes him the new chief of the prisoners and allows him some unpopular reforms, especially when Ryan shows the Italians the location of escape tunnels in exchange for much-needed supplies. However, Ryan’s changes earn him respect eventually.

When the Allies take the country, the Italian captors mostly flee so the prisoners get their freedom. They manage to capture Battaglia, and Fincham wants to punish the commander with death. However, Ryan overrules him and simply locks Battaglia in the “sweat box” used to discipline prisoners.

Bad move. While the former POWs make their way toward the coast and hoped-for rescue, Battaglia escapes and leads the Germans to the men. They recapture the leaders, kill many of the others – and leave some of the survivors so disgusted with Ryan’s actions they refer to him as “Von Ryan”.

Though previously content to wait for liberation while in the Italian camp, these actions inspire a turnabout in Ryan. He orchestrates an escape from the train that transports them to their new camp. We follow these efforts and where it leads Ryan and the others.

Express came out in an era with quite a few prominent POW films. 1957’s Bridge on the River Kwai earned the greatest critical success, but others like 1963’s The Great Escape offered strong entries in the genre as well.

Add Express to that list of winning movies. While it lacks the depth and meaning of Kwai or the strong action orientation of Escape, it has enough of both to make it involving and engaging.

Actually, Express leans a lot closer to Escape than to Kwai, as it’s not the same kind of study in prison psychology that we got in the David Lean classic. It’s closer to the standard action adventure, though it takes a while to take off in that way. Much of the film’s first half simply sets up the premise/characters and gets them onto the train. Though this could threaten to drag, it doesn’t. Instead, the movie involves us in its situations well and lets us bond with the participants before the action begins.

When the soldiers end up on the train, Express does kick into higher gear. While it’s not non-stop action, it definitely launches into more high-stakes tension and drama, and it executes these sequences well. Many of them seem typical for the genre, but that doesn’t make them feel stale; they’re still lively and exciting.

Throw in good chemistry between Sinatra and Howard as the co-leaders and Express becomes a real winner. It does just enough to create its own identity while it gives us what we want from an escape movie. It’s a fun ride.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio B-/ Bonus D-

Von Ryan’s Express appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though the picture had some positives, it came with plenty of problems as well.

Sharpness was one of the erratic elements. At times, the movie exhibited fairly good clarity and accuracy, but that wasn’t consistent. Wider shots tended to seem soft and tentative, and edge haloes exacerbated that tendency. Overall definition was adequate but less than stellar.

I noticed no problems with jagged edges or moiré effects, but print flaws were a prominent concern. Throughout the film, I noticed specks, marks, lines and other debris. These weren’t oppressive, but they created more than a few distractions.

Colors seemed fairly pale and faded, but I didn’t find these to cause significant concerns because of the film’s setting. The environment featured mainly tans and browns, with some greens from foliage; occasionally I saw brighter hues, but the majority of the tones tended toward “military drab”. I felt the colors should have been better-saturated and clearer, but they generally were acceptable within the film’s scheme.

Black levels usually looked deep and fairly dark with good contrast. For the most part, shadow detail seemed appropriately heavy but not excessively thick; I found the majority of the low-light situations to come across as clear and very watchable. The exceptions related to the usual culprit: “day for night” photography. This wasn’t a poor presentation, but the softness and source defects left it as a “C-“.

I felt more pleased with the Dolby Stereo soundtrack of Express, though it didn’t quite dazzle. While music filled the speakers, it didn’t provide concise stereo imaging; instead, the score simply came from the front channels without obvious delineation of elements.

Speech remained centered, and effects often fell into the middle as well. However, some ambience cropped up from the sides, and occasional panning occurred as well. For instance, scenes with planes allowed them to move from one side to another in a pretty convincing manner.

Audio showed its age but was decent. Music lacked great definition, but the score was reasonably lively and full. Effects could seem somewhat thin at times, but they also could demonstrate acceptable clarity and lacked notable distortion. A little brittleness affected speech at times, but again, the majority of that material appeared fine. Nothing here excelled, but this was a good mix for its era.

In terms of extras, the DVD includes next to nothing. We get trailers for Express as well as The Longest Day, Patton, The Sand Pebbles, Tora! Tora! Tora! and The Thin Red Line. Fox put out a 2007 special edition of Express but this disc simply replicates the original 2001 release.

We’ve gotten plenty of “escape movies” over the years, but few work as well as Von Ryan’s Express. It creates a strong mix of action, drama and a little comedy to provide a lively adventure. The DVD comes with erratic visuals, fairly good audio and nearly non-existent supplements. I’m not wild about the quality of this release, but the movie itself is a winner.

Note that this version of Express comes as part of a 10-DVD set called “The Frank Sinatra Film Collection”. It also includes The Manchurian Candidate, Tony Rome, The Pride and The Passion, Kings Go Forth, A Hole in the head, Can-Can, Cast a Giant Shadow, The Detective and Lady in Cement.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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