Von Ryan's Express ★★★★½

Frank Sinatra (NONE BUT THE BRAVE) and Trevor Howard (MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY) lead several hundred escaped prisoners of war to safety in Switzerland in this excellent suspense piece released two years after THE GREAT ESCAPE. Sinatra is Colonel Ryan, an Army Air Corps pilot shot down over Italy and sent to a camp commanded by cruel Adolfo Celi (also in THUNDERBALL that year). Sinatra, as senior officer, takes command of the prisoners over the objections of British major Howard, whose constant antagonism of Celi has led to half rations and no medicine for his men. The thrilling back half of the film finds the prisoners taking over a freight train carting their asses to Germany and racing Nazi trains and airplanes to the Swiss border.

Assured direction by Mark Robson (EARTHQUAKE) and excellent miniature effects take sharp source material — David Westheimer’s page-turner of a novel — and turn it into an exciting action piece anchored by an authoritative Sinatra. Sergio Fantoni (ATOM AGE VAMPIRE) plays Celi’s sympathetic right hand with an eyepatch, and pepla star Raffaella Carra, cast after Robson saw her performing on an Italian television variety show, provides the only femme appeal. You can also see Brad Dexter (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN), James Brolin (THE CAR), Richard Bakalyan (CHINATOWN), Edward Mulhare (OUR MAN FLINT), and Vito Scotti (CHINATOWN) too. Shot in Panavision by William H. Daniels, an Oscar winner for THE NAKED CITY, VON RYAN’S EXPRESS is top-flight action filmmaking that takes advantage of its Italian and Spanish locations.