Thursday, May 16, 2013

Day One Hundred and Thirty-six - Von Ryan's Express, "TNT? AMC? History Channel? Saturday afternoon feel good war cinema."

Basic cable often relied on the movies of the past to fill their roster with generic, but watchable, pieces. AMC, TNT, and the like were known for showing WW2, Korean and Vietnam War movies weekend after weekend, month after month, sometimes as marathons.

Even now I remember endless watching and rewatching of titles like Kelly's Heroes, The Dirty Dozen, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, and episode after episode of MASH.

Von Ryan's Express was no exception. It was often shown in concert with The Dirty Dozen (if my memory serves), and had that sort of upbeat can-do attitude where scrappy American and British everymen defeated vaguely menacing, often incompetent, and occasionally comical Nazis.

I mean, Nazis are the go-to, easy villains for just about everything.

With Von Ryan's Express, it starts with the Italians and the stereotypically overblown camp commandant played by Italian B-movie star Adolfo Celi (whom MST3K fans might recognize from countless camp films like Diabolik and Operation Kid Brother).

I was actually rather surprised how slow the film starts, taking almost an hour or so before the train sequences begin. Maybe my memory isn't that great after all... or maybe I just flipped channels till the action started proper. Both then and now, I always feel bored with the "getting to know you" phase of most WW2 films, my exception being the war games sequence of The Dirty Dozen. Ernest Borgnine's smug grin always gets me.

Anyway, once the prisoner train get's underway and the action starts proper, it's a rather fun film.

While most probably remember him from Knight Rider (blech), I think this is my favorite role for Edward Mulhare, who plays the chaplain who has to impersonate a Nazi officer (as he's the only one who speaks German). And Trevor Howard is always grand as a thoroughly British codger.

I guess my main disappointment in the film is Frankie.

Sinatra is an okay actor, I guess, but it's hard to watch him in Von Ryan as he's always in Chairman of the Board mode. He's used to getting his way and it should be the perfect part for him, but Lee Marvin did it better and with much more humor and charisma. Still, can't have Lee doing it in every WW2 film (or 60's camp spy flick).

For the most part, there's little tension and the plot is ploddingly predictable, but that's pretty much what you want from this sort of film. The good guys generally win (with a few sacrifices) and the Nazis are thwarted somehow due to Allied ingenuity or their own incompetence/hubris... all to the tune of a jaunty pipe or upbeat march.

Cut, print, feel-good war nostalgia movie.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

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