Von Ryan's Express (1965)

117 mins | Drama | 23 June 1965

Director:

Mark Robson

Producer:

Saul David

Cinematographer:

William H. Daniels

Editor:

Dorothy Spencer

Production Designers:

Jack Martin Smith, Hilyard Brown

Production Company:

P--R Productions
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HISTORY

On 12 Mar 1964, LAT announced that Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. had purchased motion picture rights to David Westheimer’s bestselling World War II novel, Von Ryan’s Express, for director Mark Robson. Saul David also signed on as producer, temporarily suspending development of Lost Command (1966, see entry), as star Anthony Quinn was currently unavailable. According to the 16 Apr 1964 LAT, singer-actor Frank Sinatra was equally enthusiastic about the material, and immediately offered to play the leading role upon hearing the news of Fox’s $125,000 bid.
       In an interview with the 30 Jan 1966 LAT, Westheimer explained that the ending was changed to include the death of the title character, “Col. Joseph L. Ryan,” because Sinatra felt it would be “more ‘real.’” Westheimer, who was a prisoner of war (POW) in Italy during WWII, wrote the first draft of the screenplay, but was frequently at odds with the studio executives, and did not return for later rewrites.
       Casting began in the summer of 1964. Early in negotiations, the 18 Jun 1964 DV stated that Earl Holliman was forced to decline a role in the film, which would interfere with his recovery from surgery. A 2 Nov 1964 LAT item claimed that Robson hired Italian actress Raffaella Carra after seeing her on a television variety show while in Rome, which led to a long-term contract at Fox. Irish actor Edward Mulhare was cast as the German-speaking Captain “Costanzo,” and, according to the 4 Jun 1965 LAT, learned the language in just two weeks.
       Several contemporary sources detailed Robson’s arduous search for a period ... More Less

On 12 Mar 1964, LAT announced that Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. had purchased motion picture rights to David Westheimer’s bestselling World War II novel, Von Ryan’s Express, for director Mark Robson. Saul David also signed on as producer, temporarily suspending development of Lost Command (1966, see entry), as star Anthony Quinn was currently unavailable. According to the 16 Apr 1964 LAT, singer-actor Frank Sinatra was equally enthusiastic about the material, and immediately offered to play the leading role upon hearing the news of Fox’s $125,000 bid.
       In an interview with the 30 Jan 1966 LAT, Westheimer explained that the ending was changed to include the death of the title character, “Col. Joseph L. Ryan,” because Sinatra felt it would be “more ‘real.’” Westheimer, who was a prisoner of war (POW) in Italy during WWII, wrote the first draft of the screenplay, but was frequently at odds with the studio executives, and did not return for later rewrites.
       Casting began in the summer of 1964. Early in negotiations, the 18 Jun 1964 DV stated that Earl Holliman was forced to decline a role in the film, which would interfere with his recovery from surgery. A 2 Nov 1964 LAT item claimed that Robson hired Italian actress Raffaella Carra after seeing her on a television variety show while in Rome, which led to a long-term contract at Fox. Irish actor Edward Mulhare was cast as the German-speaking Captain “Costanzo,” and, according to the 4 Jun 1965 LAT, learned the language in just two weeks.
       Several contemporary sources detailed Robson’s arduous search for a period appropriate train that would serve as the setting for much of the film’s action. A 7 Oct 1964 Var article stated that unit production manager Harry A. Caplan and unit manager Sam Gorodisky spent two months in Italy conferring with officials over use of the state-owned, non-electric railways, and after some effort, the 14 Sep 1964 LAT reported they had selected a 4,000-mile route that would carry the fourteen-boxcar freight through Rome, Pisa, Florence, Bologna, Milan, and across the Italian Alps into Switzerland.
       According to the 12 Aug 1964 Var, the U.S.-Italian crew would split the eighty-day schedule between Italy, Spain, and Los Angeles, CA. After several delays, the 14 Aug 1964 DV confirmed that principal photography began 3 Aug 1964, and a 7 Aug 1964 DV brief announced that Sinatra was due to start his role during the upcoming weekend. The 30 Jul 1964 LAT claimed the star hoped to avoid Italian paparazzi by traveling in a helicopter between set and his undisclosed residence in Rome. On 13 Aug 1964, DV noted that work was underway at a railroad station in San Lorenzo.
       Although the unit faced scheduling complications during Italy’s busy tourist season, the 7 Oct 1964 Var reported that most of the problems occurred during the ten-day shoot in Spain. According to producer Saul David, the necessary location was more than two hours outside the nearest town, and inaccessible by highway. As a result, the train was used to transport supplies, cast, and crewmembers to and from the set. Additionally, the Spanish government revoked permission for the unit to book a charter flight from location in Málaga to Madrid, where they were scheduled to catch a connection back to the U.S.
       Once alternate arrangements were made, everyone returned to Los Angeles for six weeks of interior shooting at the Fox studios. The 5 Oct 1964 NYT reported that a twelve-acre POW camp was constructed on the back lot, and the 14 Sep 1964 LAT noted that five of the train’s boxcars had been shipped to the studio from Europe. Meanwhile, the 11 Nov 1964 Var stated that second unit director William Kaplan remained in Italy to collect additional footage in Cortina and Rome. Despite the difficulties, the 14 Nov 1964 LAT announced that principal photography concluded ten days ahead of schedule. The 7 Oct 1965 Var estimated a negative cost of $6 million.
       According to a 4 Aug 1965 Var article, second unit work was completed using Cinemascope, but the majority of the film was photographed in Panavision. The 4 Jun 1965 LAT noted that scenes of the train traveling through Rome were shot in more vibrant colors than the rest of the film, which utilized a muted palette.
       Von Ryan’s Express was included in an extensive press junket at New York City’s Astor Hotel, which the 22 Jun 1965 LAT referred to as the “Twentieth Century-Fox Premier Film Festival Week.” The event also included screenings of the studio’s other upcoming releases, Morituri and Those Men in Their Flying Machines (1965, see entries). The 12 May 1965 Var reported that the picture would begin “day-dating” at the Loew’s State and Loew’s Tower East Theatres on 23 Jun 1965, with a premiere event scheduled for that same evening at the State. According to a 6 Jun 1965 NYT events calendar, proceeds benefitted the Cystic Fibrosis National Research Foundation. The 21 Jul 1965 LAT announced the picture’s West Coast opening that day at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
       The film received an Academy Award nomination for Sound Effects. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
18 Jun 1964
p. 2.
Daily Variety
17 Jul 1964
p. 8.
Daily Variety
31 Jul 1964
p. 6.
Daily Variety
7 Aug 1964
p. 3.
Daily Variety
13 Aug 1964
p. 11.
Daily Variety
14 Aug 1964
p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
12 Mar 1964
Section C, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
16 Apr 1964
Section C, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
19 May 1964
Section C, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
30 Jul 1964
Section C, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
14 Sep 1964
Section C, p. 17.
Los Angeles Times
2 Nov 1964
Section D, p. 22.
Los Angeles Times
14 Nov 1964
Section B, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times
4 Jun 1965
Section D, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times
22 Jun 1965
Section C, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times
21 Jul 1965
Section D, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
30 Jan 1966
Section P, p. 27.
New York Times
5 Oct 1964
p. 41.
New York Times
6 Jun 1965
p. 106.
New York Times
24 Jun 1965
p. 28.
Variety
12 Aug 1964
p. 25.
Variety
7 Oct 1964
p. 16.
Variety
11 Nov 1964
p. 26.
Variety
16 Dec 1964
p. 26.
Variety
12 May 1965
p. 17.
Variety
4 Aug 1965
p. 3.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Mark Robson Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2nd unit dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
Prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir photog 2d unit
Cam op
Asst cam
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Hairstyles
Hairstyles
PRODUCTION MISC
Cooperation
Prop master
Stills
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Von Ryan's Express by David Westheimer (Garden City, New York, 1964).
DETAILS
Release Date:
23 June 1965
Premiere Information:
New York premiere and opening: 23 June 1965
Los Angeles opening: 21 July 1965
Production Date:
3 August--mid November 1964
Copyright Claimant:
P--R Productions
Copyright Date:
23 June 1965
Copyright Number:
LP31265
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex
Color
De Luxe
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope, Panavision
Duration(in mins):
117
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

In August 1943, Maj. Eric Fincham, a professional British soldier, is the ranking Allied officer in an Italian prisoner-of-war camp. He has tried to lead escapes but has always failed, and now he must relinquish his leadership to American Col. Joseph L. Ryan. Ryan's hard manner wins him the nickname "Von Ryan," and though he obtains better living conditions for his fellow prisoners, he is not popular among them. Ryan renews the plans for escape, and with Italian cooperation the prisoners take over a freight train transporting them into Germany and flee across Italy toward Switzerland. They are chased by a German troop train, attacked by German aircraft, and pursued by another Nazi train. Ryan kills Gabriella, an Italian collaborator, and he himself is killed, though most of the men arrive safely in ... +


In August 1943, Maj. Eric Fincham, a professional British soldier, is the ranking Allied officer in an Italian prisoner-of-war camp. He has tried to lead escapes but has always failed, and now he must relinquish his leadership to American Col. Joseph L. Ryan. Ryan's hard manner wins him the nickname "Von Ryan," and though he obtains better living conditions for his fellow prisoners, he is not popular among them. Ryan renews the plans for escape, and with Italian cooperation the prisoners take over a freight train transporting them into Germany and flee across Italy toward Switzerland. They are chased by a German troop train, attacked by German aircraft, and pursued by another Nazi train. Ryan kills Gabriella, an Italian collaborator, and he himself is killed, though most of the men arrive safely in Switzerland. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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