LEADERSHIP IN CRISIS: Unlike the inflexible disciplinarian of David Westheimer’s source novel, Frank Sinatra’s Colonel Ryan is subject to at least one grave moment of doubt as he dazedly considers the horrendous effects of a command decision in Mark Robson’s exciting World War II drama “VON RYAN’S EXPRESS”.

    Despite the sterling example of Jean Renoir’s “Grand Illusion”, the prisoner of war escape film did not find a wide popularity until well after the Second World War, presumably as the propagandistic value of the war film during actual wartime time would generate a greater jingoistic fervor with the exciting depiction of victorious military forces advancing triumphantly against the enemy (not surprisingly, one of the very best of the genre, John Ford’s “They Were Expendable” was a popular failure on its release, no doubt in part, due to the more realistic, ultimately fatalistic tone of the film), inevitably rendered in splashy, panoramic action scenes filled with emotionally charged heroism and sacrifice; conflict on a grand scale, where the division between life and death  is understood to be as much of a role of the fateful dice as much as being fortified with expert training and ability. By comparison, the in the P.O.W. escape film, the threat of death is less immediate, as long as one, presumably, functions within the regulatory limits set up by the camp’s authoritarian force, though this invites the inevitable force of wills, enabled by nationalistic pride and the soldier’s duty to harass the enemy; thus engaging a different kind of battle, less reliant on the visceral charge of physical conflict, with the substitution of a battle of wills and wits. That these films satisfy the need to vicariously experience victory against the formidable odds engineered by the enemy, while demonstrating the superior weapons of guile and intellect over more savagely violent means. Success  over the enemy in these films celebrated not only a military victory, but a moral one, demonstrative of the assured confidence of the justly self-aggrandizing Allied view of an elevated conception of civilized human conduct. (The alternate view of German troops engaged in a cat-and-mouse strategy of escape from a British camp, in Lamont Johnson’s outstanding and undervalued 1970 film “The McKenzie Break”, interestingly depicts the prisoners as violent thugs and their leader as a murderous pragmatist who willingly kills his own men en masse to achieve his ends.)

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About chandlerswainreviews

I've been a puppet, a pirate, a pauper, a poet, a pawn and a king, not necessarily in that order. My first major movie memory was being at the drive-in at about 1 1/2 yrs. old seeing "Sayonara" so I suppose an interest in film was inevitable. (For those scoring at home- good for you- I wasn't driving that evening, so no need to alert authorities.)Writer, critic and confessed spoiler of women, as I have a tendency to forget to put them back in the refrigerator. My apologies.
This entry was posted in 1960's cinema, 1960's movies, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Frank Sinatra, movie reviews, Movies, Reviews, war movies, World War II and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to MASS ESCAPISM: “VON RYAN’S EXPRESS” (1965)

  1. le0pard13 says:

    This is one of the undervalued WWII movies there is. Wonderful look at this one, Chandler.

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