April 13th ~ Movie Monday

Phil’s choice for the Thursday movie had us revisiting WW2, and is also another ‘train’ movie, kind of. When he was 11 he saw this movie at the cinema, so it has a special place in his heart. Von Ryan’s Express (1965) starred Frank Sinatra in the titular role, was directed by Mark Robson, and co-starred Trevor Howard as Major Eric Fincham, a stalwart of cinema for a long time, and Sergio Fantonni as Captain Vittorio Oriani.

The plot is not based on a true story but on a novel by David Westheimer, though a fair bit of it was changed.

Colonel Ryan is a downed airplane pilot who crash lands in Italy and is taken to an Italian POW camp. There he finds out prisoner Major Fincham is obsessed with escaping, and has requisitioned medicine, clothing and food to be stored near where a tunnel is being dug, thereby depriving the camp of much needed stuff to survive on. Von Ryan, being of a higher rank than the Major points out the allies are on the way, the war is nearly ended and there’s no need to escape now, and has the requisitioned stuff returned to camp. He then informs the camp CEO Major Basilio Battaglia where the tunnels are much to the British soldiers and the Major’s annoyance, but in order to get better treatment and clothing for the prisoners. Battaglia doesn’t comply so Ryan orders all the prisoners to strip off and burn their clothes, so they do and Battaglia has Ryan thrown into the sweatbox, which is a bit like the Cooler in The Great Escape. Soon after, the Italians surrender, and all the guards run away. Ryan has Battaglia put in the sweatbox to stop Fincham doing a war trial and executing him, and the prisoners, with the help of the dashing and sympathetic Captain Oriani escape across the Italian countryside. They rest in some ruins and Oriani goes off to try and contact the allies, but in the morning has not returned when the Germans recapture the prisoners. Fincham thinks Oriani betrayed them. The prisoners are put on a train bound for Germany, where they discover Oriani in a carriage, badly beaten up. They also see Battaglia is now with the Germans, causing Fincham to accuse Ryan of helping the Germans and Fincham dubs him Von Ryan.

The rest revolves about how they take over the train, deal with a following troop train full of German soldiers, and the troubles they go through. I know it’s an old movie but I won’t spoil the ending. Strangely for an American movie the ending in the book is happier than in the movie, it’s usually the other way round.

Phil loved seeing it again, and I really enjoyed it. Like a lot of the old cclassics, The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen et al, it has a ‘Boy’s Own’ feel to it, plucky Tommies, derring-do G.I.Joes, and dastardly Huns, but great fun. For all that it was beautifully filmed on location across Europe, and real planes and trains were used for the majority of the movie with an occasional model if something needed blowing up. The actors did a great job, even Frank, no grandstanding and everyone doing their bit well. The score was by Jerry Goldsmith and a bit in your face here and there, but otherwise fine. It did well at the box office and well with the critics.

Saturday night and I hadn’t realised the movie I’d originally chosen on Amazon Prime was a rental or buy, so had to do a quick rethink. I came across Braven (2018), which I hadn’t heard of and hadn’t read anything about, but it looked like an action movie and Jason Momoa was in it (last seen by me as Aquaman in Justice League) so my expectations were of a flash bang wallop romp kinda movie. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and this was an unexpected nice surprise. Directed by Lin Oeding, Momoa produced the movie with Brian Mendoza who also did the cinematography. And what glorious cinematography it was, the movie is set in Newfoundland, and the opening scenes are just gorgeous. The film is given the ‘action thriller’ tag, but there’s a lot more to it than that. The basic plot is not new, a family have to fight for their survival against bad men, and that’s all I’ll say as I don’t want to do spoilers. However what I can say is while Momoa plays head of the family, his Dad who lives with them, played brilliantly by Stephen Lang, had an accident prior to the time of the movie, leaving with him brain damage gradually worsening, and their relationship is really well done. Momoa’s wife is played well by Jill Wagner and his young daughter played by Sasha Rossof, (good little actress). The scenery is just stunning all the way through, and the music score is excellent, haunting and beautiful in places, then gee’d up for the action bits. Justin Small and Ohad Benchetret are to thank for that.

We really liked this movie, there is great characterisations and acting, a fair bit of action and it’s glorious to look at. Mr.Momoa has certainly much more depth to him than being a beefcake superhero and that was a good surprise.

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