What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called the 1st Annual Frank Sinatra Blog-a-Thon being hosted by KN Winiarski Writes. This is the first time I’ve subjected her to my comparisons borne of my chronic chemically-imbalances…so it remains to be seen if she’ll have me back 🙂
You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:
Set during the Second World War, the plot of this film begins when American fighter pilot Colonel Joseph Ryan (played by Frank Sinatra) is shot down over Italy. He survives, but is captured an interned in an Italian prisoner-of-war camp commanded by Major Basilio Battaglia (played by Adolfo Celi).
Being that Ryan is a colonel and Battaglia is a major, Ryan insists that Battaglia salute him as a superior officer. This demand is translated (somewhat nervously) by the camp’s sympathetic second-in-command, Captain Vittorio Oriani (played by Sergio Fantoni). Obviously this is a bold step, and it clearly sets the tone for the relationship between Ryan and Battaglia.
Ryan’s arrival coincides with a period of transition in the camp. The majority of the prisoners are from the British 9th Fusiliers and their previous commanding officer has recently died from being sent to the “sweat box” as punishment for striking Major Battaglia. This left Major Eric Fincham (played by Trevor Howard) as the senior officer among the prisoners. Again, being a colonel, Ryan assumes command upon his arrival.
Ryan and Fincham are immediately at odds. Being new to the camp, Ryan knows Italy is very close to surrendering. Once the Italians are out of the war, the prisoners will be free, which is why Ryan does not support Fincham’s escape attempts.
As such, once Ryan discovers Fincham knows of American prisoners who have been hoarding medicine in preparation for an escape attempt, he orders Fincham to distribute the medicine to some seriously ill prisoners. Ryan further infuriates Fincham by guaranteeing there will be no escape attempt by making Battaglia aware of the plot in trade for better treatment for the prisoners.
However, Battaglia doesn’t live up to his end of the deal when he refuses to issue new clothes to the prisoners. Ryan retaliates by ordering the prisoners to strip and burn their filthy uniforms, thus forcing Battaglia to hand out new clothing. In return, Battaglia puts Ryan into the “sweat box.”
But in short order, the tables turn as Italy does surrender, and the prison guards drop their rifles and flee to avoid reprisals from the prisoners. Major Battaglia isn’t so lucky, he is taken prisoner and promptly put Battaglia on trial as a war criminal. But Ryan exacts some “payback” by ordering that Battaglia not be executed; instead Ryan lets Battaglia have a turn in the “sweat box.”
Now, students of history know that the Italian surrender did not mean the end of the war in Italy. Since the Nazis were not about to give up Italy and expose the German southern flank, the war actually intensified. The is made known to the prisoners when a German fighter appears over the camp, forcing them on trek to freedom across the Italian countryside using Captain Oriani as a guide.
When night falls, the prisoners take shelter in some ruins while Oriani sets out supposedly in an attempt to contact Allied forces. But in the morning, all the prisoners are re-captured by the Germans. Immediately Fincham assumes Oriani sold them out, but this is dispelled when they are loaded on to a train, where they see a badly-beaten Oriani in a prisoner car. They also see Battaglia with the Germans.
At this point, the Germans do not want to “waste” on the train on the sick prisoners, so they execute them all. Fincham blames Ryan for this, claiming the cause to be letting Battaglia live. Fincham continues to torment Ryan by giving him the moniker “von Ryan” insinuating he is a Nazi sympathizer. During this time, the train makes it’s way to Rome, where command is taken by Major von Klemment (played by Wolfgang Preiss).
Meanwhile, Ryan discovers a way to dislodge their rail car’s floorboards. When the train stops later that night, Ryan, Fincham, and Lieutenant Orde (played by John Leyton) make their way through the breached floor and kill several guards. They then free another car loaded with prisoners, who help them kill the remaining guards.
While the prisoners are dispensing with the German guards. Ryan and Fincham capture von Klemment and his mistress, Gabriella (played by Raffaella Carrà). As the train with the prisoners moves out, another train is following it. Von Klemment not only reveals the trailing train is brimming with German troops and is on the same schedule as that of the prisoners.. Further, von Klemment tells the prisoners that is is to receive orders at each railway station.
In order to intercept the orders intended for Von Klemment, the prisoners select a German-speaking chaplain named Captain Costanzo (played by Edward Mulhare) to impersonate the German commander.
This plot reveals that both trains are headed towards Innsbruck, Austria. The prisoners then launch a plan to switch the train on to a different track while the troop train continues toward Innsbruck. Eventually, the commander of the German troop train Colonel Gortz (played by John Van Dreelen), have discovered the prisoner’s trickery, and they again give chase.
As the Alps appear, which mark the safety of neutral Switzerland, the prisoner’s train is attacked by German aircraft. As a result of this attack, a section of track is destroyed by falling boulders. The prisoners repair the damaged track while the Germans are rapidly approaching. Ryan and Fincham lead several of the prisoners in a rear-guard action to delay the German train and allow the prisoner’s train to escape into Switzerland, but not before many of them are killed.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
Today’s sports analogy isn’t really all that hidden…it’s right there in the title of the movie. “The Ryan Express” was the moniker hung on the most dominant pitcher clearly of his era…and for my money of all-time (that’s an argument for another time).
Likewise, the genesis of the nickname also isn’t hard to figure out. From his first appearance in a Major League Baseball game in 1966 until his retirement following the 1993 season, Nolan Ryan was known for routinely “bringing the heat.” His fastball was consistently clocked at over 100 miles per hour.
That’s only part of the reason why just like “Ol’ Blue Eyes” cranked out hit records, Ryan sets some baseball records which look as unbreakable as any. His 5,714 career strikeouts is not only a record, he’s still over 800 K’s in front of his next closest rival; at the time he retired, Ryan was nearly 1,600 strikeouts ahead of the 2nd-place guy. You could fill volumes with Major League pitchers who don’t even have 1,600 total career strikeouts.
The record of Ryan’s that seems to be truly unbreakable is seven no-hitters. Not only is that three more than anybody else, you could make another long list of pitchers in the Hall-of Fame who don’t have one. That list would include Steve Carlton, the man who was second in total career strikeouts when Ryan retired. Over his incredible 27-year career, Ryan also tossed 12 one-hitters and 18 two-hitters for the New York Mets, California Angels, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers.
But Ryan’s career as a pitcher shared the same “ups and down” as did Sinatra’s career as an actor. For Ryan, for every 1969 Miracle Mets, there were multiple 80+ loss California Angels teams. For “Ol’ Blue Eyes,” for every From Here to Eternity, there was a Dirty Dingus McGee.
You can say whatever you want, but the detractors of detractors of Ryan the Pitcher and Sinatra the Actor miss some important points. In Ryan’s case, the “nay-sayers” point to Ryan’s career record of 324–292 (.526) and his 2,795 bases on balls. That ignores the fact Ryan was had an all-time best career batting average allowed of .204, is one of only five pitchers inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame who had more strikeouts than innings pitched, and was an 8-tim All Star. You can also forget about that legendary fastball, Ryan also had the greatest curveball in the game this side of Bert Blyleven.
As for Sinatra the Actor, his “nay-sayers” can point to the fact he did make some pretty bad movies. But how many guys do you know won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, hosted the Oscars, and won four Golden Globe Awards? Forget that, how many guys can touch that record while taking home enough Grammys to fill a U-Haul?
The Moral of the Story:
Greatness is still greatness even if some choose not to appreciate it.
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