Von Ryan’s Express appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though the picture had some positives, it came with plenty of problems as well.
Sharpness was one of the erratic elements. At times, the movie exhibited fairly good clarity and accuracy, but that wasn’t consistent. Wider shots tended to seem soft and tentative, and edge haloes exacerbated that tendency. Overall definition was adequate but less than stellar.
I noticed no problems with jagged edges or moiré effects, but print flaws were a prominent concern. Throughout the film, I noticed specks, marks, lines and other debris. These weren’t oppressive, but they created more than a few distractions.
Colors seemed fairly pale and faded, but I didn’t find these to cause significant concerns because of the film’s setting. The environment featured mainly tans and browns, with some greens from foliage; occasionally I saw brighter hues, but the majority of the tones tended toward “military drab”. I felt the colors should have been better-saturated and clearer, but they generally were acceptable within the film’s scheme.
Black levels usually looked deep and fairly dark with good contrast. For the most part, shadow detail seemed appropriately heavy but not excessively thick; I found the majority of the low-light situations to come across as clear and very watchable. The exceptions related to the usual culprit: “day for night” photography. This wasn’t a poor presentation, but the softness and source defects left it as a “C-“.
I felt more pleased with the Dolby Stereo soundtrack of Express, though it didn’t quite dazzle. While music filled the speakers, it didn’t provide concise stereo imaging; instead, the score simply came from the front channels without obvious delineation of elements.
Speech remained centered, and effects often fell into the middle as well. However, some ambience cropped up from the sides, and occasional panning occurred as well. For instance, scenes with planes allowed them to move from one side to another in a pretty convincing manner.
Audio showed its age but was decent. Music lacked great definition, but the score was reasonably lively and full. Effects could seem somewhat thin at times, but they also could demonstrate acceptable clarity and lacked notable distortion. A little brittleness affected speech at times, but again, the majority of that material appeared fine. Nothing here excelled, but this was a good mix for its era.
In terms of extras, the DVD includes next to nothing. We get trailers for Express as well as The Longest Day, Patton, The Sand Pebbles, Tora! Tora! Tora! and The Thin Red Line. Fox put out a 2007 special edition of Express but this disc simply replicates the original 2001 release.
We’ve gotten plenty of “escape movies” over the years, but few work as well as Von Ryan’s Express. It creates a strong mix of action, drama and a little comedy to provide a lively adventure. The DVD comes with erratic visuals, fairly good audio and nearly non-existent supplements. I’m not wild about the quality of this release, but the movie itself is a winner.
Note that this version of Express comes as part of a 10-DVD set called “The Frank Sinatra Film Collection”. It also includes The Manchurian Candidate, Tony Rome, The Pride and The Passion, Kings Go Forth, A Hole in the head, Can-Can, Cast a Giant Shadow, The Detective and Lady in Cement.