von_ryan_bk_vre von_ryan_mv_vre von_ryan_bk_vrr
Full Name: Colonel Joseph Ryan
Nationality: American
Organization: OSS
Occupation Agent

Creator: David Westheimer
Time Span: 1964 - 1980


Joseph Ryan is an officer in the American Army Air Corps.

Specifically he holds the rank of Colonel and from the history we gain of him, sketchy though it is, he has earned that rank throubh many years of service.

Ryan is described as being "tall and conspicuously erect" with dark blond hair worn "short and bristling" with a "scatter of gray at the temples". He enjoys a deeply tanned complexion except for circles around the eyes normally shielded by sunglasses. "His eyes were finely wrinkled at the corners ... from looking into the sun for enemy fighters". Further, "his was a tough face, grim almost, with no vistige of softness of any kind. It was, from a distance, a young face, but viewed closely was older than its thirty-six years".

What we know of Ryan's life before he arrives at the gates of the Italian prisoner of war camp that forms the basis for our initial interest in him, Ryan had attended the U.S. Military Academy where he "would have graduated second highest academically in his class" if he had not also earned twice as many demerits as the nearest cadet. The young Ryan was a hot-head and a fire-brand, eager to get into a fight and willing to get hurt in order to get a victory.

After six months as an officer, the adventure-demanding Ryan was bored to distraction. The chance of learning to fly helped channel that and his earnest behaviour easily saw him advance in training, certain to gain his wings. He even went so far as to get close to the main instructor and earned a frequent spot at their dinner table, all despite still having his hot-shot attitude. That devil-may-care attitude would have likely continued long into career except one stupid stunt in the air caused an accident that claimed the life of his teacher.

It also destroyed forever the flippancy that Ryan had enjoyed. The Ryan we meet years later is a far different man, one devoted to enforcing the toughest standards of deportment and presentation. It was vital to any who served under him to look and act within the regs because the regulations were there from years of experience as to what worked best and why.

So the Ryan who shows up at the POW camp is absolutely appalled at both the men behind the barbed wire and the staff guarding them. He will make it a point to do something about it. And the strict hard-nosed commander will find once again that while his attitude will earn him the nickname of "Von Ryan" for sometimes taking the side of the guards over the prisoners. That same attitude will also save the lives of many of the men suddenly falling under his command.

The first of two adventures we have of Ryan is largely a military/POW tale. It turns into an espionage tale when in the second half of the adventure he and others dress in enemy uniforms and impersonate the other side. The second tale is even more of one when Ryan must go undercover as a member of the partisans.


Number of Books:2
First Appearance:1964
Last Appearance:1980

1 Von Ryan's Express Von Ryan's Express
Written by David Westheimer
Copyright: 1964

In an Italian prison camp, Colonel Ryan gets nicknamed Von Ryan because he seems more inclined to cooperate with the prison officials than with the prisoners he suddenly became in charge of upon his arrival due to seniority. That is until he decides that conditions have greatly worsened when the Germans take control of the camp; that is when he decides they all need to escape via a train to Switzerland.

2 Von Ryan Returns Von Ryan Returns
Written by David Westheimer
Copyright: 1980

Colonel Ryan, nicknamed Von Ryan, takes on an OSS mission to find a Nazi agent who has infiltrated a partisan band in northern Italy.


Number of Movies:1
First Appearance:1965
Last Appearance:1965

1 Von Ryan's Express Von Ryan's Express
Director: Mark Robson
Writers: Wendell Mayes, Joseph Landon
Actors: Frank Sinatra as Col. Ryan, Trevor Howard as Maj. Fincham, Raffaella Carra as Gabriella, Edward Mulhare as Costanzo, Adolfo Celi as Battaglia
Released: 1965

American Colonel Ryan assumes seniority command among those held at a POW camp during WWII. When he initially demands cooperation with the camp leaders, he is dubbed 'Von Ryan' by the mostly British prisoners. When Italy falls to the Allies and the Germans assume command of the camp and plan to move them all into Germany, Ryan decides it is time to break out and take the transport train to Switzerland.

Note: There are a couple of interesting differences between the book and the movie. One is the fact that while in the book Ryan is a career officer with a considerable amount of experience leading a large group of men, in the movie he claims he is a 90-day wonder. The ending is also quite a bit different.


Number of Books:1
First Appearance:2017
Last Appearance:2017

1 World War II Films of the 1960s World War II Films of the 1960s
Written by Scott V. Palmer
Copyright: 2017

"This book is the third in a continuing series of books about films of World War II. Films made between 1960 and 1969 are included, along with complete cast listings, directorial credits, and a telling but succinct synopsis of each film. Iconic films such as The Guns of Navarone, The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, Where Eagles Dare and The Battle of Britain are among the more than three dozen productions listed. Stars in them include people like Gregory Peck, Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Richard Harris, Kirk Douglas, George Peppard, James Garner, Rock Hudson, Clint Eastwood, Richard Burton, and many others."


I was a huge fan of the book back when I read it in the early 70's. Then I was able to see the movie on a late show or some such, i.e., long long before streaming, and I enjoyed it as well though I was surprised at how different things were in parts. Mind you, this was back when I was still expecting the movie to be like the book - I have since learned better.

Different as they were, I enjoyed both.

When I was told the second book existed, I still did not think of 'Von' Ryan being a series that fit this site's criteria until it was pointed out that much of what Ryan and his people do would be very certainly considered espionage by the enemy, worthy of execution. Sold, I said, because it made sense and because I really enjoyed, as I said, both the book and the movie.


My Grade: B


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