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USA/UK 1977
Directed by
Richard Attenborough
179 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Bridge Too Far, A

Richard Attenborough’s debut as a director in 1969 had been with Oh! What a Lovely War, a star-studded, narratively elaborate satire about the military bunglings of WWI. It no doubt provided valuable lessons for his third film, A Bridge Too Far, a star-studded, narratively elaborate somewhat satirical account of the disastrous Allied push into the Netherlands in September 1944 (in between came the 1969 Churchill biopic,Young Winston, which was partly set during the Second Boer War).

Based on a best-seller by Cornelius Ryan, whose account of the1944 Allied invasion of Normandy, 'The Longest Day', was turned into a hit film in 1962, A Bridge Too Far has been criticized for being shapeless and overlong. This is to some extent true but it is nevertheless an impressive achievement which in terms of immediacy and verisimilitude looks forward to modern war films like Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998).

In terms of logistics it is an awesome achievement although admittedly a lot of the $26 million budget went on the remarkable cast that included Michael Caine, Sean Connery, James Caan, Ryan O'Neal, Elliott Gould, Anthony Hopkins, Dirk Bogarde, Edward Fox, Hardy Kruger, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, Maximilian Schell and in a brief appearance, Liv Ullmann.

A Bridge Too Far tells the story of how, in an attempt to trounce the retreating Germans before the end of 1944, in Operation Market, a plan devised by British Field Marshall Bernard L. Montgomery, the Allies dropped 35,000 troops behind enemy lines in the Netherlands in an attempt to seize five bridges over the Rhine into Germany. Risky to say the least, due to a combination of British high command arrogance, insufficient preparation and bad luck, the operation went pear-shaped and the Allies were forced to withdraw with more than 17,000 casualties.

With Oh! What a Lovely War Attenborough had the opportunity to render the action larger-than-life but here he is under the constraints of historical realism and he does a tremendous job of bringing home the anonymity of combat as one side tries indiscriminately to kill the other (albeit that the focus is on the Allies). Whilst it is true that at times one loses track of which bridge we are at, to a certain extent this makes sense. This bridge, that bridge, it may matter to war historians but it was of no importance to the young men who died trying to command it. It was all a bridge too far for them 

Often all-star casts are no more than box-office bait. Here the familiar actors not only turn in solid performances but their instantly recognizable faces help us to follow the action. Dirk Bogarde is particularly good as Lt. Gen. Frederick Browning, Sean Connery and Michael Caine who had appeared together who two years earlier in The Man Who Would Be King bring wry humour to proceedings whilst Edward Fox approaches Terry-Thomas with his “jolly good show” Britishness. The only exception is Gene Hackman whose attempt to play a Polish Major General is painful (Charles Bronson was considered for the role but unfortunately that did not go ahead).

FYI: Bogarde who in real life was sent as an intelligence officer to Arnhem by Montgomery fell out with Attenborough over the portrayal of Browning who is here depicted as significantly responsible for the disaster.




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