A Bridge Too Far (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Conflict behind enemy lines.

Based on the true story of Operation Market Garden that occurred in September, 1944.  The strategy was, in an effort to hasten the end of WWII, to have allied forces drive into Germany and lock up key bridges, which would then block any attempts at German escape, but errors in judgement and planning occurred that caused many unnecessary casualties.

At the time this was one of the most expensive films every produced, but the reaction from critics was tepid.  While the producers insisted that every attempt was made for accuracy they also admitted to taking certain liberties for logistical reasons, which ultimately did not go over well with everyone. Many friends and spouses of the soldiers depicted in the film who were still around at the time complained about what they felt was misrepresentation in regards to what really happen and threatened to sue the filmmakers for libel.

Despite some obvious flaws, which can occur in any film that is this long, I came away quite impressed and even genuinely moved by what I saw. Some of the most memorable moments for me was seeing the parachute drop of thousands of allied paratroopers onto the Netherlands. It is one thing to see old pictures of this, and there are many available, but a completely other thing to have it done via live action in living color.  Another moving scene features Robert Redford reciting a prayer out loud as he and other men maneuver a boat across a river while bombs and artillery fire blast all around them, which is so vivid it made me tense up like I was at risk of getting hit just like the other men.

Another running segment I really liked dealt with the army taking over a couple’s house that was right next to a crucial bridge by barging in unannounced and turning the place into their headquarters. So many other war movies that I’ve seen have never shown this side of battle where innocent pedestrians and homeowners can literally just lose all of their rights on-the-spot and have no recourse. Watching their home get more and more torn-up  by the army as the film progresses is both darkly comical and horrifying as is the eventual mental breakdown of the home’s family.

Many of the complaints that critics had about the movie resided around the large cast and how certain actors were miscast especially Ryan O’Neal as Brigadier General James Gavin. While I admit O’Neal is a weak actor in most cases I came away feeling he did quite well here although if you see a picture of the real Gavin the two look nothing alike. My main criticism in this area was more around the appalling amount of money that the cast made with all of them collecting a fee of $250,000 per week, which would come out to $1,157,540 in today’s dollars while Redford made $500,000 per week that came out to $2,315,000. Now I have nothing against actors making as much money as they can, but many of the parts were just walk-ons and had only a few lines, so to make that kind of money for that little of work seemed obscene, but I guess if I were one of them I wouldn’t complain either.

A much bigger problem was the extreme shifts in tone and a misguided use of music. War time flicks, especially those made in the 40’s and 50’s had a lot of music, which was fine for the period, by many post 60’s films tried to stay away from an excessive soundtrack in order to capture more of the sounds of battle and heighten the realism. This movie though seems to want it both ways having virtually no music during the first-half and then suddenly without warning bombarding the viewer with a lot of it during the second-half, which gets the viewer caught up in the natural sounds of war only to ultimately take them away from it by the end.

While the film has many serious moments it also allows some quirky comedy to seep in, which like with the music issue came-off as jarring and unnecessary. Older war movies kept things on a patriotic level, but post 60’s the trend was to be irreverent, which in movies like Catch-22, can be done brilliantly. Here though it cheapens the effect making the viewer wonder how authentic it is when trendy, modern sentiments get haphazardly thrown-in.

Overall it succeeds at showing the absurdity of war in a profoundly visual way as we see first-hand the brutal injuries and deaths of the soldiers just trying to carry out their orders while the general who came up with the bad plan that killed so many sits in his plush office far removed the destruction that he created and never forced to face the horror of his mistakes.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: June 15, 1977

Runtime: 2 Hours 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Attenborough

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

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