Even after I said last week that I’d be watching Battle Of Britain, I changed my mind for this month’s World War 2 movie. I ended up watching A Bridge Too Far, which was one of the movies I considered anyway. Released in 1977, it’s an epic war film centered around Operation Market Garden, a failed Allied occupation in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands in the fall of 1944.
Part of the reason I chose this is because of its star-studded cast. You’ve got James Caan, Michael Caine (Alfred in the Dark Knight trilogy), Sean Connery (Original James Bond actor, Untouchables, Indiana Jones), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor in Superman), Anthony Hopkins (Odin in Thor), Laurence Olivier (Spartacus), and others. It was also directed by Richard Attenborough, who was also an actor, probably best known these days for playing Santa Clause on Miracle o0n 34th Street and John Hammond in Jurassic Park. That’s one of the movies I’ll look at if I do a Steven Spielberg month next year. Anyway, Attenborough also directed 1982’s Gandhi.
The movie had a fairly large budget for its day, reaching $25 million. By comparison, the original Star Wars only cost $11 million.
The basic idea behind Operation Market Garden was that a large airborne drop of British soldiers – a total of 35,000 – would land deep in the Netherlands. The main British army would then charge towards them, while the dropped soldiers establish bases in several Netherlands towns and secure the bridges in advance. The American troops in the same area would also help with securing the bridges.
While the operation first caught the Germans by surprise, a number of delays slow the progress of the main British tank force. One of the earlier bridges got destroyed before its capture, forcing the Americans to rebuild it. Several ambushes involving German tanks also slowed their progress, and the fact that the British ignored intelligence from the Dutch underground didn’t help either. They had reasons to ignore intelligence because of a recently discovered counter-intelligence operation by the Germans to feed them false information, but in the end, ignoring the underground made the Germans appear weaker than they really were.
Connery leads one of the British units dropped deep in the Netherlands, specifically the town of Arnhem. Whether it’s directly accurate to the real events or not, their situation is particularly grim. They don’t have a working radio, so they cannot contact anyone outside for days. Meanwhile, the British supply air drops are landing in what still remains German occupied territory, so they’re quickly running out of supplies.
The other drop unit, led by Hopkins, doesn’t get it much easier. They must hold up in civilian houses and hold back the counterattacking Germans at the last major bridge the Allies are supposed to capture. With enemies in all directions, their situation gets pretty bad by the end.
I won’t go into too much detail about this movie as a whole. For the most part, it’s a decent movie, showing the intensity of the battle while for the most part making the PG rating. The cast is brilliant all-round, which you’d expect from such a star-studded group of actors, many of which are still known today even after a few of their passings. They did a great job with the set design and environmental details as, especially with Hopkins’ group. The buildings around them started off looking pristine, but by the end of the movie it’s a completely destroyed warzone.
That said, this movie isn’t what I would call great. Its biggest issue is the pacing – it takes way too long for the battle to actually begin, looking at the administrative side of the planning on both sides of the conflict. When the battle does begin, there are times when the action feels repetitive. It could have easily been cut down here and there and you’d still fully understand what’s happening. There’s also this random part where a soldier rescues a badly injured officer, and points a gun at the doctor’s head when the doctor insists the officer is dead, that could have been completely left out. It’s a good scene on its own, but historically accurate or not (I don’t know), it doesn’t add anything to the main story.
At the time of release, the movie received mixed reviews. Most tended to agree that the film was impressively staged and for the most part, historically accurate. Caan and Hopkins’ performances were particularly praised. Ebert gave the film 2 out of 4 stars, calling it “An exercise in wretched excess, such a mindless series of routine scenes, such a boringly violent indulgence in all the blood and guts and moans they could find, that by the end we’re prepared to speculate that maybe Levine went two or even three bridges too far … It’s the longest B-grade war movie ever made.” Gene Siskel was a bit nicer, giving it 2.5 out of 4, saying “More often than not, A Bridge Too Far isn’t a story; it’s a parade of famous faces. As for the battle footage, it is more often tedious than glamorous. The paratroop landing provides a spectacular five minutes. Other action footage is routine.” The Washington Posts’ review called it “an unusually conscientious and impressive war epic”, and said that the film justified its budget.
Despite the middling overall reviews, and being completely ignored by the Academy Awards, the movie did well at the BAFTAs, earning 4 awards out of 8 nominations. It won Best Sound, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Edward Fox), Best Film Music (by John Addison) and Best Cinematography. It also received nominations for Best Film, Best Direction, Best Editing and Best Production Design.
Is A Bridge Too Far a good movie? Overall, yes. The cast does a fantastic job overall, and besides being distracted by the fact that you’ve got a young Caine and Hopkins in the same movie as Olivier and Connery, these big names don’t get in the way of the overall story. Is it overly long and slow at times? Yes. They probably should have shown less of the planning, and cut down a lot on the repetitive main bridge fighting and removed the seemingly unnecessary officer rescue sequence. Would I recommend it? Depends on if you can sit through a mostly good 3-hour war movie that probably should have been at least half an hour shorter.
I’ve decided that next up, I’ll be looking at Troy. I was considering Braveheart, but I feel that it could just as easily be done as some sort of Scotland theme month. I haven’t decided all of my theme months for next year, but that is an idea.