A BRIDGE TOO FAR
(director: Richard Attenborough; screenwriters: William Goldman/book by Cornelius Ryan; cinematographer: Geoffrey Unsworth/Harry Waxman; editor: Antony Gibbs; music: John Addison; cast: Dirk Bogarde (Lt. Gen. Frederick Browning), James Caan (Staff Sgt. Eddie Dohun), Michael Caine (Lt. Col. “Joe” Vandeleur), Sean Connery (Major Gen. Robert Urquhart), Edward Fox (Lt. Gen. Brian Horrocks), Elliott Gould (Col. Bobby Stout), Gene Hackman (Major Gen. Stanislaw Sosabowski), Anthony Hopkins (Lt. Col. John Frost), Laurence Olivier (Dr. Spaander), Ryan O’Neal (Brig. Gen. James M. Gavin), Robert Redford (Major Julian Cook), Maximilian Schell (Lt. Gen. Wilhelm Bittrich), Liv Ullmann (Kate Ter Horst); Runtime: 175; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Joseph E. Levine/Richard P. Levine/Michael Stanley-Evans; MGM Home Entertainment; 1977-UK)
“Though overlong, muddled, ponderous and overbaked, it’s not without some impressive moments.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Producer Joseph E. Levine got his $26 million worth when he financed this epic, star-studded, war film: it was a beautiful looking (shot on location in Holland) and technically faultless film and had a modest box-office success. It’s directed by actor turned director Richard Attenborough (“Oh! What a Lovely War”/”Young Winston”/”Gandhi”). It’s adapted from history writer Cornelius Ryan’s 1974 best-selling book about the ill fated Allied push into the Netherlands in September 1944, and is written by William Goldman. Ryan’s earlier work was adapted to the screen in the mega-hit The Longest Day (1962). Though overlong, muddled, ponderous and over-baked, it’s not without some impressive moments (those shots of the paratroop drops are stunning).
It’s set in 1944 and chronicles an attempt to expedite the end of World War II by the Allies by capturing six strategic bridges in Holland that lead into Germany by a massive paratrooper operation of 35,000 troops along the Rhine (involving dropping British, American and Polish paratroopers), that will have the troops land behind the enemy lines in Arnhem and hold the five bridges until a main force arrives. The paratroopers then will push onto Germany to destroy key industrial sites by crossing a sixth bridge while the Germans are occupied. It was authorized by British Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery and had the code name “Operation Market Garden.”
Paratroops led by the swaggering British major general Robert Urquhart (Sean Connery) and the rigid American brigadier general James Gavin (Ryan O’Neal) are set to take a road and five bridges through Holland into Germany, with paratroops led by Lieutenant Col. John Frost (Sir Anthony Hopkins) holding the critical bridge at the small town of Arnhem. This road will be used by the combined forces led by British Lieutenant Gen. Brian Horrocks (Edward Fox) and British Lieutenant Col. Joe Vandeleur (Michael Caine). The plan is predicated on precise timing. In the end, Lieutenant Gen. Frederick Browning (Dirk Bogarde) acknowledges that we may have gone a bridge too far.
The daring plan might have worked if intelligence reports about a German panzer division hadn’t been ignored, if the weather cooperated, if just one German army had been surrounded, if the equipment worked properly and if the surprise attacks were carried out with the proper speed intended. But that’s like saying the picture would have worked if it wasn’t so tedious and overlong. It should have taken four or five days but went to nine, the Allied casualties were more than 17,000 (killed, wounded or missing), when they should have been considerably less.
Sir Laurence Olivier stands out as a Dutch farmer and doctor who risks his life to tend the wounded. Gene Hackman plays a Polish airborne major general who has the film’s best line: “Whenever anyone says, Let’s play the war game today, everybody dies.” Dirk Bogarde plays Montgomery’s operational deputy, who pushes ahead with the risky plan even though failure seems inevitable. Robert Redford displays his star power as the American Major Julia Cook, who bravely leads his men in the assault on the Nijmegen Bridge. James Caan plays an American sergeant who forces a doctor, at gunpoint, to operate on his wounded captain. Elliott Gould offers some comic relief as Col. Bobby Stout, the cigar-chomping American wise guy engineer. There are some 15 international stars, and their cameos at least make it easier to identify the character they are playing in this ‘war is hell’ movie. Unfortunately there’s not enough other highlights to make this anything but an exhausting viewing experience.
REVIEWED ON 5/30/2007 GRADE: C+