BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI, THE (director: Mark Robson; screenwriters: Valentine Davies/from the novel by James Michener; cinematographer: Loyal Griggs; editor: Alma Macrorie; music: Lyn Murray; cast: William Holden (Lt. Harry Brubaker), Fredric March (Rear Adm. George Tarrant), Grace Kelly (Nancy Brubaker), Mickey Rooney (Mike Forney), Robert Strauss (Beer Barrel), Charles McGraw (Cdr. Wayne Lee), Keiko Awaji (Kimiko), Earl Holliman (Nestor), Richard Shannon (Lt. Olds), Willis B. Bouchey (Capt. Evans), Nadine Ashdown (Kathy Brubaker), Cheryl Lynn Callaway (Susie); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: William Perlberg/George Seaton; Paramount; 1954)
“It seems to be paying only lip service to its pacifist message, but fully believes that wars are a necessary part of life.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Mark Robson (“Bedlam”/”The Ghost Ship”/”The Seventh Victim”) and writer Valentine Davies adapt to the screen James Michener’s hard-hitting novel about the Korean War. It’s a big-budget, glossy looking war drama. It excels in its lush Technicolor photography, well-staged aerial sequences, crisp direction, fine acting and for catching the spirit of the times about this unpopular conflict on the home front. But when it tells us of the futility of the conflict only to conclude that the 5 bridges of Toko-Ri, which span a strategic pass in the interior of Korea, must be bombed to stop the spread of Communism, it leaves us in a quandary of what the film’s real message is about. It seems to be paying only lip service to its pacifist message, but fully believes that wars are a necessary part of life. We’re sadly reminded no war is a good war to be in, but then it philosophically tells us “You fight the war you’re stuck with.” To me, it sounded like the same old message promoted by most of the other propaganda war films, saying war is hell but our boys must fight to save our free way of life.

In 1952, off the coast of Korea, paternalistic Rear Admiral George Tarrant (Fredric March) commands the Task Force 77 aboard a Naval aircraft-carrier. When bomber pilot Lt. Harry Brubaker (William Holden) ditches his hit plane and lands in the icy Sea of Japan, he’s rescued by feisty helicopter pilot Mike Forney (Mickey Rooney), decked out in a non-regulation silk green derby and green scarf, and his assistant Nestor (Earl Holliman). The admiral takes a deep interest in Harry because he reminds him of his deceased son, killed during the last war. The thirtysomething Harry is a successful lawyer in civilian life, married to a beautiful woman, Nancy (Grace Kelly), and the father of two girls. He fought in WWII and the U.S. Naval Reserve Lieutenant is bitter that he’s called up again for this forgotten war when he already served his country. The call up causes him financial problems and problems with his wife, who insists he quit. Things come to a head when the admiral gives Harry some R&R in Tokyo and Nancy through her ex-senator father finagles a stay in Tokyo to be with her hubby. Nancy has a change of heart about the mission’s importance after talking with the admiral, and wishes her hubby good luck. It leads to a heroic climactic bombing mission of the bridges, that comes with a dramatic ending. Charles McGraw plays Cdr. Wayne Lee, the air group commander who is in charge of the mission and who takes responsibility for continuing the mission to bomb secondary targets after the primary mission was accomplished.

It proves to be a well-worn war story about the dangers and hopelessness of war, following along the lines of the heroic military men torn between duty and their personal beliefs and the burden placed on their families waiting back home for the breadwinner to return safely.

The excellent special effects earned it an Oscar. The star power of Kelly and Holden made it a box-office hit.