A Bridge Too Far (1977) or A Movie Too Long?

Richard Attenborough’s A Bridge Too Far has, with some reason, been called a movie too long. Yes, I must admit I was tempted not to pause it when I needed to go to the bathroom. But then again… This is not doing it any justice because it has a lot of fine elements. For a start, what I am really enthusiastic about is the re-enacting. Nowadays it is all CGI but when they did A Bridge Too Far they had no choice but have people jump out of planes with their parachutes. And this is so beautiful. The scene where they jump is almost ethereal and all those hundreds of parachutes look like ever so many jellyfish. But there the dwelling on beauty ends, too horrible is the end of those frail looking creatures. Is there anything more helpless than a man hanging from a few ropes being shot at?

Operation Market Garden has been one of the biggest planning mistakes of WWII. What could have been a successful multinational cooperation turned into a farcical disaster. Two generals, one British (Montgomery), the other American (Patton), were so full of themselves that their egos put aside any consideration of a possible failure. Moreover Montgomery totally underestimated the German’s strength. 35000 paratroopers were to land in Holland behind enemy lines.  The idea was to secure three bridges, push back the German troops, invade Germany and end the war. While holding the bridges, the troops should have been reinforced by tanks. Unfortunately they forgot to provide supply lines for the paratroopers, the armored troops were held back and died on what was called “Hell’s Highway” and civilians got in between as the operation collapsed.

This movie is probably one of the most famous war movies of all times. It is an all-star cast, like The Longest Day, starring Robert Redford, Ryan O’Neil, Gene Hackman, James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Dirk Bogarde, Maximilian Schell, Hardy Krüger and many more. A Bridge Too Far shows, like The Longest Day, a big operation from different points of view. I was not equally keen on all the actors but was impressed by Anthony Hopkins whose despair at the end is painfully obvious. He plays the role of Lt. Col. Frost whose troops had to defend Arnhem Bridge. The end of the movie is one of the saddest in war movie history. The troops are either defeated, taken prisoners or killed.

A Bridge Too Far is a tragic illustration of what can go wrong when egotism meets bad planning and how the price is ultimately only paid by those who must follow orders.

As I stated before it is a tad long but it will always remain one of the most important epic war movies and you should watch it if you haven’t done so already.