A Bridge Too Far (1977) is an epic (3 hrs) big budget (26 million dollars) world war II movie based on the true events surrounding ‘Operation Market Garden’ which took place in 1944. Anthony Hopkins plays the part of the legendary leader Lieutenant Colonel John Frost.
The cast list is stunning and reads like a celebrity ‘A’ list of 1977, with possibly the only big male star Steve McQueen missing from this highly charged action drama movie.
James Caan – Staff Sergeant Eddie Dohun
Dirk Bogarde – Lieutenant General Frederick “Boy” Browning
Michael Caine – Lieutenant Colonel John Vandeleur
Sean Connery – Major General Robert Urquhart
Edward Fox – Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks
Elliott Gould – Colonel Robert Stout
Gene Hackman – Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski
Hardy Kruger – Major General Ludwig
Ryan O’Neal – Brigadier General James Gavin
Laurence Olivier – Doctor Jan Spaander
Robert Redford – Major Julian Cook
Maximilian Schell – Lieutenant General Wilhelm Bittrich
Liv Ullmann – Kate ter Horst
Directed by the competent Richard Attenborough and set in Sept 1944, starting out in the UK where the commanders of the Allied Forces finalize plans for ‘Operation Market Garden’ – an extremely ambitious but failed attempt by the Allied Forces to bring the war to an end by attempting to take control of several strategically placed bridges in Holland to gain entry into Hitler’s Germany via the Rhine. The last bridge was the bridge at Arnhem.
The action begins as soon as the stirring theme music erupts with the Dakotas pulling the tow ropes as the squadrons of planes take off for their daring mission to land behind enemy lines. On Sept 17th 1944 in broad daylight, 35, 000 Allied Forces paratroopers descended from the sky by parachute or glider up to 150 km behind lines. This was in history the largest airborne assault ever. Operation Market Garden had begun and the forces were in place to begin their mission of securing the valuable bridges and thus retreat of German forces.
Far from accurate intelligence had told the troops to expect old men and very young in terms of fighting opposition but in truth what they quickly encountered was heavily armed crack Panzer divisions (who had been placed in these backwaters for R and R) fresh and experienced from their successful exploits on the Russian front, being the first of many critical set backs for this operation. The second being the failure of the radio equipment the allies had brought with them, the crystals were the wrong type, which meant the CO’s were marooned without progress reports and therefore flaying around in the dark as to where any other of their divisions was located.
Two points of interest, Browning played by Dirk Bogarde in reality fought in the battle of Arnhem and knew General Browning, (his character part in the movie) in real life and Edward Fox also knew his alter ego Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks.
Attenborough ensured historical accuracy by taking on a team of military advisors including in person both Lieutenant Colonel John Frost and Major General Robert Urquhart (played by Sean Connery). ‘A Bridge Too Far’ intersperses historical balck and white news footage throughout the movie to great effect in this larger than life desparate battle, featuring Hitler, Patton, de Gaulle, Montgomery, Eisenhower, Churchill and Roosevelt.
Anthony Hopkins features strongly throughout the movie from the outset where he is preparing for the ‘drop’ over enemy territory, reminding his batman to pack his dinner jacket! A distinct touch of British humour right through to the trenches yards from the bridge at Arnhem. An active, well played out performance and undoubtedly one of the best 1970’s Anthony Hopkins movies.
Hundreds of extras were drafted in, a military operation in itself, for the raging battle scenes taking place in war torn towns which ended up almost demolished.
‘A Bridge Too Far‘ is a moving and entertaining account of one of the biggest battles in WWII, but also one that somewhat exposes the truth a little too shockingly (in 1977 upon it’s release, despite its enormous budget, it was not well-received for its truths hitting a little to close to the bone). Dealing with the specific failures of leadership in Operation Market Garden perhaps too candidly for some. The movie portrays the extreme bravery and loyalty of men in the face of death.
‘A Bridge Too Far’ is adapted from the book of the same name by Cornelius Ryan (author of ‘The Longest Day‘). Ryan, himself a respected WWII historian, was a journalist in wartime, based with Patton’s Third Army.
Useful links to read more about Operation Market Garden, the mission that resulted in over 17, 000 dead or seriously wounded casualties.