Movie Review: ‘A Bridge Too Far’

A still image from A Bridge Too Far, with (from left to right) Gene Hackman, Edward Fox, Dirk Bogarde, Ryan O’Neal, and Michael Caine. Photo Credit and (C) 1977: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

 

Lt. Gen. Horrocks: [briefing his XXX Corps officers on Operation Market Garden] Gentlemen, this is a story that you shall tell your grandchildren, and mightily bored they’ll be. [the officers laugh] The plan is called “Operation Market Garden”. “Market” is the airborne element, and “Garden”, the ground forces. That’s us. [points to a map behind him of Holland, showing the positions of the Allied forces, and the path the Corps will take] Now, this is our position on the Belgian border, here. Tomorrow, three airborne divisions will begin landing in Holland. 35,000 men taking off from 24 airfields in troop-carrying planes or towed in gliders. The American 101st, here, around Eindhoven, the American 82nd, here, south of Nijmegen, and our own 1st Airborne boys, and a Polish brigade, here, at Arnhem, 64 miles behind enemy lines. Now, their job is to take and hold all the bridges in these three areas. Our job is to punch a hole through the German front line, here, and then drive like hell up this road, linking up with each airborne division on the way. Speed is the vital factor. The plan is to reach Eindhoven in two to three hours, and Arnhem in two to three days. That, gentlemen, is the prize – the bridge over the Rhine, the last bridge between us and Germany. Kickoff will be at 1435 hours tomorrow afternoon. The Irish Guards under the command of Colonel Vandeleur, will take the lead.

A screenshot from the prologue of A Bridge Too Far. This is a U.S. M-3 Stuart light tank advancing through France in the summer of 1944.

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

Directed by: Richard Attenborough

Written by: William Goldman, based on the book by Cornelius Ryan

Starring: Dirk Bogarde, James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox, Elliott Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Hardy Kruger, Laurence Olivier, Ryan O’Neal, Robert Redford, Maximillian Schell, Liv Ullmann

“I’ve always thought we tried to go a bridge too far….”

On June 15, 1977, United Artists released A Bridge Too Far, an epic recreation of 1944’s Operation Market-Garden, the ill-fated attempt by Allied forces to capture a bridgehead over the Lower Rhine River in Nazi-occupied Holland in a bid to end the war by Christmas of 1944. Based on Cornelius Ryan’s eponymous book (his last), A Bridge Too Far was adapted for the screen by  the Academy Award-winning writer William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride) and directed by actor-director Richard Attenborough (Gandhi, Chaplin).

Producer Joseph E. Levine purchased the film rights to Ryan’s book before its publication in the summer of 1974; the best-selling author was dying from cancer and agreed to let Levine and his brother Richard to adapt A Bridge Too Far as an unofficial sequel to 1962’s The Longest Day, which was also based on a Cornelius Ryan book. Levine, who was determined to have the film open close to the 33rd anniversary of D-Day, spent $25 million ($105,773,102 in today’s dollars) on the film, which featured an all-star international cast, on-location shoots in the Netherlands and in England, and the use of real military vehicles and aircraft, some of which were of authentic WWII vintage.

Mad Tuesday, or Dolle Dinstag as depicted in A Bridge Too Far.

Despite the formidable creative forces and good intentions behind A Bridge Too Far, the film earned mixed reviews from critics and indifference from moviegoers. The film opened just two years after the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War, and by the time of its release, American audiences were not interested in war epics, much less one that recreated a defeat for the Allies during the last months of World War II. It was a box office flop in the United States[1], earning only $50 million worldwide ($211,546,204.62).

“It’s all a question of bridges….”

A Bridge Too Far opens with a prologue that consists of a voiceover by actress Liv Ullmann, who plays Kate Ter Horst in the film, and documentary footage intended to set the stage for the main narrative. In a slickly edited montage created by Antony Gibbs, late 1970s-era audiences saw and heard this:

[Film opens with montage footage of a World War II-era bomber dropping ordinances. Suddenly, the footage freezes, and we hear a woman speaking]

Kate Ter Horst: It’s hard to remember now, but Europe was like this in 1944.

[The video resumes, showing footage of the fighting while the narrator continues on with the introduction]

Kate Ter Horst: The Second World War was in its fifth year and still going Hitler’s way.[2] German troops controlled most of Europe. D-Day changed all that.

[The archive footage cuts to the invasion of Normandy and the liberation of Paris]

Kate Ter Horst: D-Day, June 6, 1944, when the Allied forces, under their commander, General Eisenhower, landed on the northern coast of France. By July, they were able to begin their own offensive. By August, Paris was liberated. Everywhere the Germans retreated.

[We then see archive footage showing the Allied advance through northern France]

Kate Ter Horst: But with the Allied victories came problems. Supplies still had to be driven from Normandy, over 400 miles away and became dangerously short. The Allied advance began to come to a halt.

[The archive footage then goes to video of General Eisenhower, General Patton, and Field Marshal Montgomery]

Kate Ter Horst: Another problem facing Eisenhower was this. His two most famous generals – Patton, who was in the south, and Montgomery in the north – disliked each other intensely. Their long-standing rivalry had never been more fierce. There simply were not enough supplies for both armies. Each wanted to be the one to defeat the Germans. Each wanted to beat the other to Berlin.

[We now see footage of the planning stages of “Operation Market-Garden” as well as hear background music as the woman continues with the introduction]

Kate Ter Horst: In September 1944, Montgomery devised a new and spectacular plan code-named “Market-Garden”. Eisenhower, under great pressure from his superiors, finally sided with Montgomery, and “Operation Market-Garden” became a reality. The plan, like so many plans in so many wars before it, was meant to end the fighting by Christmas and bring the boys back home.

[We see the archive footage freeze, and watch it zoom in on General Eisenhower before fading to black]

 The film’s main narrative resumes after a main title sequence that features a list of the major cast members and a deceptively optimistic score by composer John Addison. In a montage of scenes reminiscent of Darryl F. Zanuck’s The Longest Day, we see vignettes of occupied Holland in the days shortly before Market-Garden’s D-Day (September 17, 1944), starting with the panicked exodus of German troops – some of them accompanied by their Dutch girlfriends and other collaborationists – on starting on Tuesday, September 4, a date known in the Netherlands as Dolle Dinsdag – Mad Tuesday – and the days leading up to the operation.

A Bridge Too Far’s first act switches back and forth between the England-based headquarters of  Lt. Gen. Frederick “Boy” Browning (Dirk Bogarde), Holland, and the German Army’s Western Front HQ in western Germany. As in The Longest Day, this expository section of the film serves to introduce some of the characters (most of them historical figures, although some are composite characters or, in the case of Brian Urquhart, a real person given a fictitious name – “Major Fuller” – to prevent confusion or simplify the story’s narrative) and summarize the grand strategies from both the Allied and German perspectives.

Even early on in A Bridge Too Far, Goldman and Attenborough foreshadow the film’s not-too-happy ending by giving viewers hints that all’s not as rosy as Field Marshal Montgomery – an off-screen character whose overconfidence is reflected by “Boy” Browning’s own – thinks.

In one of A Bridge Too Far’s several “pointer scenes,” Browning makes it seem as though Market-Garden’s success is inevitable. His tone throughout the “meeting of the generals” sequence is cocky and airily dismissive of any possible doubts from his subordinates.

Anthony Hopkins (right) plays Lt. Col. John Frost in A Bridge Too Far. Photo Credit: MGM/United Artists. (C) 1977 MGM-UA.

After he has given the various division commanders their assignments and explained that “it’s all a question of bridges” that have to be taken “with thunderclap surprise,” Browning is confronted by Polish Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski (Gene Hackman):

Lt. Gen. Frederick Browning: Only the weather can stop us now.

Maj. Gen. Stanislaw Sosabowski: Weather! Christus! General Browning, what of the Germans? Don’t you think that if we know Arnhem is so critical to their safety that they might know it too?

Lt. General Frederick Browning: Now, look here. The few troops in the area are second class. They’re not frontline caliber, not at all, do you understand? I think you ought to have a little more faith in Montgomery’s intelligence reports, you know. He’s done pretty well for us in last three or four years.

Maj. Gen. Stanislaw Sosabowski: I will tell you the extent of my faith. I am thinking of asking for a letter from you stating that I was forced to act under your orders in case my men are massacred.

Lt. Gen. Frederick Browning: I see… I do see. Do you wish such a letter?

Maj. Gen. Stanislaw Sosabowski: No… No, of course not. In the case of massacre, what difference will it make?

C-47s in “invasion” paint scheme from 1944.

And although the young new commander of the American 82nd Airborne Division, Brig. Gen. James Gavin (Ryan O’Neal) is more confident than the worried Polish general, he, too, points out the complexities of Market-Garden:

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: Why the emergency meeting?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: Just keeping me abreast of the little changes.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: How big are the little changes?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: I’ll answer with typical British understatement: gigantic. For example, they can’t get us all in at once. Too many men, too much equipment, not enough planes. It’s gonna take three days to get the men into Arnhem, Poles and the British.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: Well, what about us?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: We’ll be all right. Aside from the fact that we’re parachuting in daylight, we have nothing to worry about.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: Daylight? Has it ever been tried before?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: Not in a major drop.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: You think there might be a reason for that?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: Let’s hope not.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: What do you think?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: It’ll be all right. It’s a no-moon period anyway. We have to go in daylight. It doesn’t matter. Just so they get us over the target area. Half a mile away, three quarters of a mile, I’ll settle for that–

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: I don’t want to hear anything else. Is there anything else?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: Well, you’re my Dutch adviser, Harry.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: I forgot to tell you something?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: Only that the Germans first tried to take Nijmegen bridge themselves back in 1940 and got slaughtered.

There are other hints that the largest airborne operation ever mounted will run into unexpected problems, including a pointer scene – this time on the German side – showing the impromptu decision by Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt (Wolfgang Priess) to move a SS Panzer force – the II SS Panzer Corps[3] from the front lines to a “quiet sector” near Arnhem.

But grand strategy isn’t the focus of either Ryan’s book or Goldman’s screenplay; it’s the story of the rank-and-file junior officers and enlisted men that capture their attention. Thus, there are many scenes that showcase the soldiers at the “pointy end of the spear” of Market-Garden.

Early in the movie, we are introduced to Sgt. Eddie Dohun (James Caan)[4] and Capt. Glass,[5] Dohun’s young company commander, who tries to cope with his fear of dying by drinking too much whiskey on the eve of the operation:

Capt. Glass: My problem is, I’m not totally crazy about the prospect of dying.

SSgt. Eddie Dohun: So don’t die. Drinking that garbage isn’t gonna keep you alive, is it?

Capt. Glass: What is?

SSgt. Eddie Dohun: What is? Well, not gettin’ shot.

Capt. Glass: What can guarantee that?

SSgt. Eddie Dohun: Nothing, for sure.

Capt. Glass: You will.

SSgt. Eddie Dohun: I will what?

Capt. Glass: You tell me, Eddie. You tell me I won’t die.

SSgt. Eddie Dohun: Alright, you won’t die.

Capt. Glass: No, no. Guarantee me. I want you to guarantee me I won’t die.

SSgt. Eddie Dohun: [seriously] I guarantee you.

“Flatten Arnhem….”

The second act of A Bridge Too Far opens with a spectacular set-piece sequence that recreates the first “lift” of airborne and glider troops from England to their drop zones in German-occupied Holland. Here, viewers will see that producer Joseph E. Levine spared no expense to re-enact the massive airlift and parachute drops of Sunday, September 17, 1944.  Every available C-47 Skytrain/Dakota plane that could be wrangled was repainted in wartime U.S. Army Air Force or Royal Air Force colors, and several mockups of Horsa gliders – none had survived the war – were also built to portray the glider force.  

And even though editor Antony Gibbs and production designer had to use movie trickery to make it look as though there were thousands of planes in the airborne armada, the movie pulls off the illusion that the audience is witnessing Operation Market-Garden by using actual military parachutists in a mass jump and filming it with cameras mounted on a plane and by parachute cameraman John Partington-Smith.

In this portion of the film, we see Operation Market-Garden’s chances of success start to diminish, even though the Allies have the advantage of tactical surprise. Even Field Marshal Walther Model (Walter Kohut) is caught by surprise when paratroopers from the 1st British Airborne Division land three miles away from his Army Group B headquarters in Oosterbeek:

Generalfeldmarschall Model’s aide: Field Marshal, pardon me for interrupting, but … British paratroops have apparently landed … three kilometres from here.

Generalfeldmarschall Walther Model: Why should they do that? There is nothing valuable here. … Me! I am valuable here. They have all come just to capture me. [stands from his lunch and moves to the door] Get my driver and car.

Generalfeldmarschall Model’s aide: Yes, Herr Marshal!

Generalfeldmarschall Walther Model: Evacuate my headquarters!

Generalfeldmarschall Model’s aide: Yes, sir!

Generalfeldmarschall Walther Model: [pops back in and shouts] And don’t forget my cigars!

But as the day goes on, Model and the forces under his command find ways to stymie the Allied bid to capture the bridges in the target zone for Market-Garden. In the American sector, German engineers blow up the bridge over a canal near Son, while Jim Gavin’s 82nd Airborne fails to capture the Nijmegen bridge on the first day of the operation.

And at Arnhem, Major General Roy Urquhart (Sean Connery) is frustrated in his efforts to capture the bridge over the Lower Rhine by the loss of gliders with jeeps that were supposed to dash from the drop zones – which, at eight miles’ distance, were too far away from Arnhem – to the main bridge over the Neder Rijn, bad radios, and a shortage of troops with which to carry out his mission. Only one battalion led by Lt. Col. John Frost (Anthony Hopkins) reaches the northern end of the bridge, but fails to capture the heavily defended southern half:

Corp. Hancock: Sir

[Offers mug of tea]

Maj. Gen. Urquhart: Hancock. I’ve got lunatics laughing at me from the woods. My original plan has been scuppered now that the jeeps haven’t arrived. My communications are completely broken down. Do you really believe any of that can be helped by a cup of tea?

Corp. Hancock: Couldn’t hurt, sir.

[Urquhart accepts his mug of tea]

As in Ryan’s book, screenwriter Goldman and director Attenborough lay out a tragic scenario of American and British soldiers striving desperately to make Operation Market-Garden work against all odds. There are plenty of moments when it looks as the mission – which was planned and mounted in haste – might just work,  but it’s all an illusion.

For instance, after the Paras under Frost’s command repulse a German reconnaissance unit’s reckless attempt to retake the “British” end of Arnhem bridge – another brilliant set-piece scene shot by Geoffrey Unsworth, who would later be known for his work on Superman: The Movie –Obergruppenführer Bittrich (Maximillian Schell) brings in heavy panzers and SS troops to eradicate the stubborn “Red Devils” from their perimeter. But – perhaps knowing that Germany might win this battle but still lose the war – Bittrich tries to avoid a showdown by asking the British to surrender.

Maximillian Schell as Obergruppenführer Bittrich. Photo Credit: MGM. (C) 1977 MGM/United Artists.

[an SS officer is approaching under a white flag]

Maj. Harry Carlyle: Rather interesting development, sir. [to the German] That’s far enough! We can hear you from there!

SS Panzer Officer: My general says there is no point in continuing this fighting! He is willing to discuss a surrender!

[Short pause; the German waits for an answer, Frost thinks]

Lt. Col. John Frost: Tell him to go to hell.

Maj. Harry Carlyle: We haven’t the proper facilities to take you all prisoner! Sorry!

SS Panzer Officer: [confused] What?

Maj. Harry Carlyle: We’d like to, but we can’t accept your surrender! Was there anything else?

[German officer walks off silently]

Lt. Col. John Frost: Right.

[the officer returns to Obergruppenführer Bittrich – they converse in German]

SS Panzer Officer: They rejected our surrender offer. What are your orders, Herr General?

Obergruppenführer Bittrich: Flatten Arnhem.

My Take

Another poster promoting A Bridge Too Far. (C) 1977 MGM/United Artists

I saw A Bridge Too Far not long after it hit theaters in my hometown of Miami in June of 1977. I’d read parts of Cornelius Ryan’s book when they were featured in the “Book” section of Reader’s Digest in 1974, so I was eager to see a movie version. School was out for summer vacation, so I asked my mother to take me and a friend from my neighborhood, Patrick Blanchard, to see it.

(C) 1974 Simon & Schuster.

Mom did not want to watch A Bridge Too Far – she had other plans that day[6] and wasn’t in the mood to  see a nearly three-hour war movie – but she drove Patrick and me to the Dadeland Twin Theatres, which was the closest venue to our house in Westchester.  

I was expecting long lines to get in to see A Bridge Too Far, but to my surprise, there weren’t. There was a huge one for the other movie being shown in the other screening room, a space fantasy film called Star Wars. I’d watched the TV promo for it the night before and, frankly, I wasn’t impressed. My friend Patrick had probably heard of it and might have mentioned it to me on the car ride to the theater, but he also wanted to see A Bridge Too Far, so he never said anything like “Hey, forget A Bridge Too Far, let’s go see Star Wars instead!” [7]

As a World War II buff from an early age and a fan of The Longest Day, I was impressed by A Bridge Too Far. Oddly for me, I remember feeling extremely sad when Patrick and I exited the screening room after the end credits had finished rolling on the movie screen. First, I’d forgotten how the book ended – I’d only read the excerpts from Ryan’s best-seller in Reader’s Digest three years earlier and, as a kid, had a lot of other stuff on my mind, including the end of the relationship with my first girlfriend, school-related activities (including singing in our elementary school’s first choir), and my grandfather’s recent death. Second, I had not yet read the complete book.

Blu-ray artwork for the 2008 BD release. (C) 2008 MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The most impressive scenes in the film, both then and now, are the ones that depict the airborne jump on September 17, 1944, the building of the Bailey bridge over the Son canal 36 hours later, and the daring attempt by Major Julian Cook (Robert Redford) and two companies of paratroopers to cross the Waal River on collapsible canvas sided boats to capture the Nijmegen Bridge from both ends,

Brig. Gen. Gavin: What’s the best way to take a bridge?

Maj. Julian Cook: Both ends at once.

Brig. Gen. Gavin: I’m sending two companies across the river by boat. I need a man with very special qualities to lead.

Maj. Julian Cook: Go on, sir.

Brig. Gen. Gavin: He’s got to be tough enough to do it and he’s got to be experienced enough to do it. Plus one more thing. He’s got to be dumb enough to do it… Start getting ready.

U.S. captain: What was all that about, Major?

Maj. Julian Cook: Well, someone’s come up with a real nightmare. Real nightmare.

 I was also impressed by how accurate everything looked in the film, even though now I know that the realism is more illusory than I was aware as a young boy in 1977. Much of the equipment shown in A Bridge Too Far Is really vintage stuff from World War II or reasonably well-done mock-ups; some of the M-4 Shermans seen on screen are actually fiberglass shells placed atop smaller vehicles to augment the small numbers of real tanks in the film.  However, the parachutes and jump boots used by the paratroopers in the film were from the 1960s, as there were only a few usable 1944 vintage chutes and no WWII jump boots were available for the filmmakers to use or replicate.

On the whole, William Goldman did a decent job of adapting Cornelius Ryan’s non-fiction book to the screen. Some contemporary reviewers hated A Bridge Too Far for being too repetitive or being an expensive movie with strong visuals but too long, boring, and non-epic, but I think much of that is just a sign of the post-Vietnam War cynicism that permeated the culture in 1977. It’s not, like The Longest Day, a war film about a victory. Goldman is on record[8]as saying, “This was our chance to say, ‘War sucks.’”

I am a big fan of movie scores, and John Addison’s music for A Bridge Too Far is definitely among my Top 10 Favorite Scores Not Composed by John Williams. That was one of the elements that grabbed me the most the two times that I saw it in theaters, and when I saw a CD edition of it at a Camelot Music store in the Miami International Mall back in September 1999, I bought it. Its classic Overture (aka “A Bridge Too Far March”) is a brilliant composition in that it’s a jaunty march that represents the optimism felt by the Allies – at every level of command – shortly before Operation Market-Garden. Its almost triumphal tones provide a tragically ironic undertone to the film’s beginning.

Of course, as the film progresses, Addison’s score grows more ominous and somber. His Arnhem theme – which recurs in different sequences in various shadings and variations – underscores the courage and the suffering of the Dutch civilians caught in the crossfire of Market-Garden. Another cue, March of the Paratroopers, is presented in a jaunty, almost comical style as the 101st Airborne paratroopers led by Col. Bobby Stout[9] rush to the Son canal bridge – then gets more tense as the Germans blow that span up right in front of their faces.

Is A Bridge Too Far a perfect World War II movie? No, it has unavoidable anachronisms that show up on screen despite the filmmakers’ best efforts to avoid them. In a few shots, you can see 1970s era cars in the background, and the German tanks – all of which were 1970s era Leopard tanks altered visually to resemble their WWII-era Panther ancestors – are painted gray and have the wrong markings on hulls and turrets. Some of the actors who portray officers either wear their insignia incorrectly or – like actor Robert Redford – wear their hair longer than 1944 Army regulations would have allowed.

And, as in most movies that are complex and involve so many people but have to be made by a certain deadline, there are quite a few continuity and geographical errors. For instance, the Son Canal is depicted as being wide and in open countryside, whilst the real one is near Son, has buildings on both sides, and is relatively narrow. In another scene, you can see the pyrotechnic device on a German antitank gun on screen before it “fires.”

Still, Joseph E. Levine’s heart and $25 million were in the right place, even if 1977 America was not ready for his movie about one of the great military blunders of World War II. The script is nicely balanced between moments of gallantry and stupidity, humor and tragedy, and, as the old promo for ABC’s Wide World of Sports famously said, “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.

Attenborough, who served in World War II with the British armed forces, chose his international cast well. A Bridge Too Far is full of 1970s-era A-list actors from different countries, including Britain’s Dirk Bogarde (a veteran of Market-Garden in real life), Denholm Elliott,  Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery, Lawrence Olivier, and Edward Fox.

Hollywood stars who had noticeable roles include Robert Redford, James Caan, Elliott Gould, Ryan O’Neal,  Gene Hackman (who unfortunately hammed it up as a Polish general). Nicholas Campbell, and future Cheers co-star John Ratzenberger.

[Stout and Vanderleur are discussing how to get the Bailey bridge through town]

Lt. Colonel J.O.E. Vandeleur: When you refer to Bailey crap I take it you mean that glorious, precision-made, British-built bridge which is the envy of the civilized world?

[looks at the crowd of Dutch civilians]

Lt. Colonel J.O.E. Vandeleur: I don’t know how you’re going to get it through this crowd.

Col. Robert Stout: No sweat. I got a back way staked out that will avoid all this. American ingenuity.

Lt. Colonel. J.O.E. Vanderleur: Really?

Col. Robert Stout: Actually, I was born in Yugoslavia, but what the hell.

(C) 1977 MGM-United Artists

Dutch, German, and Scandinavian actors in A Bridge Too Far include Siem Vroom, Marlies van Alcmaer, Eric van’t Wout, Josephine Peeper, Wolfgang Preiss[10], Hardy Kruger, Maximillian Schell, and Liv Ullmann (a favorite muse of director Ingmar Bergman).  As an ensemble movie,  the performances are similar to those in The Longest Day in that not one actor carries the entire story. The actors all have their small vignettes, most of them based on events in Ryan’s book, although Goldman clearly invented a few scenes for dramatic effect or to add a bit of humor here and there. The performances are good, though, and the European cast members add authenticity to the film by speaking in German and Dutch (with English subtitles), thus giving A Bridge Too Far a semi-documentary feel.

At nearly three hours in length, A Bridge Too Far is longer than the average feature film. However, it is tightly written, well-paced, and is riveting enough so that it doesn’t drag or seem boring. Attenborough has good directorial instincts and as an actor himself, he had a good rapport with the cast. (The only exception, sadly, was with Dirk Bogarde, whose overconfident and even arrogant portrayal of Market-Garden’s overall commander was criticized by friends and relatives of the real “Boy” Browning. The flak Bogarde received from those critics caused a rift between Attenborough and himself.)  It’s a movie worth watching, even though it is about a battle that could not be won.


[1] Unsurprisingly, A Bridge Too Far was more successful in Great Britain and the Netherlands, the nations that are more attuned to the history of Operation Market-Garden. It did well enough in British and Dutch theaters that Joseph E. Levine Productions earned its original $25 million investment back.

[2] Actually, William Goldman gets his history wrong here. By 1944, the war was not going “Hitler’s way.” The German Navy had lost the Battle of the Atlantic, the Axis had been driven out of North Africa, and although the Mediterranean was by then a sideshow, Allied armies had invaded Italy and knocked her out of the war. On the Eastern front, Hitler had lost several important battles – Moscow, Stalingrad, and Kursk – and his armies were  decimated by the Red Army. And in the air, the Third Reich was being bombed “around the clock,” with American bombers striking targets in German-occupied territory by day, and British bombers by night.

[3] The II SS Panzer Corps is misidentified onscreen as the II SS Panzer Division. The corps actually consisted of elements of two SS Panzer divisions – the 9 SS Panzer and the 10th SS Panzer. Though badly mauled in Normandy and nowhere near their full strength, these two German armored units were at the right place at the right time to intervene in Operation Market-Garden.

[4] In real life, Caan’s character was named Charles Dohun.

[5] Real name: Captain LeGrand “Legs” Johnson

[6] I don’t recall exactly what my mother’s plans were, but just by the date alone I can safely speculate that it was an errand regarding the upcoming sale of our Westchester house. My grandmother, who we all called Tata, was in Miami at the time in an attempt to cope with the grief over my grandfather’s recent death. It was Tata who had convinced Mom to go look at a new condominium community called East Wind Lake Village, which was under construction as a part of the larger Fontainebleau Park development. I’d been told only a few days before going to see A Bridge Too Far that we might move to a new house before school started; I was hoping that it wasn’t true, as I liked the house in Westchester and my neighborhood and had no desire to move.  

[7] And if he did say that I don’t remember.

[8] In the “making of” featurette and in the audio commentary of the 2004 Collector’s Editon DVD set from MGM-UA Home Entertainment.

[9] Yet another fictitious character, Bobby Stout is clearly based on Robert F. Sink, the commanding officer of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Interestingly, Sink was portrayed under his real name by actor Dale Dye in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers.

[10] Wolfgang Preiss and Sean Connery also had parts in The Longest Day; in that film, Preiss played Maj. Gen. Max Pemsel, the German Seventh Army’s chief of staff, while Connery played the too-comical Irish soldier Private Flanagan.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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