Developed from Cornelius Ryan’s book (he also wrote The Longest Day), A Bridge Too Far follows the progress of Operation Market Garden, an ambitious airborne operation by the Western Allies in late 1944, designed to secure a bridge over the Rhein and allow a war ending invasion of Nazi Germany’s industrial heart. This was the largest airborne operation ever undertaken by the Allies (and remains so today), involving the deployment by air of 35,000 troops in order to secure bridges along a 65 mile front. The operation itself suffered a number of setbacks however, principal amongst those being the stationing of SS Panzer troops in Arnhem just days before (this deployment was pure happenstance on the Germans part – the troops had been moved to Arnhem to be rested in fact).
At just less than three hours long, A Bridge Too Far is not what would be easily described as a fast paced movie, and will probably only be most appreciated by the dedicated war-movie buff. Surprisingly, given the obvious acting talent available at all corners, many of the cast fail to give the performances that could be expected of them and there are times where the movie shows its length and struggles to hold the audiences attention. One exception to that is Edward Fox who played the character of Lt.Gen. Horrocks, commander of 30 Corps, who won a number of awards for his performance including a BAFTA (UK) and the National Society of Film Critics Award (US). The movie was generally overlooked by the Academy however, with only a single nomination for Film Editing. Though not collecting any awards for it, Dirk Bogarde also delivers a good performance as Lt.Gen. Browning (incidentally, Bogarde served as an intelligence officer during the war and was actually sent to Arnhem by Montgomery during the battle).
What does stand out with the movie is the attention to detail paid to historical accuracy, most notably using many of the actual historical locations to re-create the primary battle scenes, these principally being Nijmegen and Grave (though not Arnhem) as well as the use of period equipment and aircraft.
In a rare foray from TV, the rising musical score by John Addison adds to the films ambience substantially (like Fox he also won a BAFTA for his work). As with most films directed by Attenborough (careful viewers will find a small cameo by him in the film as an escaped lunatic), the scope of the movie is large indeed, and there are several battle scenes (done without the aid of modern day special effects), that would rival the depth, if not the coarseness, of anything found in more contemporary films like Saving Private Ryan. Largely because of this attention to detail, A Bridge Too Far cost the relatively princely sum of $26 million dollars when made in 1977, though it was successful enough to repay that investment twice over in box-office takings.
In summary, most war-movie enthusiasts will find enough in A Bridge Too Far to enjoy the movie thoroughly, though lacking the mass-audience reach of films like Saving Private Ryan; it’s not one to likely appeal to the general movie-goer.
(C) Andrew Pilz, 20th June 2004.
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