|A Bridge Too Far|
|Directed by||Richard Attenborough|
|Screenplay by||William Goldman|
|Based on||A Bridge Too Far|
by Cornelius Ryan
|Edited by||Antony Gibbs|
|Music by||John Addison|
Joseph E. Levine Productions
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|June 15, 1977|
|Box office||$50.7 million|
A Bridge Too Far is a 1977 epic war film depicting Operation Market Garden, a failed Allied operation in Nazi-occupied Netherlands during World War II. Based on a non-fiction book of the same name by historian Cornelius Ryan, the film is directed by Richard Attenborough and with a screenplay by William Goldman. It stars an ensemble cast, featuring Dirk Bogarde, James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox, Elliott Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Hardy Krüger, Laurence Olivier, Ryan O'Neal, Robert Redford, Maximilian Schell and Liv Ullmann.
Independently produced by Richard and Joseph E. Levine, it was the second film based on a book by Ryan to be adapted for the screen (after The Longest Day) (1962). It was the second film based on the events of World War II's failed Operation Market Garden, following Theirs Is the Glory (1946). A co-production between the United Kingdom and the United States, the film was shot on location in the Netherlands, in many of the real locations where the historical events took place.
Though it received a tepid critical response, A Bridge Too Far received several awards. At the 31st BAFTA Awards it won four out of eight nominated categories, including Best Supporting Actor for Edward Fox and Best Score for John Addison—who himself had served in the British XXX Corps during Market Garden. Attenborough was nominated for Best Direction, and the film was nominated for Best Motion Picture.
Operation Market Garden envisages 35,000 men being flown 300 miles (480 km) from air bases in England and dropped behind enemy lines in the Netherlands. Two divisions of US paratroopers are responsible for securing the road and bridges as far as Nijmegen. A British division, under Major-General Roy Urquhart, is to land near Arnhem and hold both sides of the bridge there, backed by a brigade of Polish paratroopers under General Stanisław Sosabowski. XXX Armoured Corps are to push up the road over the bridges captured by the American paratroopers and reach Arnhem two days after the drop.
As General Urquhart briefs his officers, some of them are surprised they are going to attempt a landing so far from their objective since the distance from their landing zone to the bridge will render their portable radios useless. Although the consensus is that resistance will consist entirely of inexperienced old men and Hitler Youth, reconnaissance photos show the presence of German tanks at Arnhem. General Browning nevertheless dismisses the photos and also ignores reports from the Dutch underground, believing the operation will be successful regardless.
The Arnhem bridge is the prime target, since it serves as the last means of escape for the German forces in the Netherlands and a direct route to Germany for the Allies. However the road to it is only a single lane linking the various key bridges and vehicles have to squeeze onto the verge to pass. The road is also elevated, causing anything moving along it to stand out.
Though the airborne drops catch the enemy by surprise and encounter little resistance, the Son bridge is demolished by the Germans just before it can be secured. Furthermore, troubles beset Urquhart's division, since many of the jeeps either do not arrive or are destroyed in an ambush, in addition to their nonfunctional radio sets.
Meanwhile, XXX Corps' progress is slowed by German resistance, the narrowness of the road and the need to construct a Bailey bridge to replace the one destroyed at Son. They are then halted at Nijmegen, where soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division perform a dangerous daylight river crossing to capture the Nijmegen bridge and XXX Corps is further delayed waiting for infantry to secure the town.
The Germans close in on the isolated British paratroopers occupying part of Arnhem at the bridge, and although Sosabowski's troops finally arrive after being delayed in England they are ultimately too late to reinforce the British. After days of intense fighting against SS infantry and panzers the outgunned troops are eventually either captured or forced to withdraw to Oosterbeek. Urquhart receives orders to retreat, while the other Allied commanders blame the various difficulties encountered for their failure to provide the needed support.
Urquhart escapes with less than a fifth of his original 10,000 troops while those who are too badly injured to flee stay behind to cover the withdrawal. On arrival at British headquarters Urquhart confronts Browning about his personal sentiments regarding the operation and the latter contradicts his earlier optimism regarding it.
Back in Oosterbeek Kate ter Horst, whose home has been converted into a makeshift hospital by the British, abandons its ruins. Passing through the front yard, now a graveyard for fallen troops, she and her children leave with an elderly doctor, pulling a few possessions in a cart, while wounded British troops sing "Abide with Me" as they await capture.
Note: Characters ordered by rank
|Dirk Bogarde||Lieutenant-General Frederick 'Boy' Browning||—||GOC I British Airborne Corps, and at HQ First Allied Airborne Army as its deputy commander, British Army at Nijmegen.|
|Edward Fox||Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks||—||GOC, XXX Corps, British Second Army.|
|Sean Connery||Major-General Roy Urquhart||—||GOC, 1st British Airborne Division, Arnhem|
|Donald Douglas||Brigadier Gerald Lathbury||—||Brigade Commander, 1st Parachute Brigade, British Army in Arnhem.|
|Gerald Sim||Colonel Sims||Arthur Austin Eagger||Senior Medical Officer, 1st Airborne Corps, RAMC, British Army.|
|Richard Kane||Colonel Weaver||Graeme Warrack||Senior Medical Officer, Headquarters RAMC, 1st British Airborne Division, at the Main Dressing Station in the Schoonoord Hotel of the Oosterbeek Perimeter.|
|Philip Raymond||Colonel McEwan||Edward H. Goulburn||C.O. 2nd Armoured Grenadier Guards Battalion.|
|Michael Caine||Lieutenant-Colonel J.O.E. Vandeleur||—||CO, 3rd Battalion (Infantry), the Irish Guards, the Guards Armoured Division, XXX Corps, British Army|
|Anthony Hopkins||Lieutenant-Colonel John Frost||—||Commanding Officer, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, 1st Parachute Brigade, 1st British Airborne Division at Arnhem road bridge|
|Michael Byrne||Lieutenant-Colonel Giles Vandeleur||—||Acting CO, 2nd Battalion (Armoured), the Irish Guards, the British Guards Armoured Division. Cousin to 'Joe'.|
|Donald Pickering||Lieutenant-Colonel C.B. MacKenzie||—||Principal General Staff Officer (Chief of Staff), Headquarters, 1st Airborne Division, British Army, Divisional HQ at the Hartenstein Hotel|
|Christopher Good||Major Harry Carlyle||Allison Digby Tatham-Warter.||Officer Commanding, A Company, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, 1st Parachute Brigade, Arnhem.|
|Frank Grimes||Major Fuller||Brian Urquhart||G-2 (Intelligence Officer) for the 1st Airborne Corps, British Army stationed at the HQ located in Moor Park Golf Club, Hertfordshire, England.|
|Stephen Moore||Major Robert Steele||Anthony Deane–Drummond||Second–in–command of the divisional signals for 1st Airborne Division, later attached to 1st Parachute Brigade.|
|John Stride||Grenadier Guards Major||Captain Lord Carrington||British Grenadier Guards Commander who argues with Major Cook after 82nd capture Nijmegen Bridge.|
|Michael Graham Cox||Captain Jimmy Cleminson||—||T/Capt., 5 Platoon, B Company, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, British Army, Arnhem|
|Keith Drinkel||Lieutenant Cornish||Eric MacKay||9th Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers, 1st Airborne Division.|
|Denholm Elliott||RAF Meteorology Officer||—|
|Jeremy Kemp||RAF Briefing Officer||—||RAF, although the briefing probably took place at the 1st Airborne Corps HQ in Moor Park Golf Club, Hertfordshire, England|
|Mark Sheridan||Sergeant Tomblin||—||2nd Battalion, 1st Parachute Brigade, 1st British Airborne Division|
|George Innes||Sergeant MacDonald||—||British 1st Airborne Division radio operator at the Hartenstein Hotel|
|Alun Armstrong||Corporal Davies||—||2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, 1st Parachute Brigade, 1st British Airborne Division|
|Paul Copley||Private Wicks||—||Batman to Lieutenant Colonel Frost, CO, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, British Army|
|Ben Cross||Trooper Binns||—||2nd Battalion, 1st Parachute Brigade, 1st British Airborne Division|
|David Auker||'Taffy' Brace||—||Medic, 1st British Airborne Division|
|Paul Maxwell||Major General Maxwell Taylor||—||CG, 101st Airborne Division, US Army at the Son bridge and later St-Oedenrode|
|Ryan O'Neal||Brigadier General James Gavin||—||Division Commander, US 82nd Airborne Division, US Army at the bridge across the River Maas in Grave, later at the Maas-Waal canal and the bridge across the River Waal in Nijmegen|
|Elliott Gould||Colonel Robert Stout||Robert Sink||CO, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.|
|Arthur Hill||US Army Surgeon Colonel||David Gold||Chief Division Surgeon, 101st Airborne Division Clearing Station.|
|Robert Redford||Major Julian Cook||—||Commanding Officer, 3rd Battalion, 504th PIR, 82nd Airborne, US Army seizing key bridges over the Maas-Waal Canal and the river assault crossing of the Waal.|
|Nicholas Campbell||Captain Glass||LeGrand King Johnson||CO, F Company, 2nd Battalion, 502PIR.|
|Garrick Hagon||Lieutenant Rafferty||—||Lieutenant, 101st Military Police Platoon, 101st Airborne Division, Division Field Hospital, US Army|
|John Ratzenberger||Lieutenant Wall||1Lt. James Megellas||Lieutenant, Company H, 504th PIR, 82nd Airborne Division, US Army, at River Waal crossing.|
|James Caan||Staff Sergeant Eddie Dohun||Charles Dohun||First Sergeant of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division U.S. Army (attacking Best).|
|Gene Hackman||Major General Stanisław Sosabowski||Brigade Commander, Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade, Polish Armed Forces|
|Peter Faber||Captain Arie Bestebreurtje||Liaison officer with the 82nd Airborne Division, Office of Strategic Services, Royal Dutch Army[circular reference]|
|Siem Vroom||Dutch underground leader|
|Erik van 't Wout||Underground leader's son|
|Marlies van Alcmaer||Underground leader's wife|
|Wolfgang Preiss||Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt||—||Commander, OB West|
|Walter Kohut||Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model||—||Commander, Army Group B|
|Hardy Krüger||Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Karl Ludwig||— Heinz Harmel||Division Commander, 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg.|
|Maximilian Schell||General der Waffen-SS Wilhelm Bittrich||—||Corps Commander, II SS Panzer Corps.|
|Hans von Borsody||General der Infanterie Günther Blumentritt||—||Chief of Staff, OB West|
|Fred Williams||SS-Hauptsturmführer Viktor Eberhard Gräbner||—||Commander, reconnaissance battle group of 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen|
|Lex van Delden||SS-Oberscharführer Matthias Boschmann||—||Bittrich's orderly.|
|Hartmut Becker||German Army Feldgendarmerie sentry||—|
|Laurence Olivier||Dr. Jan Spaander|
|Liv Ullmann||Kate ter Horst|
|Mary Smithuysen||Old Dutch lady|
|Hans Croiset||Old Dutch lady's son|
|Josephine Peeper||Cafe waitress|
|Tom van Beek||Jan ter Horst|
|Albert van der Harst||Medic|
|Richard Attenborough||Lunatic wearing glasses||Uncredited cameo|
Air filming was done in the first weeks of September 1976, culminating in a series of air drops of a total of 1,000 men. Supplies were dropped from a number of Dakota aircraft. The Dakotas were gathered by the film company Joseph E. Levine Presents Incorporated. All aircraft were required to be CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) or FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) registered and licensed to carry passengers. An original deal for the purchase of 10 fell through when two airframes were rejected as passenger configured without the necessary jump doors. Eleven Dakotas were procured. Two ex-Portuguese Air Force, 6153 and 6171 (N9984Q and N9983Q), and two from Air Djibouti, operating from Djibouti in French Somaliland, F-OCKU and F-OCKX (N9985Q and N9986Q) were purchased by Joseph E. Levine. Three Danish Air Force K-685, K-687, and K-688, and four Finnish Air Force C-47s, DO-4, DO-7, DO-10 and DO-12, were loaned for the duration of the parachute filming.
Aircraft 6171 doubled as the camera ship on most formations, with a camouflaged Piper Aztec, G-AWDI. A camera was mounted in the astrodome, one on the port upper mainplane surface, with a third camera on the outside of the forward port cabin window and a fourth under the aircraft centre section. In addition, centre escape hatches were removed to make additional camera ports available, provided that no troops were aboard during filming. A second Aztec, G-ASND, was a backup camera ship on some shots, but it was not camouflaged. An Alouette, G-BDWN, was also employed. After a mishap with G-AWDI, two locally hired Cessna 172s, PH-GVP and PH-ADF, were also used. Ten Horsa glider replicas were built, but a windstorm damaged almost all of them. Seven or eight were hastily repaired for the shoot. The replica gliders were tail-heavy and required a support post under the rear fuselage, with camera angles carefully chosen to avoid revealing this. Dakota 6153 was fitted with tow gear and Horsa replicas were towed at high speed, though none went airborne. A two-seat Blaník sailplane, provided by a member of the London Gliding Club, Dunstable, was towed aloft for the interior takeoff shots.
Four Harvards portrayed American and German fighters. Their original identities were PH-KLU, PH-BKT, B-64 and B-118, the former two aircraft loaned by the Royal Netherlands Air Force. These were flown by members of the Gilze Rijen Aero Club, which also provided an Auster III, PH-NGK, which depicted an Auster V, RT607, in wartime camouflage. Spitfire Mk. IX, MH434, depicting a photo reconnaissance variant, coded AC-S, was lent by the Hon. Patrick Lindsay, and was flown by aerobatic champion Neil Williams.
Sufficient American tanks, jeeps, and trucks of World War II vintage were found because many of the vehicles were being discarded from European military (almost entirely reserve) units, especially from Greece and Turkey.
The scenes set around the Arnhem bridge were shot in Deventer, where a similar bridge over the IJssel was still available. Although a replica of the original road bridge in Arnhem existed, by the mid-1970s modern urban development surrounded it, making it impossible to use as a setting for a 1940s city. A few scenes were shot in Zutphen, where the old municipality house and the main church can be seen. Additional scenes were filmed at Twickenham Studios.
The Motion Picture Association of America initially gave the film an R rating for its use of the F-word and depictions of war violence, but United Artists lobbied it to change it to a PG rating so that younger audiences could see the film. Cuts were also made to the film when released in the United Kingdom to avoid an AA rating from the British Board of Film Censors.
In order to keep costs down, all the star-name actors agreed to participate on a "favoured-nation" basis (i.e. they would all receive the same weekly fee), which in this case was $250,000 per week (the 2012 equivalent of $1,008,250 or £642,000).
Shooting of the American-led assault on the Bridge at Nijmegen was dubbed the "Million-Dollar Hour". Because of heavy traffic, the crew had permission to film on the bridge only between eight and nine o'clock on October 3, 1976. Failure to complete the scene would have necessitated rescheduling at a cost—including Redford's overtime—of at least a million dollars. For this reason, Attenborough insisted that all actors playing corpses keep their eyes closed.
After United Artists agreed to pay $6 million for US and Canada distribution rights, the film was a box office disappointment in North America, but performed well in Europe.
The film receives a favourable, but a tepid response from critics. Critics agreed that the film was impressively staged and historically accurate, although many found it too long and too repetitive. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 59% of 29 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 6.10/10. The website's consensus reads: "A Bridge Too Far is a war movie too long, although top-notch talent on both sides of the camera keeps the end result consistently watchable.", while it has a score of 63/100 on Metacritic based on reviews from 13 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Vincent Canby of The New York Times said further, "The movie is massive, shapeless, often unexpectedly moving, confusing, sad, vivid and very, very long." James Caan and Anthony Hopkins were cited by many critics for the excellence of their performances in a film with hundreds of speaking roles and cameos by many of the period's top actors. Generals Urquhart and Horrocks acted as military advisers to the film, adding to its historical accuracy. However, some reviewers suggested that the film contains historical inaccuracies and needs to be viewed as a 'Hollywood' interpretation of events. Robin Neillands commented, "A countless number of veterans have urged me to ignore most of the story in the film A Bridge Too Far".
Roger Ebert gave the film two out of four, describing it as
such an exercise in wretched excess, such a mindless series of routine scenes, such a boringly violent indulgence in all the blood and guts and moans they could find, that by the end we're prepared to speculate that maybe Levine went two or even three bridges too far. The movie's big and expensive and filled with stars, but it's not an epic. It's the longest B-grade war movie ever made.
Gene Siskel gave the film two-and-a-half out of four and wrote,
More often than not, A Bridge Too Far isn't a story; it's a parade of famous faces. As for the battle footage, it is more often tedious than glamorous. The paratroop landing provides a spectacular five minutes. Other action footage is routine.
John Pym of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that "by the end of this extravagant film, we have a fair idea of the who-did-what logistics of a costly military operation. The root problem with A Bridge Too Far, however, is that the top-heavy complement of stars never allows for any focus of attention." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote,
In strictly cinematic terms, the appeal of A Bridge Too Far is easy to state: it is spectacular in the size and range of its effects, earnestly well-acted by a starry and able cast, well-paced and swift despite its length, and marked by an evident attempt to give the balanced truth of a tragic episode from history.
Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "an unusually conscientious and impressive war epic" that justified its high budget
in terms of careful period recreation, visual spectacle (the sequences depicting paratroop landings are particularly awesome), the mixture of exciting combat episodes with vivid human interest vignettes, an effort to establish a coherent, many-faceted view of a complicated and ill-fated military adventure, and a generally superior level of filmmaking intelligence and craftsmanship.
A "making-of" documentary included in a special edition DVD of A Bridge Too Far says that, at the time of its release, "the film was shunned by American critics and completely ignored at Oscar time for daring to expose the fatal inadequacies of the Allied campaign".
|Evening Standard British Film Awards||Best Film||A Bridge Too Far||Won|
|31st British Academy Film Awards||Best Film||A Bridge Too Far||Nominated|
|Best Direction||Richard Attenborough||Nominated|
|Best Editing||Antony Gibbs||Nominated|
|Best Production Design||Terence Marsh||Nominated|
|Best Sound||Peter Horrocks, Gerry Humphreys, Simon Kaye, Robin O'Donoghue, and Les Wiggins||Won|
|Best Actor in a Supporting Role||Edward Fox||Won|
|Best Film Music||John Addison||Won|
|Best Cinematography||Geoffrey Unsworth||Won|
|1977 National Society of Film Critics Awards||Best Supporting Actor||Edward Fox||Won|
To promote the film, scriptwriter William Goldman wrote a book titled Story of A Bridge Too Far as a favour to Joseph E. Levine. It was published in December 1977 and divided into three sections: