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  • Writer's pictureRonny Duncan Studios

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

Updated: Oct 16, 2022


Plot Summary: In 1944 as the Western Front is bogged down by supply shortages, the Allies look for a deceive victory to end the war. General Bernard Montgomery proposes Operation Market Garden which envisions 35,000 men being flown and dropped behind enemy lines in the Netherlands. Two divisions of US paratroopers the 101 and the 82 lead by Generals Maxwell Taylor (Paul Maxwell) and James Gavin (Ryan O’Neal) are responsible for securing the road and bridges as far as Nijmegen. The first British Airbourne Division, under Major-General Roy Urquhart (Sean Connery), is to land near Arnhem and hold both sides of the bridge there reinforced by a brigade of Polish paratroopers under General Stanisław Sosabowski (Gene Hackman). The Arnhem bridge is the primary target, as it serves as the last means of escape for the German forces in the Netherlands and a direct route to Germany for the Allies. The road to it, however, is only a single highway linking the various key bridges, and vehicles have to squeeze to the shoulder to pass. The drop proves troublesome, and a Battalion lead by Lt. Cor. John Frost (Anthony Hopkins) is able to reach the bridge but is soon surrounded. XXX Corps lead by Lt Colonel J.O.E. Vandeleur (Michael Caine) finds progress slowed by German resistance and the narrowness of the highway. The race is on to reach the Arnhem bridge and save the First British Airbourne.


Cast:

  • Richard Attenborough, Director

  • Dirk Bogarde, Lt. Gen. Frederick Browning

  • James Caan, Sgt. Eddie Dohun

  • Michael Caine, Lt. Col. Joe Vandeleur

  • Sean Connery, Maj. Gen. Robert Urquhart

  • Edward Fox, Lt. Gen. Brian Horrocks

  • Elliott Gould, Col. Bobby Stout

  • Gene Hackman, Maj. Gen. Stanislaw Sosabowski

  • Anthony Hopkins, Lt. Col. John Frost

  • Hardy Kruger, Gen. Ludwig

  • Laurence Olivier, Dr. Spaander

  • Ryan O'Neal, Brig. Gen. James Gavin

  • Robert Redford, Maj. Julian Cook

  • Maximilian Schell, Lt. Gen. Wilhelm Bittrich

  • Liv Ullmann, Kate Ter Horst

*Recognition:

  • A primarily only BAFTA recognized film; nominated for Best Film, Editing, Director, and Production Design; won for Best Score (John Addison - a XXX Corps serving member), Supporting Actor (Edward Fox), Cinematography, and Sound.

Did You Know:

  • Originally, Sir Richard Attenborough did not want to direct this movie, as he was keen to make Gandhi (1982) after Young Winston (1972). However, major studios were reluctant to finance the movie, so he sought Joseph E. Levine for financing. This movie was part of the agreement in exchange for financing Gandhi (1982).

  • Steve McQueen and Audrey Hepburn were originally cast to play Major Julian Cook and Kate Ter Horst, respectively: McQueen only wanted to appear in starring roles, not all-star ensemble projects, and Hepburn's asking salary price was too high. Also, It was reported that Hepburn--who had lived in German-occupied Netherlands during the war and had seen German soldiers shoot down civilians on the street and had friends killed in bombing raids-- would find the prospect of reliving her wartime experiences too traumatic.

  • According to his 2008 memoir "My Word is My Bond", Sir Roger Moore was offered the role of Brian Horrocks. He was forced to decline due to a scheduling conflict with "The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)," but became available again when the Bond movie was delayed. However, Horrocks had approval over the character, and turned Moore down, and the role instead went to Edward Fox.

  • According to the DVD production notes, James Caan agreed to do this movie because of the scene in which he forces a reluctant Army surgeon to operate on one of his buddies at gunpoint. He said, "When Richard Attenborough came to see me in Los Angeles, he offered me the choice of several roles. I chose the Sergeant chiefly for that one scene."

  • Sir Sean Connery initially turned this movie down, because he felt it would be glorifying a military disaster. He changed his mind after reading the screenplay.

  • Sir Laurence Olivier showed up on the set wearing an old suit and a pair of battered black shoes. He informed Sir Richard Attenborough that he had been gardening in the shoes for a month, so that they would look just right for the character, a Dutch farmer and doctor who risks his life to tend the wounded.

  • This was the first war movie in which actors were put through boot camp prior to filming. Sir Richard Attenborough put many of the extras and soldiers through a mini boot camp, and had them housed in a barrack accommodation during filming.

  • According to the DVD edition, the real-life Colonel John Frost chided Sir Anthony Hopkins during the filming, for running from house to house during the battle for Arnhem. According to Hopkins, Frost told him that a British officer would never have run, but would have shown disdain for enemy fire by walking from place to place. Hopkins claims he tried, but as soon as the firing started, instincts took over, and he ran as fast as he could.

  • Daphne Du Maurier, the widow of Lieutenant General Browning, complained that her husband had been "made the fall guy" for the failure of Operation Market Garden by this movie. Browning, and the unseen Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery, who are shown as responsible for the failure, had died by the time this movie opened in 1977 (unlike the other commanders involved). Sir Richard Attenborough defended his depiction of Browning, by pointing to the final scene, where he says, "As you know, I've always thought we were going a bridge too far." Browning did actually say something very similar to this (hence the title of Cornelius Ryan's original book, and this movie), but he said it well before the operation started.

  • Sir Dirk Bogarde's portrayal of General Browning was highly controversial, and several friends of the late General suggested that, had Browning still been alive in 1977, he would have sued director Sir Richard Attenborough and screenwriter William Goldman for libel. Bogarde took issue with the portrayal during filming, having known Browning personally, as he was a member of Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery's staff during the war. Although Attenborough publicly took responsibility for the controversy, his relationship with Bogarde was never the same again.

What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: As with most war films, survival and valiance despite ignorant and reckless command.


Best Performance: Gene Hackman (Maj. Sosabowski)

Best Secondary Performance: John Addison (Composer)/Sean Connery (Maj. Gen. Urquhart)-Richard Attenborough (Director)

Most Charismatic Award: Robert Redford (Maj. Cook)/Anthony Hopkins (Lt. Col. Frost)

Best Scene:

  • Sgt. Dohun Forces Medical Exam

  • Sosabowski Questions the Plans

  • Paratrooping POV

  • Liberation

  • Geese Squawking at Urquhart

  • Bridge Gets Blown Up

  • Building the Bridge

  • Maj. Cook Crosses the Rhine

  • Church Steeple

  • Urquhart Confronts Browning

Favorite Scene: Sgt. Dohun Forces Medical Exam/Church Steeple

Most Indelible Moment: Urquhart Confronts Browning


In Memorium: Norman Lloyd (Sabateur, St. Elsewhere, Spellbound, M, Trainwreck, Dead Poets' Society) 1914-2021 (Age 106)


Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Col. Bobby Stout: [watches bridge blow up] Shit!


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.


Lt. Gen. Frederick "Boy" Browning: Hello, Roy. How are you?

Maj. Gen. Roy Urqhart: I'm not sure I'll know for a while. But I'm sorry about how it turned out.

Lt. Gen. Frederick "Boy" Browning: You did all you could.

Maj. Gen. Roy Urqhart: Yes, but did everyone else?

Lt. Gen. Frederick "Boy" Browning: They've got a bed for you upstairs if you want it.

Maj. Gen. Roy Urqhart: I took ten thousand men into Arnhem. I've come out with less than two. I don't feel much like sleeping.

Lt. General Frederick "Boy" Browning: I've just been on to Monty. He's very proud and pleased.

Major General Urquhart: Pleased?

Lt. General Frederick "Boy" Browning: Of course. He thinks Market Garden was 90% successful.

Major General Urquhart: But what do you think?

Lt. General Frederick "Boy" Browning: Well, as you know, I always felt we tried to go a bridge too far.


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?


Brigadier General Gavin: What's the best way to take a bridge?

Maj. Julian Cook: Both ends at once.

Brigadier General 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.

Brigadier General 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.


[Carlyle has asked to see Frost before he dies]

Lt. Col. John Frost: Hello, Harry.

Major Harry Carlyle: Hello. Johnny.

Lt. Col. John Frost: You know, Harry; I always wanted to ask you, but didn't because I knew you so very much wanted me to and I didn't want to give you the satisfaction; but why do you always carry that umbrella?

Major Harry Carlyle: Bad memory. Never could remember the password. Knew no Jerry would carry one. Had to prove I was an Englishman, you see.


The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 5.25

Impact/Significance: 2.75

Novelty: 3

Classic-ness: 8.5

Rewatchability: 7.75

Audience Score: 8.7 (88% Google, 86% RT)

Total: 35.95


Remaining Questions:

  • If you didn't have the proper equipment to carry out the mission, why would everyone sign off on allowing this to go forward?

  • What is the general opinion of Gen. Montgomery? (he always seems to have major blunders in planning from almost every movie I've seen)

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