By Carter B. Horsley
This epic movie about Operation Market Garden,
the attempt by the Allies to catch the Germans by surprise in
1944 and capture several bridges in Holland to prepare for an
invasion of the German industrial regions near the Rhine, is near
The bold plan was masterminded by General Montgomery
and called for the largest parachute drop in history. Based on
the book of the same name by Cornelius Ryan, the author also of
"The Longest Day," the source for another movie, this
film is perhaps the most star-studded movie, other than compilations,
As superb as the cast is, the film's bravura
is best in its action sequences, which are splendid, especially
when seen in widescreen mode on DVD. The parachute jumps, in particular,
are truly spectacular and almost otherwordly. Indeed, the cinematography
is magnificent throughout much of the film, making spectacular
use of the wide-screen format, and the sound effects of battles
As the title suggests, the Allies' plan was
doomed to failure and the operation proved to be a catastrophe.
Director Richard Attenborough, who also directed the anti-war
film, "Oh, What a Lovely War," pulls no punches in dramatizing
the plan's many flaws, not the least of which was an unwillingness
to counter Montgomery's ill-conceived and rash plan despite intelligence
reports that should have been heeded about German strength in
Montgomery is shown briefly in the documentary,
black-and-white prologue to the movie, but is not portrayed in
the technicolor film. Dirk Bogarde brilliantly plays his chief
officer for the operation, Lt. General Frederick Browning, as
something of a martinet who clearly chooses to ignore the intelligence
reports so as not to upset Montgomery's plans - "the party's
on!" The stiff-upper-lipness of the British is much in evidence,
but, as priggish as Browning, and others, are made to appear,
so too is the heroism of many of the British and American troops.
Indeed, what sets this epic apart from many
others of the genre is that it gives pretty equal weight to the
officers and planning and the grunts in the line of fire. It attempts
to cover all the different parts of this very complex operation
and for much of the time it does so clearly. Inevitably, however,
some scenes go on for quite sometime and one wonders what is happening
in other sectors.
While Sean Connery has, perhaps, the highest
visibility in the film, his character, Major General Urquhart,
gets trapped and his frustrating role is not terribly interesting,
although Connery never disappoints, of course. Laurence Olivier
and Liv Ulmann are Dutch residents who assist the wounded and
they are marvelous. A speechless sequence of Olivier being driven
through the battlefield is fabulous for his minute facial expressions.
Michael Caine as Lieutenant Colonel J. O. E. Vandeleur is superbly
roguish but disciplined and full of humor. Robert Redford and
James Caan are stoically heroic, as expected, but manage to convey
a very good sense of fear and terror and determination and Caan's
jeep race through a forest is a formidable cinematic experience.
Elliot Gould chomps on his big cigar a bit too much, but his fervor
in overcoming obstacles is strong and just falls into the believeability
range of what individual leadership can mean in a campaign. Ryan
O'Neal gives a fine performance as Brigadier General Gavin that
displays much more depth than we are accustomed to in his performances.
Hardy Kruger as Major General Ludwig and Maximilian Schell as
Lieutenant General Bittrich both give excellent and sophisticated
performances as alert German officers.
It is Bogarde and Edward Fox, as Lieutenant
General Horrocks, however, that steal the acting honors, the former
with his measured and authoritative formality, and the latter
with his exuberance.
The only two off-notes are Anthony Hopkins
and Gene Hackman. Both are convincing but the former's initial
casualness, wondering if he should take along his dinner jacket,
and the latter's very pronounced Polish accent are somewhat jarring.
Hopkins seems content with fate and Hackman outraged at it but
both convey deep inner strengths that make their characters a
bit more memorable than many others.
All of these actors contribute much more than
mere cameo performances, but this film is more than just a magnificent,
sweeping overview of a botched campaign and the little things
that can and often do change the course of history. Perhaps more
than any other war film, it bristles with energy and momentum,
without recourse to the quick edit tricks and special effects
that would characterize many later films. The campaign was supposed
to over in just a few days. It lasted perhaps three times as long,
still a relatively brief period as far as most campaigns were
concerned. The viewer never tires despite its length and indeed
most would probably desire it to be even longer. The editing and
the cinematography are great, especially in an early ambush on
the one-lane highway at the start of the dash towards the first
bridge. There is action aplenty throughout the film.
The film will not add to General Montgomery's
historic glory, nor General Browning's, but it certainly depicts
an indelible image of the madness and vagaries of war as well
as the often stunning heroism of individuals.
Almost two decades later, "Saving Private
Ryan" (see The City Review article)
would set a new standard for films about World War II, with fantastic
cinematography, great acting and very memorable emotional content,
but it was much more of a story about individuals than armies.
As such it was in the noble tradition of such films as "The
Story of G. I. Joe," "The Thin Red Line" with Keir
Dullea, "All Quiet on the Western Front," "The
Bridges at Toko-ri," "Platoon," "Paths of
Glory" (see The City Review article),
"The Naked and the Dead," "A Walk in the Sun,"
"Sands of Iwo Jima" and "Attack."
The wider approach, of course, has been typefied
by such impressive films as "Midway," "Tora, Tora,
Tora," "The Battle of Britain" and "The Longest
Day," all of which pale beside "A Bridge Too Far."
The rousing score for "A Bridge Too Far"
is by John Addison, who also did "Tom Jones," "A
Taste of Honey" and "The Entertainer" and it is
one of best ever, certainly the finest ever done for a war movie.