Twitter Plot Summary: The story of Operation Market Garden, the Allied offensive against the Germans in The Netherlands that failed.
Five Point Summary:
1. The plan – three bridges. Three very important bridges.
2. Lunatics laughing at Sean Connery from the woods.
3. The Germans have a tank. Lots of tanks.
4. The tide is turning.
5. That’s a lot of injured soldiers.
What could be better than a film where lunatics laugh at Sean Connery from the woods? Plenty of things, as it happens, but this is just one particularly amusing moment in Richard Attenborough’s A Bridge Too Far, and one of the very few moments of levity in a story that portrays the Allied failure to take control of three important bridges in Operation Market Garden, a plan that, had it been successful may have shortened the war through the successful capture of several bridges in The Netherlands. Instead it has been marked as one of the all-time great failures of the post D-Day invasion of Europe, where a number of supply issues and bad decisions led to Allied troops being slaughtered in their hundreds.
There are many positive aspects to A Bridge Too Far, however it never goes so far as to make a full commentary on the rights and wrongs of warfare, nor does it make any specific point similar to other great war films like Das Boot or The Longest Day. Instead the focus is on a rare film portrayal of an Allied offensive that didn’t go to plan,
A huge number of stars agreed to appear in what is at face value a latter day version of The Longest Day. Other than the aforementioned Connery there’s also the likes of Dirk Bogarde, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Edward Fox, Elliott Gould, Denholm Elliott, Gene Hackman, Ryan O’Neal and, in a brief 10-15 minute part of the film only, Robert Redford. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of talent, one that is sadly let down by an epic war film that has no cohesion beyond the bloody remains of the Allied forces.
The most hard-hitting sequences are those that focus on the human cost of the conflict, the horrendous injuries suffered by the combatants and their resilience in the face of defeat. The standout sequence is as low-key as it can get, with James Caan upholding his promise to keep his young protege alive by recovering his body and escaping from a German patrol in the woods. There’s a huge amount of attention to detail, although the occasional matte painting is obvious where vast numbers of aircraft or the like are required to be in shot.
Much like in the offensive itself, the Polish soldiers are given short shrift, finally being permitted to parachute in towards the end of the film only to be cut down by the Germans who have captured the drop zone. Whether or not this was an intentional move by Richard Attenborough remains unclear, but it does the Polish commitment to the war effort no favours, constantly shifted to the back of the queue despite having the technical ability and the manpower to adequately support the operation from the start.
No favours are done for Lieutenant-General Frederick Browning either, who is clearly portrayed as a man emotionally detached from the human cost of the operation, the man made responsible for the deaths of so many soldiers. Whilst the historical accuracy of this is questionable, as a film and by proxy a piece of entertainment, there needs to be somebody in that position to be the fall guy – it’s just the way film narrative works.
Most importantly however, the Germans actually speak in German rather than in awkward, accented English. This is always a good thing.