There is a film (a personal favorite of mine) called PCU (1994) that I have been wanting to rewatch for some time. The hold up lies in the fact that I have transcended the age of hard copies and now watch all my movies solely through the digital format. While that may not sound like a problem, it has nonetheless proved impossible (outside of distorted bootleg recordings on YouTube) to find an online platform to view the 1990s cult-classic. Occasionally I look and repeatedly run into the brick wall that is whatever cable television conglomerate (I forget which) currently owns its rights. So unless I want their service, I cannot watch this movie. If you are at all familiar with PCU, you would know how laughable are my struggles. Regardless of the barriers before me, whenever I think of the denizens of The Pit, I think of Pigman (Jody Racicot) and his desire to prove the “Caine-Hackman Theory.” His college thesis is to demonstrate that no matter what time of day it is you can always find a film on television starring either Michael Caine and/or Gene Hackman. As PCU‘s climactic soiree is in full swing, his hours parked on the couch finally pay off with A Bridge Too Far (1977), a film starring both Caine and Hackman. In glee, he jumps up and launches himself into the crowd of revelers around him. This also brings us to today’s review.
How else was I going to introduce a film like A Bridge Too Far that is over thirty years old? Should I have just said that it came out in the same year as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)? Perhaps that might have been a more solid introduction as they are both essentially war movies. A Bridge Too Far is a about a real conflict, though, World War II, and it is set in Holland. As 1944 came to a close and the Allied offensive in France bogged down a little, Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery (not pictured) devised a plan to jump start the advance eastward into Germany. This move is eagerly anticipated by the people of Holland (where the majority of the action is to take place) where the movie begins with Dutch underground father (Siem Vroom) and Dutch underground son (Erik van ‘t Wout) observing what they believe to be the collapse of the German Army in their area. That is certainly what the British believe anyway, and they come up with Operation Market Garden in order to secure one long, thin roadway into the heart of the Wehrmacht. Tens of thousands of British and American paratroopers drop behind enemy lines in order to secure bridges across major rivers along the way. Then the ground troops would forge ahead on this one road in order to link them all up. It sounds simple, and the stratagem’s main cheerleader, Lieutenant General Browning (Dirk Bogarde), manages to convince enough Allied officers to go along with it despite many misgivings. And they forged ahead in the face of mounting evidence that German resistance was not so weak as they expected. Surprise, surprise, when the operation finally does get underway, casualties are much higher than anticipated. This is particularly true in the key town of Arnhem where the British 1st Airborne Division had been tasked with the mission of capturing its river crossing. Complicating matters is the fact that the paratroopers in Arnhem were scattered all over and could not come together in force. On top of this, the ground forces get painfully behind schedule. Thus Arnhem is eventually overwhelmed and it proves to be the bridge too far.
If you are a student of World War II, you will know already that Operation Market Garden (the events depicted in A Bridge Too Far) were but a momentary road bump in the Allied march onto victory. Still, it is worth noting that many of the films that focused on the conflict up until this point simply featured the triumphal aspects of the war. The plan was a major “cock up,” to borrow the British phrase, and Montgomery really is to blame. The problem with the film, though, is that it takes three hours to get the point. Granted, there are some exciting moments interspersed. But on the whole, this one is long and you will feel it.
Of note from a faith perspective is the very real moment captured in A Bridge Too Far when Major Cook (Robert Redford) of the American 82nd Airborne Division is tasked with taking the bridge at Nijmegen. To do so, he and his men are ordered to cross the river by boat first, in broad daylight, in order to attack from the opposite side. While frantically rowing with bullets and shells whistling around him, Cook keeps repeating, “Hail Mary, full of grace.” This apparently happened, so kudos to the filmmakers for keeping it in. Either way, it shows how prayer can prepare people for anything.
Of course, A Bridge Too Far is not for everyone. But if you are searching for something to fill three hours, then here you go. It is also fun to see references to this event in other pieces about World War II. For example, there are episodes of Band of Brothers (2001) that focus on Operation Market Garden. On second thought, just watch Band of Brothers. I have sat down and watched the whole series in a day and it did not feel like three hours.