By: The Dweeb
The producer of A Bridge Too Far, Joseph Levine, decided that the story of the Market Garden operation in WWII was too good to pass up as a film. Certainly trying to fit something as gargantuan as that into a 3 hour film is no easy task, and even throwing ones own money into the project is a huge risk. This film could have been a flop had it not been for the talents employed behind and in front of the camera. He got one of the best writers in Hollywood, William Goldman to adapt a screenplay. Then to execute his vision Richard Attenborough was brought in to film it. Not a bad start. Then, the icing on the cake is to get a ton of A list actors to play key roles in this massive film. On paper this is a win win situation, and the final result is an excellent depiction of events.
So what happened? I never heard of this film before. Audiences and critics alike gave it a lukewarm reaction as well upon its release. It has two major things going against it. The general rule of thumb for Hollywood is of course is the happy ending. The good guys always win right? At least that’s what the masses expect. Well, unfortunately the Allies didn’t win this one, and the ending is very depressing. The filmmakers set out to portray war sucks, and an excellent job they did in showing that.
Also being released in 1977 is some really bad timing. Were they not sensitive to the echoes of Viet Nam still ringing fresh in everyone’s minds? During this time period everyone was in a sour mood (Hey, not unlike today!). Viet Nam as I said earlier, the gas crisis, Watergate and disco all weighed heavily on everyone. Who wants to go see a film where ‘our side’ loses?
The film itself is accurate and stays on course throughout most of the duration. Sometimes filmmakers fudge facts to make whatever historical element fit the narrative, but here they painstakingly made sure that what was seen on the screen is true to reality. First time viewers however will perceive certain aspects or sequences in here as more ‘Hollywoodization’, even I sat there and groaned at times. But as I later found out while watching the extras, all this crazy stuff really happened and they weren’t making it up. For example the Jeep chase scene with Sergeant Eddie Dohun (James Caan), where he weaves in and out of German troops without getting shot. There are a few scenes like that where you think this could never happen, but I guess it did. I stand corrected, but audiences back then didn’t know that. This hurt the credibility of the movie in the minds of the movie goers as a result.
A Bridge Too Far features almost all the major Hollywood players of that time period, quite a feat to pull off. Unfortunately because its such an immense story, we don’t get too see much of each character so they all have little screen time individually. I sat there wondering where the heck Robert Redford was and he doesn’t appear until the last half of the film. Much of the focus was on the British side of the operation, so the American side didn’t have as much face time.
Everyone in the film brought their A game with, all did an excellent job portraying their characters as one would expect. Anthony Hopkins, Michael Caine and Sean Connery stand out especially in the film. The only odd one out for me was Gene Hackman as the Polish General Sosabowski. Somehow, he just didn’t fit the role, probably because I’m so used to seeing him without a Polish accent. He couldn’t convince me with that horrid accent. I liked Elliot Gould’s character of Colonel Stout the most, and he was the only one who was fictionalized!
For a new Collector’s edition of the film, you would think MGM (now Sony) would put some effort in the transfer of the movie. You will find the picture quality is marginal at best. It seemed fuzzy and the color washed out, with pixelizations all over the place. That is especially evident in the darker scenes and the river crossing. The soundtrack is also fairly dirty, with a few clicks and pops here and there. Not as clean as I would have liked it to be, it was a constant distraction. Anytime one watches a film and is pulled back into reality because of a technical glitch is not a good thing in my book. Included on the second disc are several lengthy documentaries on Market Garden and interviews with principle people involved in the filmmaking process. I found the most interesting feature was the stories and recollections from the actual vets, which brings it all home.
A Bridge Too Far is not Saving Private Ryan, but it gets pretty close. Unfortunately such a poor transfer of the film knocks this DVD down a few rungs on the ladder, which is too bad. It could have been so much better MGM!