Sunday, 19 February 2012

A Bridge Too Far

Very recently, at a loose end one afternoon, I opted to revisit the 1977 war film A Bridge Too Far, directed by Richard Attenborough.  It recounts the tale of the ill-fated Operation Market Garden of World War Two.

The movie begins with an effective and evocative black and white newsreel passage, which sets the scene, and places the operation to come in its proper context.

The term "star studded" does not even begin to describe A Bridge Too Far, although none of the performances stand out in particular, generally tending to cancel one another out.  None of the luminaries is given sufficient screen time to make a special impression. Among those featured are Dirk Bogarde, Ryan O'Neal, Sean Connery, Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Edward Fox, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, James Caan and Laurence Olivier.

The early scenes of the movie naturally concentrate on the preparations and planning of both sides. Cleverly, the viewpoint of Dutch civilians and resistance activists is also shown. The misgivings of some Allied commanders are also displayed, as well as to what degree the combatants read (or mis-read) the intentions of their opponents.

The rushed and improvised nature of the Allied plan is also emphasised, with subordinate commanders more often than not unwilling or unable to register the doubts about the operation, for fear of being ridiculed or demoted.  One courageous reconnaissance officer spoke up, but was ignored. Whether this is absolutely historically accurate or not is hard to say, but it enhanced this reading of the story.

Some effort is made to contrast the egotism of some commanders, dazzled by prizes and glory, with the reservations and fears of the rank-and-file.

In amongst the glittering cast, I must mention one performance; that of Edward Fox as Lt. Gen. Horrocks. This seemed like a passably accurate, if exaggerated, portrayal of the man, capturing some of his character.

Credit also to the film-makers for having Dutch and German dialogue (and subtitles).  This for me increased the authenticity.

One thing which I noticed about this film is the quality of the cinematography, and the camera-work, which looked to be quite advanced for its time.  There is almost an intimate/documentary feel about some of the battle sequences, bringing the viewer close to the action, typified by the parachute jumps. Sharp editing and well-judged sound also help to strengthen the sense of believability.

As the campaign goes on, we are shown the sense of desperation which starts to intrude on the operation, with some gallows humour and sarcasm, and dissension in the ranks. From the bravado and optimism of the beginning, this movie takes on a bleaker, and more thoughtful, tone. The vast scale of industrialised war is inter-cut with more considered, personal sub-plots.  The sense of weariness,fatigue and hopelessness gradually takes over.

The latter stages of the film dwell on the destruction,misery and futility of war, and how civilians are disproportionately affected. The finale is sombre indeed.

I do not think that A Bridge Too Far is a masterpiece, but it is a decidedly above-average war movie.

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