A Bridge Too Far

Year: 1977
Production Co: Joseph E Levine Productions
Director: Richard Attenborough
Producer: Joseph Levine
Writer: William Goldman
Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Sean Connery, Ryan O'Neal, Robert Redford, Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, James Caan, Maximilian Schell, Liv Ullman, Elliot Gould, Denholm Elliott, John Ratzenberger

I've found some of Richard Attenborough's later films like Chaplin and In Love and War to be a bit plodding and procedural, but this effort has all the lushness and soul of his high water mark Gandhi a few years later.

It tells the story of Operation Market Garden, a combined Allied attempt to push deep into German territory after the Normandy landing by capturing a series of bridges in Holland.

The plan was an orchestral undertaking involving British, American and Polish troops. It was launched by air and road and needed so many cumbersome elements to work with such precision in such a tight time frame it was almost doomed to fail and – as history tells us – indeed did. Despite being a thrilling war story it shares a crucial aspect with Valkyrie in that it was a heroic plan that ultimately failed.

If it had been a more 'American' production there would have been some eleventh hour rescue or change of fate that led to a final stampede for glory, but it's with a whimper that the various leaders of the forces involved admit defeat and withdraw, many of their men not making it out.

Technically the film's brilliantly done. When you consider the effects were all done in the pre CGI era, scenes of dozens of planes taking off and thousands of soldiers parachuting to the battlefields are eye-popping.

From the script by William Goldman, Attenborough also achieves a combined tone of two approaches you only usually see one of in war movies. They're either the war is hell of All Quiet on the Western Front or the military adventurism of Where Eagles Dare and The Guns of Navarone. This film has all the thrills of an old-style war movie where you just want the good guys to blow the Jerrys away and the tragedy of the death and suffering that it results in.

What's perhaps most interesting about it however is the release date, June 1977, when it probably would have been mostly ignored except for a few grown up movie fans because of some other movie that was lout at the time. Imagine if you'd taken bets at the beginning of the year about which film would be a bigger success – the military action thriller about a World War II operation featuring an all-star cast (including seven Oscar nominees), or a silly aliens and spaceships movie by the kid who'd made American Graffiti, one so maligned the Fox executive in charge was constantly fending off attempts to shut it down.

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