Friday, 10 March 2017

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

I've said of a number of films in this set that they don't make movies like this any more, and that goes double for A Bridge Too Far.  Not only is it another ensemble based piece that is most interested in depicting the strategic sweep of events, ahead of personal stories - though it does show more of the latter than some of the other movies in this set - but it is also unapologetically a film where the good guys fail.

Operation Market Garden, the offensive on which the film was based, was an Allied attempt to break the German defences on the Rhine and expose the Third Reich's industrial heartland to a land attack.  Had it succeeded, it might have ended the war as much as six months earlier.  But it was always a gamble, requiring three groups of paratroops to land up to 60 miles (100 km) behind German lines, seize several key bridges, and then hold out for several days until an armoured thrust could reach them.  And said armoured thrust could only make the journey on a single narrow, raised road, because all the other terrain was too swampy for heavy vehicles to traverse.

Hardly the easiest of circumstances, and the plan also relied on good weather, and on an assumption that the attack would face only "old men and boys".  In fact, they would face veteran troops and armoured units under the command of Field Marshal Model, widely regarded as one of the finest defensive commanders of the war.

A Bridge Too Far is thus a film about heroism in the face of terrible adversity.  And as I said, a film that's ultimately about failure, when no amount of heroism can overcome the odds.

I suspect if it were made today it would make a much bigger deal of Operation Berlin, where 2,400 besieged paratroopers withstood massive German attacks and then escaped back to Allied lines, to give us a Dunkirk style story of  "victory". Well, as someone much more notable than I once said: "wars are not won on evacuations".

This is a sombre film, but one worth seeing, I think.

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