A Bridge Too Far is a 1977 World War II film directed by Richard Attenborough, adapted by William Goldman from the best-selling 1974 book of the same name by Cornelius Ryan (The Longest Day). It boasts an All-Star Cast that includes James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox, Elliott Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, Liv Ullmann, and the biggest star of all, John Ratzenberger.
It tells the story of Operation Market Garden (Sept. 17-25, 1944), an audacious, but flawed — and ultimately unsuccessful — plan to use British, American and Polish paratroops and British armoured divisions to capture four bridges in the Netherlands. Bernard Law Montgomery hoped that these could be used by the British quarter of the Western Allied force in France to invade northern Germany, forcing the Germans to reinforce that sector with forces pulled from less vital fronts such as Hungary or Italy and perhaps ultimately enabling Germany's defeat within the next six months.
In addition to the All-Star Cast, it also might qualify as the biggest all-realism movie, as the producers went to great lengths (and money) to gather old vehicles and equipment, including 11 Douglas C-47 Skytrain (Dakota) WWII aircraft, along with getting NATO troops with the old fashioned parachutes jumping out of them for the film. It was also the first war film in which actors were put through boot camp prior to filming. The film cost $22 million in 1977. Compare that with Star Wars which also came out in 1977 and cost $10 million.
A Bridge Too Far provides examples of the following tropes:
- Ambiguously Jewish: Col. Robert Stout is played by Elliot Gould, calls someone a "mensch," and says that he was born in Yugoslavia. However, he's based on Col. Robert Sink, who was a North Carolina-born gentile.
- America Won World War II: The opening narration tells us, "In 1944, the Second World War was in its fifth year and still going Hitler's way. German troops controlled most of Europe. D-Day changed all that." 'Still going Hitler's way', 'most of Europe', and 'D-day changed all that' are all incorrect even given an exclusive focus on the Western Allies' efforts - let alone the course of the far larger Soviet-German War. In the film itself, this trope is zig-zagged. British and Polish troops have plenty of screen time, and the movie portrays one of the failed operations.
- Armor-Piercing Question: General Urquhart delivers one, combined with a What the Hell, Hero?, to General Browning at the end.General Browning: You did all you could.
General Urquhart: Yes. But did everyone else?
- Artistic License History: See the opening narration shown above.
- Artistic License Military: Averted in most parts, but Played for Drama where it is present.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: This goes for most of the senior officers in the field, fighting alongside their men. Robert Redford's character leads a dangerous river crossing and personally inflicts a large amount of the asskicking.
- Bait-and-Switch Comment: General Horrocks begins his Rousing Speech with "Gentlemen, this is a story you will tell your grandchildren. And mightily bored they'll all be."
- The Big Board: General Horrocks gives the outline of Market Garden with one of these.
- Bilingual Bonus: Subverted. Liv Ullmann's speech about the plight of the wounded soldiers is completely unintelligible. It required subtitles in Dutch cinema and DVD releases.
- Blatant Lies:General Horrocks: The Irish Guards under the command of Colonel Vandeleur will take the lead.Colonel Vandeleur: (sotto voice) Christ, not us again.General Horrocks: What do you think of that, Joe?Colonel Vandeleur: Delighted, sir. Absolutely delighted. (Everyone laughs)
- The Cassandra: Major Fuller, an intelligence analyst, is nervous about Browning's confident assertion that there are no strong German units in the area, so he sends a plane to take pictures. The pictures show German tanks in the near vicinity of Arnhem. Browning ignores him.
- The Cavalry: XXX Corps is intended to be this for the paratroops, as lampshaded by General Horrocks.
- The Cavalry Arrives Late: Except that in this case this is a bad thing, and of course the heroes do not win.
- Contemplate Our Navels:
- At the end of the movie when General Browning reflects on why the operation failed so dismally. "I always felt we tried to take it a bridge too far." Note that Browning did actually say this, but in a different context.
- Also when the generals decide to pull First Airborne out of Arnhem.Brig. Gen. James Gavin: It was Nijmegen.
Lt. Col. J.O.E. Vandeleur: It was the single road getting to Nijmegen.
Lt. Gen. Brian Horrocks: No, it was after Nijmegen.
Lt. Gen. Frederick "Boy" Browning: And the fog, in England. [leaves with Horrocks]
Maj. Gen. Stanislaw Sosabowski: [to Gavin and J.O.E.] Doesn't matter what it was. When one man says to another, "I know what let's do today, let's play the war game."... everybody dies.
- Conversation Cut: A scene with General Browning explaining the plan to his subordinates, looking at a map, cuts smoothly to the German high command also looking at a map, wondering where the Allies will attack.
- Creator Cameo: Richard Attenborough is one of the lunatics wearing glasses watching the soldiers. This was his only acting role in one of the films that he directed.
- Culture Clash: The Dissonant Serenity of the British officers is sometimes grating to the American and Polish officers.Major Cook: We busted our asses to get you across that bridge. And now you're just going to sit here and...drink tea?
- Curb-Stomp Battle: The SS' first attempt to retake the Arnhem bridge, led by Captain Grabner, ends in a slaughter. Theirs, specifically. Grabner himself dies trapped in his burning halftrack. It's the only major Allied victory in the entire movie.
- Deadpan Snarker: Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt.General Blumentritt: We have such confidence in you. Everyone knows you've never lost a battle.Field Marshal von Rundstedt: I'm still young. Just give me some time.
- Death by Adaptation
- The British paratrooper who is killed retrieving a supply canister actually survived that incident in Real Life.
- Similarly, Major Carlyle is shown dying from his wounds near the end of the film. His real life counterpart, Maj. Allison Digby Tatham-Warter, survived both the battle and the war.
- Divided We Fall: After listening to what sounds like a suicide plan, Gen. Sosabowski comes to the briefing officer and checks his insignia.Sosabowski: Just making sure whose side you're on.
- He also says he's contemplating filing a formal objection against the plan, so that it would be known he was aware how foolish it was if his forces are wiped out, but decides that absolving himself of a share of blame wouldn't matter if he's already dead.
- Downer Ending: Duh. Despite capturing and holding most of the bridges, the Operation fails thanks to the failure to capture the all-important Arnhem bridge. In addition, the elite units involved (40k) suffer relatively heavy (17k temporary including 7k permanent) losses, all for nothing.
- Dramatic Irony: Both Rundstedt and Model concur that Patton will lead the imminent assault on the Netherlands. Rundstedt says he would prefer to face Montgomery, but knows Eisenhower is not stupid enough to have him lead a major offensive.
- Easy Logistics: Notably averted, logistical screwups play a major part in why the operation failed:
- The Allies didn't have enough drop capacity to deliver all the paratroopers in one go, so they had to do it in multiple waves. The later waves ended up getting repeatedly delayed due to weather conditions.
- A lot of critical equipment in the initial drop on Arnhem went astray, including the machine gun equipped Jeeps that were intended to be used to get the men from the far drop zones into town and help clear the bridge.
- The Germans captured many of the resupply drop zones, resulting in the paratroopers running out of food, ammunition and medical supplies. The Allies also neglected to provide a way to designate alternate drop zones.
- The advance by 30 Corps to secure the territory taken by the paratroopers was done along a single, very narrow highway, which could and on several occasions did get bottlenecked by traffic problems. This was not helped by the Germans destroying one of the bridges, forcing them to spend half a day building a new one.
- Elites Are More Glamorous: Justified, as most of the units on both sides that participated in the battles were top-of-the-line troops (Paratroopers for the Allies and Waffen-SS Panzergrenadiers for the Germans, respectively).
- A Father to His Men: General Horrocks greets several soldiers by name before the operation begins.
- Finagle's Law: From the moment the operation is launched, everything starts going wrong for the Allies.
- Foregone Conclusion: Naturally. See Downer Ending above.
- Foreshadowing: General Gavin says his Dutch advisor forgot to tell him that when the Germans took Nijmegen bridge in 1940, they were slaughtered.
- Frontline General: The Americans Maxwell Taylor and James Gavin jump into battle with their respective divisions. The British Roy Urquhart mostly stays at his headquarters, but does venture to the front, while Frederick Browning spends almost the entire battle at his own headquarters.
- The Ghost: Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. His influence is felt through the entire operation, as Market Garden is his brainchild, but he never appears.
- Good News, Bad News: After being missing and presumed dead for several days, General Urquhart turns up alive and asks for a briefing. He's told they're cut off from the troops in Arnhem and are facing two SS panzer divisions. Urquhart asks for the good news and is told there isn't any. Their reinforcements are delayed due to bad weather, the dropping zones have been overrun by the Germans so their supplies are all going to the enemy, and they can't get the radios to work so they can't inform anyone back in England of this fact. Urquhart is visibly stunned.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: General Browning's portrayal was very controversial, mostly for making him the de facto Big Bad while Montgomery and others who planned the operation went largely un-criticized. Daphne Du Maurier, his widow, publicly attacked the movie and Dirk Bogarde himself (who knew Browning slightly during the war) felt his character was overly villainized. Specifically, they objected to the Title Drop being used as a Wham Line at the end, which makes Browning look like a Jerkass, when he made the comment during a plenary session before Market Garden.
- Hope Spot:
- The explosives planted on the Nijmegen bridge fail to explode, seemingly leaving the road clear to Arnhem. Also the soldier who manages to retrieve a parachute container only to be killed by a sniper. The container is then revealed to be full of red berets instead of food or ammunition.
- A villainous example: the lone SS lieutenant who runs to try and save the burning Captain Grabner only to get shot by a British sniper halfway to Grabner's halftrack.
- Home by Christmas: This is what the soldiers were told should Market-Garden succeed. You can guess it didn't work out.
- Idiot Ball
- The Dutch Resistance sends the allies good intel on a German Panzer division near Arnhem. The British dismiss the intel. Later, Aerial Photos confirm there are in fact tanks there. The British response? The tanks must be inoperable. Otherwise, the Operation would be in serious Jeopardy. Cue Face Palm. Of course, the film leaves out the fact that in real life the Dutch police force, resistance, and British-Dutch OSS branch were known to have been compromised by the SS Sicherheitsdienst (SD) Intelligence organisation. The Allies could not tell what info was reliable.
- The radios the paratroopers are supplied with (a crucial part of the equipment for such an operation) are set to the wrong frequencies, and no-one bothers to check if they are operable prior to jumping. This is equivalent to issuing soldiers with ammunition that doesn't match their weapons.
- Irony: One of the British paratroopers says that the resupply pilots are under orders to ignore signals on the ground, as, for all they know, they could be Germans. And their supplies are going right to the Germans.
- It's All About Me: Field Marshal Model abandons his command because he assumes the paratroopers have landed explicitly to capture him. He even outright states that (as far as he's concerned) there's nothing important in the area except himself.
- It's Raining Men: The Movie. A Bridge Too Far dramatized what the real Operation Market Garden revealed, namely, that paratroops armed with nothing but hand-held weaponry could not be expected to hold out very long against tanks.
- Large Ham
- Colonel Stout as played by a cigar-chewing Elliot Gould.
- Definitely Edward Fox as General Horrocks, though justified. Many archived newsreels of Sir Brian are available. Fox nails him so well that it is uncanny.
- Laughing Mad: Happens literally when the paratroopers land near Arnhem only to encounter the inmates of a lunatic asylum freed by a bombing raid, all pointing and laughing at the British paratroopers.
- There is a callback when Urquhart returns to Montgomery's headquarters after the offensive has failed, and has to walk through a gaggle of geese in the front yard. Their honking creates the impression they are all laughing at him.
- Majorly Awesome: Exemplified in Major Cook (Redford)'s reaction to being told he and his men are going to have to row across a river covered by enemy machine-guns in order to make an infantry assault on a heavily defended position — and they're no longer going to be able to do it in the dark. He takes a Beat to absorb this terrible news and then says "Better by daylight."
- Mid-Battle Tea Break: American officers angrily accuse the British tank units of this after the Nijmegen Bridge is captured. A British tank officer explains that their infantry support is still fighting in the city, and they therefore can't move forward to relieve the trapped soldiers at Arnhem.
- Mobile Shrubbery: Hilariously subverted when a British unit wearing camouflage augmented with actual twigs and leaves marches through a Dutch town being cheered as liberators. A junior officer tells his commander:With all due respect, sir, I don't believe our camouflage is fooling anyone.
- Never My Fault: In the end, Monty never acknowledges the mistakes in preparing the operation made by him and his staff that ultimately led to its failure, and instead praises the men for achieving 90% of the mission objectives.
- Nothing Can Stop Them Now: It's actually the Germans who say this when they fail to destroy the bridge at Nijmegen, leaving the road clear to Arnhem.
- One Steve Limit: The intelligence officer called Major Fuller in the film was actually called Brian Urquhart. However since Sean Connery's character, the commander of the British airborne division was also historically named Roy Urquhart it was decided to rename the more minor character played by the unknown actor.
- Only Sane Man: General Stanislaw Sosabowski is depicted as such, since he's the only one who seems to realize how fatally flawed the plan is before it starts to go wrong and is completely unconvinced by General Browning's wishful-thinking reassurances.Browning: Only the weather can stop us now.
Sosabowski: Weather! Christus! General Browning, what of the Germans? Don't you think that if we know Arnhem is so critical to their safety that they might know it too?
Browning: Now, look here. The few troops in the area are second class. They're not frontline caliber, not at all, do you understand? I think you ought to have a little more faith in Montgomery's intelligence reports, you know. He's done pretty well for us in last three or four years.
Sosabowski: I will tell you the extent of my faith. I am thinking of asking for a letter from you stating that I was forced to act under your orders in case my men are massacred.
Browning: I see... I do see. Do you wish such a letter?
Sosabowski: No... No, of course not. In the case of massacre, what difference will it make?
- Pet the Dog: SS-General Bittrich gives Frost some of the chocolate they found in a British supply drop.
- Plunger Detonator: A German officer orders the bridge at Nijmegen blown when the first Allied tanks cross, but to his horror, the Plunger Detonator doesn't work, and the Allies take the bridge.
- Poor Communication Kills: The Movie, arguably. Thanks to a combination of mis-drops, faulty radios, and (lack of) coordination between commands, the entire operation is in jeopardy from the very start.
- P.O.V. Cam: Multiple POV shots showing paratroopers hitting the ground. (It's a rough landing.)
- Precision F-Strike: In the original version, James Caan and Elliot Gould each got one. Some (but not all) current DVDs only feature Caan's.
- The Radio Dies First: The radios that worked well in desert conditions can't get through in low-lying Holland.
- Reality Is Unrealistic
- The real Lt.-Colonel Frost objected to a scene where Anthony Hopkins runs across a street under fire. He always walked, as a British officer is never supposed to run under fire, to inspire his men and show his contempt for the enemy. It was decided to leave the scene as it was, for fear the audience would have a What an Idiot! reaction. Hopkins was also unable to force himself walk as the fake explosions and gunfire was too realistic for him to remain calm.
- Author William Goldman mentions three examples that were criticized. First, a British general (Dirk Bogarde) who sends his troops to a supposedly undefended territory, although he actually has information about German troops being there, but doesn't care. Second, James Caan forcing a medical officer to operate on his captain, who seems to be dead (which he isn't, of course). Third, Ryan O'Neal as General James Gavin who was deemed to be too young for the role by the critics — despite being exactly the same age as the real Gavin had been at that time.
- Urqhardts after mission briefing with Browning is a reserved Wham Line in line with how they have been portrayed the whole film. In real life Urqhardt knocked Browning out like some sort of Cowboy Cop.
- Real Men Love Jesus: A low-key example in Major Cook (played by Robert Redford), who prays his way across a river while being machine-gunned.
- Reassigned to Antarctica: Major Fuller, the young intel officer who insists that Resistance reports are not to be ignored, gets deemed mentally unfit and removed from duty for his trouble.
- Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Urquhart's paratroopers are quite astonished when the General turns up alive, having been holded up in a Dutch house for several days. Unfortunately things have gotten even worse since he was away.Trooper: We thought you were dead.
Urquhart: I can assure you it was an error.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: The allied paratroopers are dropped into Holland only to discover that their radios are faulty and inoperable, and they spend literally the entire movie trying to fix them. The lack of radios is a major setback for the invasion force, as situation after situation comes up where they need to have a working radio. At the end of the movie, they finally, finally get a radio fixed. However, by this point the situation has so deteriorated that the commanders, after asking each other for reinforcements, have literally nothing to say to each other except:Colonel Frost: Well... we'll just wait for 30 Corps then.
General Urquhart: That would probably be best.
Colonel Frost: Very reassuring talk we've had, sir.
- Shoot the Messenger: The intelligence officer who tries to warn about the German tanks is told he's been working too hard and is put on sick leave.
- Spiritual Successor: To The Longest Day, another star-studded WWII film produced by Darryl F. Zanuck from a book by Cornelius Ryan and with Sean Connery.
- Spot of Tea: A wonderful example:Corporal Hancock: (holding a mug of tea) Sir.
General Urquhart: Hancock. I've got lunatics laughing at me from the woods. My original plan has been scuppered now that the jeeps haven't arrived. My communications are completely broken down. Do you really believe any of that can be helped by a cup of tea?
Corporal Hancock: Couldn't hurt, sir.
- Survival Mantra
- Major Cook keeps repeating "Hail Mary, full of grace" as he paddles across the river under fire from German machine gun and mortar fire (Truth in Television for the character Redford was playing, who was too tense to remember the rest of the prayer).
- A terrified army chaplain can also be seen saying "Thy will be done...they will be done..." in the same scene.
- Tanks, but No Tanks: The German Panther tanks in the film were actually vintage Leopard 1 tanks made up to look like Panthers.
- Tempting Fate:
Frost: Yes, that's exactly what is wrong.
- "Only the weather can stop us now!" And it does.
- Urquhart tells an officer "I'll be back shortly," and the officer replies, "I'm sure the radios will be fixed by then, sir." Urquhart then spends several days hiding in an attic from German soldiers, only to return to find everything has gone to hell in his absence. And they still can't get the radios working.
- The plan is meant to end the war by Christmas. As The Narrator points out, it's not the first time someone's said that.
- One of his officers tells Frost to enjoy the rapturous greeting of the Dutch. "Things couldn't be going better; nothing's wrong."
- The Tooth Hurts: A paratrooper can be seen rubbing his jaw right before the drop, with another saying he should have had the tooth removed before they left.
- This Is Gonna Suck:
- After XXX Corps gets ambushed and has to halt to deal with its wounded, captured Germans, and busted vehicles blocking the road, one of the men wonders how the hell they're gonna reach the paratroopers in time. Colonel Vandeleur points its only going to get worse as the highway narrows further down the line.
- The look on General Sosabowski's face when he's finally getting ready to jump out of a plane into Arnhem, with fully alert German troops waiting for them on the ground.
- Thousand-Yard Stare: On the wounded.
- Title Drop:General Browning: I've just been on to Monty. He's very proud, and pleased.
General Urquhart: Pleased?
General Browning: Of course. He thinks Market Garden has been 90% successful.
General Urquhart: But what do you think?
General Browning: ...well as you know I always thought we tried to go a bridge too far.
- Understatement: Lampshaded by General Gavin. After the briefing, Browning comes to inform him of the "little changes" to the plan.Harry: How big are the "little changes"?
Gavin: I'll answer you with typical British understatement: gigantic. For example, they can't get us all in at once. Too many men, too much equipment, not enough planes. It's gonna take three days to get the men into Arnhem, Poles and the British.
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Played straight. Right after the Allied generals are given the rough outline of the plan, the first sign that it will fail occurs when Field Marshal von Rundstedt orders an SS-Panzer Corps to Arnhem for rest.
- Urban Warfare: Fighting in Arnhem is depicted, and as the film progresses, more and more of the city is destroyed by the constant fighting between the British and German forces. Offscreen, it's also mentioned that British Infantry are also engaging more German forces in Nijmegen.
- Vehicular Turnabout: Some scenes show the Germans commandeering captured Allied jeeps for their own use.
- Weapons Understudies: The German vehicles are usually played by NATO equipment with some plywood mods added on to make it less obvious, (the German "Panther" tanks are played by modified Dutch Army Leopard 1's) and the close air support planes seen when XXX Corps attacks are T-6 Texan trainers kitted out to look like Typhoons. Also a good deal of the half tracks used in the film were real, but had since been almost completely scrapped since the war and were basically shells. It becomes noticeable when many of they only appear behind convenient low walls to disguise the fact that they have no tracks and are being pulled on sleds. There are also several scenes where some of the enemy armor is lacking its steering mechanisms, treadguards, mounted weapons and the other stuff you lose after sitting in a junkyard for thirty years. Some of the vehicles were loaned by private collectors or museums, but this can only account for a very small number of those needed. Of the two German halftracks seen one is a genuine wartime vehicle, the Sd.Kfz.8 troop carrier seen used by Grabner's men in the first bridge assault: Grabner's Sd.Kfz.251 (which looks more like an Sd.Kfz.250) is a replica Frankensteined together from different vehicles. It survived getting set on fire and was reused in Highlander.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: Field Marshals von Rundstedt and Model believe they are preparing for a hard-driving advance led by Patton, not a cautious-advance led by Montgomery.
- Though this is one case in which they do even better because of their false assumptions.
- When Model, headquartered in Arnhem, is first told that British paratroopers are landing three kilometers away, he assumes that they are there to capture him.
- Later, when SS-General Ludwig presents him with captured plans for Operation Market Garden, Model dismisses this as another Allied misinformation attempt, such as the ones that caused their defeats in Sicily and Normandy.
- You Have GOT To Be Kidding Me: Urquhart's reaction when the RAF officer tells him that the closest drop zone they could find is eight miles away from Arnhem bridge.