A 1969 historical action film based on a true World War II story. The film is a fictionalized telling of the capture of the last standing bridge over the Rhine River in March 1945.
Directed by John Guillermin, the film stars George Segal, Robert Vaughn, Ben Gazzara, Bradford Dillman, and E. G. Marshall. The screenplay was heavily influenced by historian Ken Hechler's 1957 narrative account of the same name, with characters heavily fictionalized.
The movie had a grittier tone than typical 1960s war films, reflecting a growing dis-satisfaction with the war in Vietnam, and a growing anti-establishment mood in Hollywood. The Allied soldiers are depicted as tired, unconcerned about the outcome of the war, and in several cases resist or even refuse to carry out orders. The Germans mostly avoid stock characterizations and also have varying degrees of war weariness and devotion to duty.
Released in a crowded field of war films in the late 1960s, the movie was a staple of late-night TV but received little real acclaim. The production was notable for having to displace partway through due to the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia.
The Bridge at Remagen contains examples of:
- Anti-Hero: Keeping with the general tone of the film, Sergeant Angelo defies orders, assaults his battalion commander, and habitually robs the dead. In action, he's at the forefront of the fighting, and tries to protect the French girl in the jail from being abused by his men.
- Anti-Villain: Major Kreuger may be the German officer trying to defend and if necessary destroy the titular bridge, but he is never shown to be anything but a good man. He reassures the men under his command that reinforcements are on their way, isn't afraid to be near the action and tries to get the job done despite empty promises and inadequate support from the Wehrmacht.
- Artistic License History: aspects of the film are fictionalized, probably to add additional characterization possibilities and better permit the more cynical view of the producers to come through.
- The first officer across the bridge was actually Lieutenant Karl Timmermann. He was a German-American officer with a playful side (in the book, it's mentioned he pot-shotted at German power transformers while riding in his jeep) and respect for authority. Lieutenant Hartman in the film is tired and unenthusiastic about the war.
- The first soldier to cross the real bridge was Sergeant Alex Drabik. There is no evidence in the book that he was anything like the fictional Sergeant Angelo, who carried a German weapon, robbed the dead, questioned orders and assaulted his battalion commander.
- Other major details are Truth in Television; the Germans really did try to blow up the bridge and fail, and really did execute the major in command of the bridge after it was captured.
- Child Soldiers. Rudi, and "Just Plain Tragic" type. Very much Truth in Television.
- Cool Guns: Sergeant Angelo carries a German MP 40 throughout the movie, probably also as a character establishing trait.
- Death from Above: An American air raid on the bridge has terrifying effects on the civilians still trying to use it. Also used to set up the scenes in the nearby Gasthaus.
- Easy Logistics: Averted. Krueger wouldn't have been able to follow his original orders to blow the bridge immediately even if he wanted to because the explosives didn't arrive until shortly before Remagen came under attack. And even then, the promised demolition charges were of inadequate quality and in insufficient quantity, so even once the charges were planted, the damage of the blast didn't actually sink the bridge for another week and a half.
- Highly-Conspicuous Uniform: the German officers all wear their high peaked forage caps with bright silver cap cords into battle. In actuality, it would have been more common to wear steel helmets or smaller caps without the cap cords.
- Improperly Placed Firearms: For the most part averted though some post-war Mausers and machine guns can be seen.
- During Captain Colt's first appearance, the blank firing apparatus on the Browning .30 caliber machine gun on his jeep is clearly visible. Likewise when Hartman fires the .30 from the halftrack before admonishing a GI, the barrel is clearly plugged with a BFA.
- Lowered Recruiting Standards: The Germans are forced to use large numbers of Eastern European 'volunteers' to man the defences. After the bridge demolition mechanism is found to be sabotaged, Captain Baumann angrily announces "It's these damn Poles. We should kill them all!"
- The German NCO at the church is visibly much older than the other soldiers in the film, a reference to the wide recruiting net cast by the Germans at the end of the war, when minimum recruitment ages were dropped, and the maximum raised to compel middle-aged and even elderly men to serve in the front lines.
- Mission Creep: The Americans continually expect to be allowed to stop for rest as they accomplish objectives only to be given new and unexpected orders.
- After Company A secures Stadt Meckenheim without resistance, they're ordered to keep going until they find the Germans.
- When the 27th Armored Infantry reaches the Rhine, and to their surprise an intact bridge, General Schiller decides to try and secure it.
- Also applicable to the Germans. Officially, the Germans are ordered to destroy the bridge at Remagen immediately. Major Krueger makes a handshake deal with his commander to keep it open as long as possible in order to give 15,000 men of the 15th Army an opportunity to escape to the east side of the river.
- Not so Above It All: Hartman, after sneering at Angelos looting, stops to pick up Kruegers dropped gold cigarette case.
- Screw the War, We're Partying:
- Subdued, but the Americans happily dress down and play cutthroat poker after securing Stadt Meckenheim. When Hartman tells Angelo their orders have changed and to get the men moving, he protests that "they'll kill us."
- The opening briefing takes place in a wine cellar. While it would be a logical place to shelter from the bombardment audible in the background, General von Brock is shown drinking while he talks.
- Tanks, but No Tanks: narrowly subverted. Most of the equipment, unlike other films of the era, is actual World War II vintage. However, the actual types employed in the film were not really used in the actual battle.
- The M24 tanks used by the Americans were indeed used in World War II, but at the actual battle a platoon of M26 Pershings was undergoing combat trials.
- Other vehicles and equipment are correctly shown, including the wartime jeeps, M8 Greyhound scout cars, M3/M5 halftracks, and all the American small arms and support weapons such as the Browning machine guns and 4.2-inch mortars.
- The German Sd.Kfz 251 halftrack is an obvious post-war Czech model (much filming was done in Czechoslovakia), notable by the weapon ports on the hull side.
- The American airplanes in the air raid, on the other hand, are obvious footage of early war model B-25s in "Doolittle Raid" markings.
- Values Dissonance: The film was part of a growing trend of more realism and cynicism in Hollywood movies. Unremarkable now, some of the facets of this trend include:
- one American soldier mouths the word 'fuck' (though the dialogue itself is muted on the sound track).
- Female characters play a very minor role; the one with the most dialogue exposes her breasts (unthinkable in earlier American war films).
- Where's the Kaboom?: The perfect example of this trope. German engineers try desperately though much of the movie to destroy the bridge. when they do finally receive the explosives, plant them, and light the secondary fuze after sabotage and shellfire prevent the main charge from being detonated, the resulting explosion fails to bring the bridge down.