A Bridge Too Far

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A Bridge Too Far is a 1977 World War II war film based on Cornelius Ryan's best-selling book. It tells the story of Operation Market Garden, an audacious, but flawed - and ultimately unsuccessful - plan to to use British, American and Polish paratroops and British armored divisions to capture four bridges in the Netherlands in order to cut a path into Nazi Germany with the hope of ending the war before Christmas 1944. It has an All-Star Cast, was written by William Goldman, and was directed by Richard Attenborough.

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.


Tropes used in A Bridge Too Far include:

Narrator: "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."

    • Never mind that by that time, Germany was quite definitely losing the war on the Eastern Front - where the real blows were delivered.
    • Actually zig-zagged. British and Polish troops have plenty of screen time, and the movie portrays one of the failed operations.
  • Artistic License Military
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Robert Redford's character leads a dangerous river crossing and personally inflicts a large amount of the asskicking.
  • Badass: Exemplified in 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.

"Better by daylight."

  • The Big Board
  • The Cavalry
  • 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.
  • 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 briefing officer and checks his insignia.

Sosabowski: "Just making sure whose side you're on."

  • Film of the Book
  • Finagle's Law: From the moment the operation is launched, everything starts going wrong for the Allies.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: "Gentlemen, this is a story you will tell your grandchildren. And mighty bored they'll all be."
  • 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.
  • Idiot Ball: A British tank officer tells an incredulous American paratroop commander that they won't immediately press on to Arnhem after taking Nijmegen because of some trivial reason. Note that this is Hollywood History. XXX Corps needed time to marshal their forces and resupply their leading elements when Nijmegen bridge was secured.
    • Hardly trivial. The tank officer clearly states that they couldn't advance without infantry support, which was tied up in Nijmegen. A more appropriate example is an Allied officer bringing the entire plans for Market Garden to Holland with him, where they fall into German hands. Field Marshal Model then dismisses the plans on the grounds that they're obviously a ruse.
      • Note though that two previous Allied offensives on the western front - the Normandy and Sicily invasions - had disinformation campaigns the Germans fell for hook, line and sinker. Model would have been aware of this.
    • 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.
    • See Shaggy Dog Story below. Radios paratroopers are supplied with (crucial part of the equipment for such operation) were set to wrong frequencies and no one bothered to check if they are operable prior to. Think issuing soldiers with ammunition that doesn't match their weapons.
  • It's Raining Men
  • Large Ham: Colonel Stout as played by a scenery-chewing cigar-chewing Elliot Gould.
  • Laughing Mad: Happens literally when the paratroopers land near Arnhem only to encounter the inmates of a lunatic asylum freed by a bombing raid.
  • Only Sane Man: General Sosabowski points the holes in the operation plan, only to be ignored by the rest of the staff.
  • 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 though.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Lt.-Colonel Frost objected to a scene where the actor playing him (Anthony Hopkins) runs across a street under fire. He always walked. It was decided to leave the scene as it was, for fear the audience would have a What an Idiot! reaction.
    • 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 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.
  • 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 Fueller, young intel officer who insists that Resistance reports are not to be ignored gets deemed mentally unfit and removed from duty for his trouble.
  • 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 but don't. 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.

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: Robert Redford 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 he 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.
  • Suspiciously Small Army: Averted because they did spend a lot of money and even had Real Life airborne soldiers drop out of planes for it.
  • Tempting Fate:

General Urquhart: "I'll be back shortly."
Officer: "I'm sure the radios will be fixed by then, sir."
Urquhart 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.

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.

  • Translation Convention: Thankfully averted. The Germans speak German and the Dutch speak Dutch.
  • Weapons Understudies: The German vehicles are usually played by NATO equipment with some plywood mods added on to make it less obvious, 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, tread-guards, mounted weapons and the other stuff you lose after sitting in a junkyard for thirty years.
  • World War II
  • Yanks With Tanks: Averted. Most of the XXX Corps vehicles are American-built (and in the British Army via Lend Lease), but the unit itself was British.