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The Bridge at Remagen

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1969

‘…those still living WWII in their heads will find much to enjoy; with Segal, Gazzara and other in lockstep with the tough-guy, ‘war makes a man of you’ theme, this is one for aging boys to savour…’

Who doesn’t love a big old war movie? Pretty much no-one anymore; this sub-genre seems to be the preserve of old-timers and military aficionados these days, but when I was a nipper, there was nothing but WWII films on the telly. Developed by Stanley Kubrick, amongst others, this 1969 venture is a little more bitter and worldly than most, with a rather jaded view of military heroism, a balanced view of Allied and German strategies, and a pretty impressive set of action scenes, with stunts sorted by the great Hal Needham.

Director John Guillermin went on to helm The Towering Inferno and King Kong, and really knows the business end of a helicopter shot; the opening scenes set a high bar for action, even if the speeded up shots of Korean war tanks are regrettable. Blowing things up is the theme here; the bridge at Remagen will be blown up by the Germans as the Allies advance, but the Nazis have to get as many of their troops back over first. The US strike-force deputised to blow up the bridge have a last minute change of heart when they realise it’s still intact; George Segal and Ben Gazzara may be so world weary they can barely stand, but one more push is required; will it be a bridge too far? Meanwhile, on the German side, Robert Vaughn’s Major Kruger enjoys swishing around in his full-length leather coat and terrorises the locals as his plans fall apart; a cigarette case proves to have a vital role in the story.

‘But…who… is the enemy?’ For the finale, Kruger looks to the skies and asks with Shatner-esque poise as he grabs a sly fag before his firing squad; The Bridge at Remagen generally skips such philosophising in terms of complaints about the awfulness of fighting. There’s almost a MASH style bravado here, although Segal’s grizzled Lieutenant gets ever tougher by the minute, and the stylish, open-topped Rolls Royce he zooms around in suggests he could manage a gritty franchise all of his own. Like many war films, the schoolboy logic here syncs with the simplified war that cinematic history would have us remember these actions.

As unfashionable a film as can be imagined, The Bridge at Remagen is actually a decent enough package; the pity is that while the shots in and around the bridge at highly impressive, they don’t cut together with the main location and the joins are obvious. But those still living WWII in their heads will find much to enjoy; with Segal, Gazzara and other in lockstep with the tough-guy, ‘war makes a man of you’ theme, this is one for aging boys to savour.

 

 

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  1. Bridges are so much better than walls or leaky ferries. I knew about writer because I once lived in MD (next to WV) and my Welsh grandad was a coal miner in PA. You provide an awesome forum for commenting on movies, many of which get lost in the crowd. You’re the authority; I’m just a fan that loves movies.

    • I did not know that…wonder what Kubrick’s version would have been like. Not much like this, I’d imagine…

  2. When I think of Rhine I think of wine but when I think of war, I often think of the comment you mentioned Kruger made towards the end of the movie RE ‘who’s the enemy?’ The guy that wrote the book the movie’s based on became a politician, Dem from WV, and advocate for coal mine safety, died in 2016. Too much info, back to abridged writing… Bridge at Toko Ri did something similar in making wars horrors realistic, nihilistic.
    Was there another reason writer Hechler put BRIDGE in title? It’s a metaphor for something neutral that connects two ends. The card game (whist) pits 2 against 2; each side tries to win tricks, slams and dummies are involved..hmmm. Though London Bridge is now in Arizona and they redirected a mighty river so water could flow under it, and there’s barely enough water under Waterloo Bridge to drown in, a bridge is a clever devise. My 2 fav bridge movies remain For Whom the Bell Tolls and sappy Bridges of Madison County. Thanks to great writers, reviewers, and filmmakers, bridges, like the stoic, determined one at Remagen, remain standing–though physically gone.

    • FFS, I might as well give up, or just give you the login details for my blog since you outwit me every time! Did not know that about the author, or Waterloo bridge. You out bridges me! But I’m with you on Madison County, and happy to die on that particular hill (or bridge)….

  3. I’m definitely one of those who don’t watch war movies anymore. Just like I don’t watch westerns. And soon, I suspect, won’t be watching superhero movies.

    Movie genres seem to have their heyday and then hang around like that uncle who hasn’t realized he’s 50 but is still acting like he’s 22…

  4. George Segal and gritty don’t really go together for me. I remember watching this on TV (we don’t have telly over here) as a kid. I wonder if you could even make a movie like this today with all the old equipment. It’s like watching The Battle of Britain and being amazement that these are actually real planes flying around and not CGI. You’re in a state of awe and all the practical effects and stunt work. I’m guessing we just couldn’t make movies like this now. Everything looks like Call of Duty.

    • I think Segal was more than just a light comic lead, which is something he did well. But he could do grritty, and he does it here. And I prefer to see real tanks than CGI, films like Midway do look cool, but more like comic books than war….

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