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.