This Week’s pick is yet again another World War II classic, the 1969 John Guillerman (King Kong 1976) film The Bridge At Remagen which stars George Segal (Lt. Phil Hartman), Ben Gazzara (Sgt. Angelo), Robert Vaughn (Major Paul Krueger), Bradford Dillman (Major Barnes) and screen great E.G. Marshall as General Shinner.
The film opens in March of 1945 as the American 9th Armored Div began to push elements of the retreating German army back towards the Rhine River. The German high command wants all the bridges over the Rhine destroyed in order to halt the advance of the allies from reaching the heart of Germany.
But one high ranking officer, General Von Brock (Peter Van Eyck) enlists the help of Major Paul Krueger (Vaughn) to keep one bridge, the bridge at Remagen up in order to allow the German 15th Army and its seventy-five thousand men to retreat and avoid capture. Krueger accepts the mission believing that a large force stationed at the bridge will stop the advancing Americans.
The Americans however want the bridge destroyed, but in the end keep it up as a way to help shorten the war. Both the Germans and Americans don’t realize it yet, but Remagen will become one of the last decisive battles of the war in Europe.
The Bridge At Remagen proved to be a very costly and dangerous production which began filming in Czechoslovakia in August, 1968. Just as principle photography began shooting, the Soviet Red Army invaded the country. A series of events took place which began to threaten the cast and crew. In an article from Variety Magazine from August of 1968, actor Bradford Dillman described the events as “Hair-raising.”
“There were some close calls. On the first day [of the occupation]…the company was standing in front of the international hotel when one of the [Czech] protestors dashed into the hotel, raced up to the hotel balcony where flags of all the nations flew [and] pulled down the Russian flag. The Russians got a little nervous and started to train their machine guns on our group, standing in front of the door!” Fortunately, however, no one was harmed and the event ended without further incident.”
One other event which threatened the production was that East German newspapers accused the American production as a “C.I.A. front” for smuggling in American troops disguised as tourists. According to press materials in the DVD jacket, Soviet MIGs and helicopters ran routine flybys over the bridge site to confirm that the action was “staged” and not a threat to that Communist republic.
Due to increasing threats of armed incursion and possible imprisonment, Production Manager Milton Feldman arranged for the entire crew of 80 (and two Czech defectors) to flee to Gmund, Austria in a caravan of taxis before the Soviets closed the border. Film producer David L. Wolper managed to convince in a five week period that the Russians return all the 5,200 confiscated props, and costumes in order for the production to resume. He also managed to have a second bridge erected as a double for the Remagen bridge due to the vast setbacks and relocation problems his production team encountered.
The Bridge At Remagen is a film which is a race against time. Both armies wanted the bridge destroyed, and both then decided to keep it up in order to end the war. Both of Krueger’s adjutants believe that the battle is lost and that its useless to go on fighting. The Americans are tired of their senior officers like Major Barnes and his dramatic notions of heroics and bravery.
Lt. Hartman is tired of war and tired of losing more of his men in pointless objectives whether its riding point in the armored column, or the killing of a Hitler Youth which fired on the Americans from a hotel covered in surrender flags. It is a film which shows that war is not always heroic and that glory is a dangerous concept when faced with overwhelming odds. The Bridge At Remagen struck a cord in audiences who acquainted it to the senseless combat they witnessed on the nightly news concerning the Vietnam War.
One little fun fact is that it was the first film (not M*A*S*H which debuted on year later), to use the F-word. In the scene where Major Barnes forces Lt. Hartman at gun point because he refuses to take his platoon over the bridge to capture the far-side, Sgt. Angelo kicks Barnes’ rifle out of his hands, and then chops him in the neck. Major Barnes threatens to have Angelo court martialed for the offense. Angelo replies to Barnes by saying “Go f*** yourself.” Certain versions of the film have either left it in, or have removed it from the audio track.
The Bridge At Remagen is available to own on DVD through MGM/UA and can be rented through Netflix, or support your local ma and pop video store if they’ve got it.