In September 1944 the Allied troops suffered one of the worst losses of World War II when they dropped thousands of paratroopers into Holland to secure key bridges over the Rhine. In 1977, director Richard Attenborough committed this tragic story to celluloid with A Bridge Too Far, scoring his first big hit behind the camera. Now this classic tale of honour in defeat, starring Robert Redford, Laurence Olivier, and Anthony Hopkins, is released in a two-disc Special Edition package to coincide with the 60th anniversary of D-Day.
Crossing The Bridge
Somewhere between history and Hollywood, A Bridge Too Far was a book penned by war correspondent Cornelius Ryan. His dying wish, expressed to producer Joseph Levine, was that his words be turned into a film, and in the documentary Heroes From The Sky you'll learn how this purpose spurred Levine on an obsessive quest. It details the blood, sweat, and tears that made the film possible, with legendary screenwriter William Goldman speaking reverently about the uphill battle he and Attenborough faced in satisfying Levine's fixation - pressure intensified by the fact that Levine sank $10 million of his own money into the project.
There's also testimony from survivors of Operation Market Garden, who were impressed by the film's commitment to accuracy. Disturbingly, a key scene that depicts the French erecting a blockade of corpses to hold off the German advance was not just Hollywood bombast, but an incident attested to by survivors. Such startling accounts are made even more affecting by revelations that the film was shunned by American critics and completely ignored at Oscar time for daring to expose the fatal inadequacies of the Allied campaign.
The Market Garden survivors are given a second forum to share their memories in the mini-documentary A Distant Battle. Lending a human scale to what was an epic loss of life, this is inevitably gut-wrenching viewing.
Just The Facts
William Goldman makes further declarations about the veracity of his script in an audio commentary dripping with resentment and punctuated with expletives. He singles out highly charged sequences, including one in which James Caan drives through crossfire to save an unknown soldier from certain death, and holds a gun to the head of the doctor who refuses to treat him: "You can't make this stuff up!" he cries. But he also expresses regret for putting words into the mouth of real-life war hero Lt. Col. John Frost - played by Anthony Hopkins in the film.
Goldman delivers a gutsy commentary while it lasts; unfortunately, anonymous crewmembers are given the bulk of the talk time in what are obviously separate recordings. Though informative, these interventions are really quite annoying since Goldman always has the more interesting points to make and conveys much more passion.
In A Filmmaker Remembers, Richard Attenborough gives a similarly heartfelt account of the production. There are also moments of light, such as when he recalls the commotion caused by Lt. Col. Frost during one of his visits to the set. According to the director, when Frost saw Anthony Hopkins portray him as a man who crouches in the crossfire, he yelled a halt to production and declared: "I would never run at anything other than my full height!"
The anecdote perfectly encapsulates the tone of this Special Edition package. While suitably deferential, it's also a warm tribute to the soldiers who fought at the Battle of Arnhem, and to the filmmakers who dared to tell the truth about it.EXTRA FEATURES