Movie review: The Bridge at Remagen
I found this randomly while treasure hunting, and had to watch it before selling it. The Bridge at Remagen seems obscure, but it turned out to be a very well made World War 2 action/drama from 1968 that holds up strongly today. Maybe naming it -obstacle-spanning structure- wasn't the most memorable choice for a movie with bad ass action and crusher tanks of doom, (more about that later), but low quality isn't a reason I'd never heard of it.
It has many of the standard features that came with a war movie of it's time: an old fashioned heroic story, but with shades of grey, and cynical, hard edged characters beaten down by forces beyond their control, fighting for ambivalent victory. It came around the time when well worn genres were getting new life with stylish experimenting and revisionism (you know, spaghetti westerns, Peckinpah, and awesomely edited Steve McQueen car chases). This movie breaks no creative boundaries and stays safely inside the main stream, but does it well, with touches of awareness about turmoil of it's time like the war in Vietnam, and the importance of showing boobs at least once with a 99% male cast. The only actress with lines only had like 3 lines, but got misleadingly featured in the trailer. Hey, it's a war movie.
Searching tells me the director, John Guillermin, started around 1950 and worked until the 80's with a filmography that looks undistinguished at a glance, with a few successes: The Towering Inferno (1974), the remake of King Kong (1976), and... Shaft in Africa. I do appreciate knowing about workmanlike directors, because I usually search movies out for unusual ones, and it's a lot of fun when low expectations get beaten.
I don't spend a lot of time getting familiar with actor's bodies of work, so I recognize 2 from the cast well: Ben Gazzarra (the evil tycoon from Road House... cool...) and Robert Vaughan (the Man from Uncle).
The package didn't tell me much of what it was about, beyond a battle strategy that captured the last standing bridge into Germany at the end of World War 2. I found the heart of the movie to be the relationship between the leader of a small handful of US soldiers, trying to survive and keep them together against the odds, and his despised, body-robbing 2nd-in-command. They had to capture the bridge in a last ditch effort when they were already beaten down. Meanwhile, against them was Robert Vaughan commanding the bridge, doing a great job as a morally complicated Nazi trying to stop them from winning a battle none of them wanted to be in. The pacing of the movie, which punches you into the action from the first scene then pulls back for the drama, brought out the human element not easy to read on the back of the package. The men's relationships had a lot of heart between the action.
Speaking of the action, let me tell you about those crusher tanks of doom. Holy crap those were awesome. Only one movie I've seen came to mind right away that had more scary, more personal tank action- Saving Private Ryan, with it's super modern computer enhanced magic, which is cheating compared to this. It's not a large part of the movie, but doesn't need to be. Cars and buildings explode in a way that couldn't be faked, because they used a real Czech town to drive tanks through. (It needed to get wrecked for a strip mine.) They weren't historically accurate (I guess they used Korea-era tanks) but whatever- I like to think they picked them for highest ass kicking factor. Many asses were kicked, and the body count seemed to be 100+ (not Peckinpah gory though). One of the moments of awareness that I mentioned happened when a victory became a tragedy, at the hands of a surprisingly unexpected enemy. Parts like that were surely meant to evoke Vietnam.
( not actually in this movie )
What else can I say? The sound design seemed well done with a huge variety of realistic war sounds (my neighbors might be mad.) The widescreen scenery was awesome throughout and showed much more than war scenes. After watching, I was surprised to read this history:
During filming in Czechoslovakia, the Soviets invaded and rolled tanks through Prague to take control of reforms happening during "Prague Spring." The film makers had to flee for the border in taxis. This story was told by Robert Vaughan in a 2007 BBC radio play, Solo Behind the Iron Curtain, which sounds really interesting. Speaking of that time and place, I would also highly recommend the movie Closely Watched Trains, perhaps the best known Czech New Wave film that was only possible to make in a brief time between those scary happenings.
With a back story like that, The Bridge at Remagen could use a re-release with special features to tell you about it (it has none). Seek this out for a lesser mentioned 60's war movie or World War 2 movie that's equal to the best.
I missed something notable I found in a review:
"This is the only screenplay ever completed and produced by the outstanding post-WW II novelist Richard Yates, whose first (and arguably greatest) work, Revolutionary Road, was recently filmed to great acclaim. Yates fought as an infantryman in Germany, and his experiences bring welcome touches of authenticity and depth to what could easily have become just another post-"Dirty Dozen" action flick."