THE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN (1969)
George Segal, Robert Vaughn, Ben Gazzara, Bradford Dillman, E.G. Marshall, Peter Van Eyck, Hans-Christian Blech, Joachmin Hansen, Heinz Reincke, Bo Hopkins, Robert Logan, Gunter Meisner, Richard Munch, Anna Gael, Sonja Ziemann, Vit Olmer, Paul Prokop, Frank Webb, Steve Sandor, Thomas Heaton, Rudolf Jelinek, Matthew Clark and Fritz Ford.
American director John Guillermin, known for several epic “clunkers”, pulls together this rather tense look at one of the most important battles of World War II: American forces clash with the Germans at Remagen, where the last intact bridge over the Rhine stands between the two opposing forces.
The script divides attention evenly and fairly between the two forces. George Segal (“The Longest Day”) is Lt. Hartman, a burned out and pretty tired junior officer who doesn’t want to accept the responsibilities of command when his company commander is killed. The war is almost over, and Hartman is concerned with getting his men home. On the other side of the river, German Major Kreuger (Robert Vaughn) is equally concerned with saving lives – German lives. He becomes obsessed with keeping the bridge intact in order to allow retreating German soldiers to attack, despite orders from the High Command to blow up the bridge to prevent its’ capture by the Allies.
The supporting cast is filled with fine performances. The standouts are Hans Christian Blech (“Battle of the Bulge”) as Captain Schmidt, a weary Wehrmacht Officer who feels his duty is to protect the civilians whom Kreuger puts in harm’s way by continuing a hopeless fight. Blech’s acting ability ranges from quiet humility to occasional fits of rage, bringing a dimensionality to a role not commonly found in war epics. Joachim Hansen (“Breakthrough”) disagrees with Schmidt; he is devoted to the High Command and wants a battle with the Americans more than anything. Both actors bring passion to their roles and make these very believable wartime officers, not simply normal caricatures and stereotypes.
Guillermin takes these characters and puts them in intense combat situations, making their humanity all the more believable. The best battle scene in the film has a platoon of American soldiers advancing onto the bridge under a smokescreen, but while they are in the open, the smoke begins to clear giving the Germans a clear field of fire. As some men are shot in the open, others move underneath the bridge to try and rip off as many explosives as they can before the Germans can ignite a secondary fuse to blow up the bridge.
In the aftermath of battle scenes like this, the human drama unfolds. Sgt. Angelo (Ben Gazzara, “Fireball Forward”) is a tough GI who loots the bodies of the dead and sees the war around him as a chance to get rich and take the wealth home when it’s all over. But when he must shoot a Hitler Youth member who is sniping at his men, then weeps when he realizes he has shot a mere pre-teenage boy. During a lull in the siege on the bridge, Hartman faces off with Maj. Barnes (Bradford Dillman), who wants him to take his men onto the bridge and capture it despite enemy fire and the threat of the bridge’s imminent destruction. Hartman argues that he cannot risk the lives of his men; Barnes states that it will help to end the war faster is the bridge is captured, thus saving more lives in the end. It’s a tough choice to make, and both decisions have their drawbacks.
The performances are complimented by three crucial technical elements: scoring, scenery and cinematography. Elmer Bernstein provides a sweeping score which resounds with the troops when they are victorious, yet mourns and seems to cry during some heart-wrenching scenes, such as an important scene between Angelo, Hartman and Schmidt at the film’s conclusion. The Czech locations look magnificent – the film looks and feels real because it was lensed in Europe, in a location which passes for Germany perfectly. The cobblestones streets, rustic villages, rolling hills and clear rivers look amazing. Finally, Stanley Cortez’s cinematography is fantastic; the composition of every shot looks well-planned and detailed. There is action going on in the background and foreground most of the time. The focus is not just on the main characters, but as in real life, there is stuff going on around them. Scenes of the battle on the bridge are standouts, as the action is captured from every possible angle, it’s very clear what’s going on and who is where at all times.
“The Bridge at Remagen” is a fine World War II film which succeeds in showing history, American patriotism and the horrors of war at the same time. It will leave you feeling glad that the Allies won the war and agonized over the great cost of such small gains. But when you realize how much a “small” gain really matters in the big picture, it won't seem as small anymore.
SGT. SLAUGHTER'S RATING: