The Bridge At Remagen

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday June 27, 2017

The Bridge At Remagen

A vigorous war drama based on true events, "The Bridge at Remagen" adroitly traces the shifting tides of battle by presenting the destruction of the bridge in question as the object of not just the Germans -- who want to prevent the Americans from using it to cross the Rhine -- but also the Americans, who want to blow up the bridge in order to trap about 75,000 Nazi troops. The irony of the two sides duking it out to achieve the same objective evaporates when the Americans realize the bridge offers a more attractive tactical option if left intact, while the Germans face delays and mixups -- including the eventual discovery that the explosive charges they intend to use are the wrong type and won't destroy the bridge as expected.

One source of the delays is a quiet defiance of orders by Colonel General von Brock (Peter van Eyck) and Major Paul Kreuger (Robert Vaughn), two Nazi officers appalled by Hitler's callous orders to bring the bridge down before the men of Germany's 15th Army can cross over it to safety. They agree to hold off on the detonation as long as possible -- an easier task to accomplish than it might be, thanks to the ordnance taking longer than anticipated to arrive.

Meanwhile, newly-promoted Lieutenant Hartman (George Segal) has no sooner inherited command of his company than he's ordered to proceed with his already-exhausted men to Meckenheim, which is only a few miles from the targeted bridge. When General Shinner (E. G. Marshall) changes his mind about the bridge and orders it taken, rather than destroyed, that task, too, falls to Hartman's men.

The chaos and confusion of war serve as a backdrop for a study of compassion in punishing circumstances. On the Nazi side, an impulse toward decency is met with brutal disciplinary action; on the American side, Hartman buries his feelings of concern and grief for the men he serves with, denying in words that friendship in wartime is impossible even as his actions prove his willingness to go to bat -- and even die, if need be -- for his men. (It's almost a sad quip that the human commonality of both sides is symbolized by, of all things, a gold cigarette case.)

The Twilight Time Blu-ray edition makes the film look as good as if it were shot just a few years ago instead of 1969 (by which time the epic WWII movie was in full flower as a genre). Though some elements of the movie inevitably seem dated -- the night scenes are murky, thanks to film stock and other limitations, and the sound design relies on a few repetitive effects for explosions and weapons discharges -- the sterling performances and action sequences (all done by practical means, of course, rather than CGI) mark this film out for distinction. (As Julie Kirgo explains in her liner notes essay, the destruction of Meckenheim's buildings were filmed thanks to the timely real-life demolition of a village in Czechoslovakia, where much of the film was shot. As Kirgo goes on to note, the subsequent events of the spring of 1968 -- when the Russians sent in tanks to quell an uprising -- the film crew had to flee; they did so "in a fleet of 28 taxis," and production was completed in Italy and Germany.)

The film relies on the usual character tropes (heroic, compassionate officers; zealous superiors; young soldiers, cynical soldiers, innocent civilians) but still does interesting things with them. War movie enthusiasts will appreciate this title, especially fans of WWII epics like "The Longest Day, "The Dirty Dozen," and, of course, "A Bridge Too Far."

The extras are slight on this release. Aside from the liner notes essay there's an original theatrical trailer (always useful as a visual reference for how superior the hi-def transfer is) and an isolated music track to highlight the score by Elmer Bernstein.

"The Bridge At Remagen"



Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.