From John Guillerman, the late visionary of The Blue Max, The Towering Inferno, The Day They Robbed the Bank of England, and that one version of King Kong everyone suddenly began to like after Peter Jackson's remake came out (though they still ignore that sequel) comes one of the first American productions to be filmed behind the Iron Curtain. While based on real life people and events, 1969's World War II action picture The Bridge at Remagen takes hold of its story with a decidedly loose grip, giving director Guillerman the opportunity to let exercise a different kind of liberty. And frankly, in an instance such as this, it works quite well.
Set in the battered west side of Germany in the final days of World War II, the great George Segal takes the lead here as Lt. Phil Hartman (!) ‒ one of Uncle Sam's most devoted and seasoned combatants. But being properly seasoned doesn't mean you can be left out in the marinade for too lengthy of a duration, and our hero has been in the thick of the stew even as the film opens. Nazis or no Nazis, his platoon is in dire need of a rest. Alas, his commanding officer, Major Barnes (Bradford Dillman) keeps sending his troops forward forthwith, concentrating more on pressing matters of the state such as the state of his own military career.
Ordered to advance upon The Bridge at Remagen in order to prevent the forthcoming flock of fleeing goose-steppers from returning to Führerland, Hartman and Co. advance onward towards the unwanted promise of pending perils, while Barnes' boss, Gen. Shinner (E.G. Marshall) officially declares the whole mess a "crap shoot." Meanwhile, on the other side of the river, Nazi officer Maj. Kreuger (a post-Man from U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughn) is experiencing a crap shoot of another kind as he desperately tries to reel in what's left of his country's unhappy Kampfers over the eponymous landmark after he himself has been ordered to destroy it.
Amid the contrasting stories touching upon such troublesome things as honor and morality, The Bridge at Remagen presents us with numerous instances of Mr. Ben Gazzara himself, whose character is self-conscious to the point where I suspect he knows full well he's in a movie. But the alternatively grinning/grimacing Gazzara isn't the only reason to glide your way over to The Bridge at Remagen. Not when there are multiple things going bang-bang and boom-boom, to say nothing of all the great supporting actors producer David L. Wolper (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) has assembled on both sides of the war.
Though the Yankees may have quite the ensemble on their side ‒ something they are only able to accomplish thanks to the subtle assistance of a young Bo Hopkins ‒ ze Germans get to show off some of their acting greats, too. In addition to Robert Vaughn's surprisingly humane character (just remember, kids, though it's based on fact, it's still a fictitious film), we also get to see a number of fine performances from German character actors Hans Christian Blech and Joachim Hansen. Here, in rare appearances in English-language production, they appear as Nazi Captains determined to just blow the damn overpass up already.
Most importantly, however, The Bridge at Remagen sports the final appearance of the suave, debonair, and captivating charms of frequent Dr. Mabuse foil Peter van Eyck (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold), who passed away less than a month after our feature film made its debut in the US of A. Several years prior, van Eyck had a prominent role in 20th Century Fox's lavish all-star 1962 World War II bloc-buster epic The Longest Day ‒ a film few historians or fans will argue served as a major inspiration for The Bridge at Remagen (though at a less greater scale, granted). But hey, all's fair in love and war movies, right?
Filmed primarily on location in Czechoslovakia (West Germany was busy at the time) until invading Soviets forced the production to move in a Westernly fashion (oh, Russia...), The Bridge at Remagen's popularity hasn't exactly run off the charts in the decades that have followed. (Not when compared to The Longest Day, that is.) Nevertheless, like its titular locale, Guillerman's fun little film still stands up quite well when viewed today. As their director does with his many action sequences (featuring stunts by future Smokey and the Bandit director Hal Needham!), the film's cast does the very best to their utmost abilities with what they're given.
Making its Blu-ray debut from Twilight Time (leasing the United Artists title from MGM), this Limited Edition release presents us with a solid 2.35:1 1080p presentation of the Panavision flick, encoded in MPEG-4 AVC. Like the many other MGM/UA movies Twilight Time has been providing us with High-Definition upgrades of, this one is a huge improvement over the old MGM DVD. Anyone who thinks a DTS-HD MA 1.0 soundtrack can't give your stereo setup a proper workout will want to give this one a whirl, as it is quite powerful. English (SDH) subtitles and a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track featuring composer Elmer Bernstein's isolated score is also included.
Lastly, this exclusive (and Region Free) Twilight Time release ‒ limited to just 3,000 copies ‒ sports a theatrical trailer and liner notes by Julie Kirgo. All in all, it's a fairly perfect way to view this much shorter Longest Day. Enjoy.