A Bridge Too Far (1977): Attenborough’s WWII Epic, with All-Star Cast

Richard (Gandhi) Attenborough directed A Bridge Too Far, an epic war film about Operation Market Garden, a failed Allied operation in Nazi-occupied Netherlands during World War II.

The screenplay by William Goldman is based on a non-fiction book of the same name by historian Cornelius Ryan.

The epic benefited from its all-star cast: Dirk Bogarde, James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox, Elliott Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Hardy Krüger, Laurence Olivier, Ryan O’Neal, Robert Redford, Maximilian Schell and Liv Ullmann.

Produced by Richard and Joseph E. Levine, it was the second film based on a book by Ryan to be adapted for the screen, after the 1962 Oscar wining epic The Longest Day.

It was the second film about the events of World War II’s failed Operation Market Garden, after the 1946 Theirs Is the Glory.

A co-production between the UK and the US, the film was shot on location in the Netherlands, in the real locations where the historical events took place.

At the time of its release, it was the most expensive film ever produced.

Though it received a tepid critical response, A Bridge Too Far was moderately popular at the box-office.

Setting and Premise:

Operation Market Garden envisages 35,000 men being flown 300 miles from air bases in England and dropped behind enemy lines in the Netherlands. Two divisions of US paratroopers are responsible for securing the road and bridges as far as Nijmegen.

A British division, under Major-General Roy Urquhart, is to land near Arnhem and hold both sides of the bridge there, backed by a brigade of Polish paratroopers under General Stanisław Sosabowski. XXX Armoured Corps are to push up the road over the bridges captured by the American paratroopers and reach Arnhem two days after the drop.

The last scene depicts Oosterbeek Kate ter Horst, whose home has been converted into a makeshift hospital by the British, abandoning its ruins. Passing through the front yard, now graveyard for fallen troops, she and her children leave with elderly doctor, while wounded British troops sing “Abide with Me” as they await capture.

Cast

British

Dirk Bogarde Lieutenant-General Frederick ‘Boy’ Browning GOC I British Airborne Corps, and at HQ First Allied Airborne Army as its deputy commander, British Army at Nijmegen
Edward Fox Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks GOC, XXX Corps, British Second Army.
Sean Connery Major-General Roy Urquhart GOC, 1st British Airborne Division, Arnhem
Donald Douglas Brigadier Gerald Lathbury Brigade Commander, 1st Parachute Brigade, British Army in Arnhem.
Gerald Sim Colonel Sims Senior Medical Officer, 1st Airborne Corps, RAMC, British Army. Based on Arthur Austin Eagger.
Richard Kane Colonel Weaver Senior Medical Officer, Headquarters RAMC, 1st British Airborne Division, at the Main Dressing Station in the Schoonoord Hotel of the Oosterbeek Perimeter. Based on Graeme Warrack.
Philip Raymond Colonel McEwan C.O. 2nd Armoured Grenadier Guards Battalion. Based on Edward H. Goulburn.
Michael Caine Lieutenant-Colonel J.O.E. Vandeleur CO, 3rd Battalion (Infantry), the Irish Guards, the Guards Armoured Division, XXX Corps, British Army
Anthony Hopkins Lieutenant-Colonel John Frost Commanding Officer, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, 1st Parachute Brigade, 1st British Airborne Division at Arnhem road bridge
Michael Byrne Lieutenant-Colonel Giles Vandeleur Acting CO, 2nd Battalion (Armored), the Irish Guards, the British Guards Armored Division. Cousin to ‘Joe’.
Donald Pickering Lieutenant-Colonel C.B. MacKenzie Principal General Staff Officer (Chief of Staff), Headquarters, 1st Airborne Division, British Army, Divisional HQ at the Hartenstein Hotel
Christopher Good Major Harry Carlyle Officer Commanding, A Company, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, 1st Parachute Brigade, Arnhem. Based on Allison Digby Tatham-Warter
Frank Grimes Major Fuller G-2 (Intelligence Officer) for the 1st Airborne Corps, British Army stationed at the HQ located in Moor Park Golf Club, Hertfordshire, England. Based on Brian Urquhart.
Stephen Moore Major Robert Steele Second–in–command of the divisional signals for 1st Airborne Division, later attached to 1st Parachute Brigade. Based on Anthony Deane–Drummond.
John Stride Grenadier Guards Major British Grenadier Guards Commander who argues with Major Cook after 82nd capture Nijmegen Bridge. Based on Captain Lord Carrington.
Michael Graham Cox Captain Jimmy Cleminson T/Capt., 5 Platoon, B Company, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, British Army, Arnhem
Keith Drinkel Lieutenant Cornish 9th Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers, 1st Airborne Division. Based on Eric MacKay.
Denholm Elliott RAF Meteorology Officer
Jeremy Kemp RAF Briefing Officer RAF, but the briefing probably took place at the 1st Airborne Corps HQ in Moor Park Golf Club, Hertfordshire, England
Mark Sheridan Sergeant Tomblin 2nd Battalion, 1st Parachute Brigade, 1st British Airborne Division
George Innes Sergeant MacDonald British 1st Airborne Division radio operator at the Hartenstein Hotel
Alun Armstrong Corporal Davies 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, 1st Parachute Brigade, 1st British Airborne Division
Paul Copley Private Wicks Batman to Lieutenant Colonel Frost, CO, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, British Army
Ben Cross Trooper Binns 2nd Battalion, 1st Parachute Brigade, 1st British Airborne Division
David Auker ‘Taffy’ Brace Medic, 1st British Airborne Division

Americans

Paul Maxwell Major General Maxwell Taylor CG, 101st Airborne Division, US Army at the Son bridge and later St-Oedenrode
Ryan O’Neal Brigadier General James Gavin Division Commander, US 82nd Airborne Division, US Army at the bridge across the River Maas in Grave, later at the Maas-Waal canal and the bridge across the River Waal in Nijmegen
Elliott Gould Colonel Robert Stout CO, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. Based on Robert Sink.

Arthur Hill US Army Surgeon Colonel Chief Division Surgeon, 101st Airborne Division Clearing Station. Based on David Gold.
Robert Redford Major Julian Cook Commanding Officer, 3rd Battalion, 504th PIR, 82nd Airborne, US Army seizing key bridges over the Maas-Waal Canal and the river assault crossing of the Waal.

Nicholas Campbell, Captain Glass CO, F Company, 2nd Battalion, 502PIR. Based on LeGrand King Johnson
Garrick Hagon Lieutenant Rafferty Lieutenant, 101st Military Police Platoon, 101st Airborne Division, Division Field Hospital, US Army
John Ratzenberger Lieutenant Wall Lieutenant, Company H, 504th PIR, 82nd Airborne Division, US Army, at River Waal crossing. Based on James Megellas.

James Caan, Staff Sergeant Eddie Dohun Runner for Captain Glass, CO, Company F, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division U.S. Army. Based on Charles Dohun.