Memoir & analysis of 1977 war film ‘A Bridge Too Far’ by Al Murray

Memoir & analysis of 1977 war film 'A Bridge Too Far' by Al Murray

Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) ‘Watching War Films with My Dad’, a memoir by British TV personality Al Murray (2) Hurricanes & Messerschmitts in a dogfight in the 1969 film The Battle of Britain (3) Paratroopers in the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far (4) Leopard I tank seen in ‘A Bridge Too Far’ careering across Arnhem Bridge was manufactured in 1965 (5&6) Scenes from ‘A Bridge Too Far’

The 1977 epic war film ‘A Bridge Too Far’ was based on the 1974 book with the same title by Cornelius Ryan. Story of the Allied WWII operation in September 1944, called ‘Operation Market Garden’ is told by ‘A Bridge Too Far’. Though marginally successful initially, Operation Market Garden turned out to be unsuccessful as the objectives of a forceful entry into Germany by penetrating Nazi Siegfried defense lines across the Rhine river in occupied Netherlands was not achieved by the Allied troops during the operation. Allied tactics were much debated due to many controversial strategies of the bold offensive. The title ‘A Bridge Too Far Away’ came from the unconfirmed comment by one British Lt General Frederick Browning, 1st Allied Airborne Army’s Deputy Commander, who told planner of the Operation, Field Marshal Montgomery, before the operation that he thought they might be going a bridge too far. The armored XXX corps or 30 corps had to travel over 60 miles through Nazi held Dutch territory to become reinforcements for the paratroopers dropped at the Arnhem bridge to capture it.

The ensemble cast of the film includes Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Liv Ullmann. It was the first war movie where the director put the actors through boot camps before filming. Online edition of distinguished British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported on the extract from ‘Watching War Films with My Dad’, a memoir by British TV personality and comedian Al Murray, son of Lt Colonel Ingram Bernard Murray.

Murray wrote that if anybody wanted to ruin something like a war film completely should watch it with his father. He himself is also part of the same team. As war films contain presentations on true events, real people and real equipments, they are interesting to be analyzed critically. This also can give a ‘morbid thrill’ of being correct. War films can be pathetic to watch with people who know the details of the actual happenings and instruments of war.

The 1969 film ‘Battle of Britain’ would be a torture to someone who knows all about the British Supermarine Spitfire aircrafts. And the German aircrafts used in that movie were not German. Those were Spanish aircrafts made under a license after the WWII and oddly were powered by British Rolls Royce Merlin engines. The fabled Merlin engines, in fact, powered Mosquitos, Spitfires, Lancasters and Hurricanes. In place of German Heinkel He 111s, Spanish CASA 2.111s derived from the Heinkel 111s were used. So in the movie, the German Messerschmitt aircrafts had the wrong shaped noses and made wrong noises.

Murray also wrote that he was growing up on the war film stuffs during the seventies. ‘A Bridge Too Far’ was one of the most important among those films to him. He clearly recalls the memory of being taken to see the movie at the cinema when he was just nine. It was a major father-son event for Murray and his Dad. They were living in a village in Buckinghamshire which had one bus a week transport service back then.

Al Murray’s dad Lt Colonel Ingram was an airborne sapper or combat engineer from the 1950s till the 1970s. In the British airborne culture, battle of Arnhem during the Operation Market Garden is one of the central events. Murray’s dad knew many soldiers who fought there. Murray learned about many incidents from his dad. So the movie was a great deal for both of them.

In the movie ‘A Bridge Too Far’, the actors would salute more like civilians than soldiers. Mr. Ingram also muttered about actors’ haircuts. The father-son critics duo, however, were amazed at the scenes of jumps by the 1st Airborne Division paratroopers into the Arnhem. The jumps were authentic, aircrafts were appropriate, so were the drop zones. But some of the troopers jumped with clean uniform without any equipment or weapons. Typically, an infantry paratrooper would jump with a Lee Enfield rifle and about 200 pounds of supplies including 100 rounds for the rifle, magazine for section’s Bren machine gun, few mortar rounds, grenades, water bottle, entrenching tools, ration packs for a day or two etc. The parachutes used were also an update of the actual parachutes used by soldiers at Arnhem during WWII.

PX 1 Mark 2 parachutes with fringes were used in the film. They were introduced much later and were safer that the 1944 parachutes. Moreover, the men jumped with reserve parachutes in the film. There were several reasons for British paratroopers for not jumping with reserves during WWII; they jumped from very low altitude that gave little time to deploy the reserve and also the additional weight of the reserve parachute was used to carry extra weapons and ammunitions. The reserve was also considered to be an unnecessary expense during the world war. American paratroopers, who used to carry reserve parachute, were fined if they considered using the reserves unnecessarily. The reserve parachutes seen in the film were intended for safer jumps but were surely historically inaccurate.

‘A Bridge Too Far’ also termed the German formations at Arnhem as ‘II SS Panzer Division’. In the real battle it was 2 SS Panzer Corps. The Leopard I tank seen in the film careering across Arnhem Bridge was manufactured in 1965. In the real warfare Tiger or Panther tanks were used by the Nazi forces. Al Murray, however, admired the efforts put into ‘A Bridge Too Far’ and wrote that it was a ‘true classic’.
Video story: Trailer of the 1977 film ‘A Bridge Too Far’

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE