A BRIDGE TOO FAR (5) vs. A WALK IN THE SUN (12)
"A Bridge Too Far" has an all-star cast of both British and American A-Listers. They took the production seriously. There are excellent performances across the board. Maybe it was the competition. The standouts included James Caan as a grunt who saves his “dead” lieutenant and Elliot Gould as a crusty American officer who has to build a Bailey Bridge. Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery, and Gene Hackman are commanding as commanders. Kudos to Dirk Bogarde for taking on the thankless role of Gen. Browning (Monty’s incompetent lap dog – or so the movie implies) and making American audiences shake their heads smugly.
"A Walk in the Sun" has a cast of familiar B-Listers from the 1940s. They do as well as could be expected, but can’t compete with the “Bridge” cast. Dana Andrews is strong in the lead role, but noone breaks out. A couple of the performances get a little grating after a while (ex. Richard Conte as Ramirez) . However, given the small nature of the film, the acting is more than adequate.
FIRST QUARTER SCORE: BRIDGE 9 WALK 7
“Bridge” is not the type of war movie that lends itself to clichés so this category is slightly unfair. I tried thinking of some “epic war movie” clichés like pompous orchestral music, but could not come up with a comparable list to the combat movie clichés list. With respect to similar movies like “The Longest Day”, “Midway”, and “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, it follows the typical plot pattern. Concentration on leadership instead of the troops, coverage of several units, jumping between Allied and Axis perspectives, a few grunts getting personal stories (ex. Dohun), etc.
“Walk” is a small unit dynamics movie in the classic sense. It begins with a thank you to the Armed Forces. The group is heterogeneous (including the Brooklynite), but the different backgrounds are not a major plot point. There is a commentator in the form of Windy Craven who is composing a letter to his sister in his head. The hero (Tyne) has leadership forced on him. There is a distinct objective that they move towards. The plot alternates between action and dialogue. On the other hand, it is missing several of the other clichés. There is no redemption character and no real conflict within the group.
HALF TIME SCORE: BRIDGE 17 WALK 14
“Bridge” is the true story of Operation Market Garden and it is based on the outstanding book by Cornelius Ryan. The movie does justice to both. It does an excellent job juggling the command perspectives of both sides and integrating the battle scenes. Considering the complexity of the campaign, the film is not confusing and manages to stick to a linear structure.
“Walk” has a much simpler plot. It also is based on a great novel by Harry Brown so it is not a true story. The plot builds slowly to an assault on a German farm house in Italy. The combat scene at the end is the obligatory payoff for a movie that is more interested in soldier interaction than action. This means the plot is uncommon for a war movie and thus its competent direction by Lewis Milestone makes the movie very interesting, but not for everyone. In other words, if you have seen ten war movies, you will probably hate it. If you have seen 100, you’ll probably love it. The movie is almost totally the opposite of “Bridge” in its concentration on the small picture. The movies make outstanding companions.
THIRD QUARTER SCORE: BRIDGE 26 WALK 22
“Bridge” is very underrated as a combat film. There are several very well done combat sequences. The scenes involving the Arnhem Bridge stand out, but there is also the best river crossing under fire scene in war movie history. The action is violent and pretty graphic. There are plenty of realistic explosions. Compared to its most obvious equivalent, “The Longest Day”, it packs a lot more punch.
“Walk” is at a big disadvantage in this tournament when it comes to combat. It throws some in, but almost as an afterthought. There is a scene involving ambushing an armored car which is cool, but mainly because of the staging and cinematography. The assault on the farm house has a weird feel to it with most of the action from a German machine gunner point of view and Americans making a frontal charge leading to falling bodies. It’s pretty bloodless. Other than the lack of blood, the movie is honest about the boring nature of warfare where long bouts of sitting around and talking are broken up by short intense moments of violence. However, this reality does not go over well with most war movie fans.
FINAL SCORE: BRIDGE 35 WALK 27
COLOR ANALYSIS: I am a big fan of "A Walk in the Sun", but sometimes bigger is better. "Walk" could not hang with the more talent-laden "Bridge". Realistic soldier talk and behavior makes "Walk" a fine representative of the minimalist school of war films, but in a match-up of combat films it lacks bang. The fact that its day in the life of a platoon is true to the basically boring nature of war is commendable. However, it ran into a movie that was true to the massive nature of a military campaign. "Bridge" lived up to its pedigree with excellent acting and set pieces. It just overwhelmed "Walk".