Saturday, June 6, 2015

CRACKER? Die Brucke (The Bridge) (1959)



                “Die Brucke” is a German film that made quite a splash internationally when it was released.  It was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and won the Golden Globe.  Its director Bernard Wicki went on to co-direct “The Longest Day”.  The movie was based on a novel by Gregor Dorfmeister who heard about the incident from a veteran. 

one down, six to go
                The movie is set in the closing weeks of WWII in Europe.  The German town is so sleepy that a bomb hitting near the local bridge is all everybody is talking about.  The war has apparently not effected the town much, but that is about to change as the American army is fast approaching.  The movie concentrates on a group of high school chums and their families.  They are a varied lot and include one who is ashamed of his Nazi official father who is bugging out, one who is the son of a wealthy widow, one who is the son of a dead soldier, etc.  They have one thing in common – they are all excited about being called up to join the army.  This is one similarity to its obvious grandfather “All Quiet on the Western Front”.  Another is the training that consists of a lot of throwing yourself to the ground when ordered (like the “muddy field”).  One difference is the teacher of this group of naïve newbies goes to the training facility to talk the commander out of sacrificing them. 

                The very next day the unit is shipped to the front, but the commander shows some humanity by assigning the seven boys to defend the inconsequential bridge outside their town.  It’s scheduled to be blown up anyway.  A veteran corporal is put in charge of the teenagers, but he is not around for long and the boys are on their own.  Since they grew up looking at war as glamorous and have been indoctrinated into believing every inch of German soil must be defended by patriots, they assume their situation is not farcical and meaningless.  Even an obviously ass-whipped unit led by a dazed Iron Cross winner that comes limping through does not change their decision, although it is certainly sobering.  Peer pressure is not just for in school.  The movie becomes a “who will survive?” story when American M24 Chaffee tanks and infantry arrive.

did Chaffee's have wheels?
                “Die Brucke” is a must see for war movie lovers.  It makes for a nice companion to “All Quiet”, although it lacks the depth of that classic.  The scenario is similar.  A group of teenage boys go off to war with no real conception of what war is like.  To this group, war is a game and their combat experience does bring some exhilarance.  The excited looks on their faces when they feel the vibration of their weapons on their shoulders are part of the head-shaking anti-war theme the movie is intent on conveying.  War is serious business as they learn and it is a tragedy when young people are the pawns in a doomed and corrupt cause.  The movie also makes clear the effects war has on the mothers of these pawns.  They are helpless to prevent the state from circumventing their protective rearing of their children.  Not only do wars take advantage of the youthful impression that you will come out a hero and not a dead hero, but adults in charge take advantage of this naivete.  However, the movie carves out its own niche by having no major character pushing the young men to be cannon fodder.  Their desire to prove themselves is engendered by the nebulous state indoctrination that has fed them for six years.  But mostly it comes from the common boyhood fantasy that war will be fun.

this didn't happen when they played war
                The acting is amateurish as the boy actors are unpolished.  But so are high school boys.  This is not a major drawback for a movie that is an anti-epic.  The movie is predictable with no twists, but it does not bludgeon you with its theme.  The set-up for the climactic set piece is plausible, although having a German town untouched by war at this stage of the war is highly unlikely.  Having all seven called up on the same day is a plot device that could be sniffed at.  The big pay-off is worth the wait.  The defense of the bridge is twenty minutes of consistent action.  The MG-42s and MP-40s are authentic looking, but the tanks are wooden mock-ups.  The deaths are as memorable as they are inevitable.  For those who sneer at black and white movies, this is one movie that would not have nearly the impact if it was in color.

                Does the movie belong in my 100 Best War Movies list?  Probably.   It is not a great movie. The low budget nature and the predictability of the plot prevent this, but it is a worthy addition to the genre and deserves to be better known than it is.

GRADE =  B

              

9 comments:

  1. Agree with the B grade - my haiku summary:

    Youth, guarding a bridge.
    Don't leave your rifle behind!
    You want it, kids? Here....

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    1. Congratulations on having this blog's first haiku! And thanks.

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  2. The American tanks in this movie are definitely mediums which does not fit with your idea that they are supposed to represent M24 Chaffee light tanks which came into service in 1944 to replace the grossly outclassed M3 Stuarts. I always thought the tanks in this movie were supposed to represent Sherman Jumbos or some other late war Sherman variant. Incidently all of tanks on the American side in the movie "The Battle of the Bulge" (1965) were Chaffees, these being used as stand-ins for Shermans which were up against M26 Pershing heavies which filled the role of the German King Tigers.

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    1. Thanks for the input. In my defense, I am not a tank expert. I referred to them as Chaffees because that is what my research indicated.

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  3. I am not a tank expert either. Sources I read indicate the King Tigers in "Battle of the Bulge" were portrayed not by M26 Pershings, but by (very similar appearing) M47 Patton tanks.

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  4. Criterion is releasing this film on Blu-Ray on June 23.

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  6. I just received the Blu-Ray version of The Bridge. It has a 22-minute segment with Gregor Dorfmeister speaking into the camera and telling what happened in real life. He also helped write the screenplay. Dorfmeister tells how Bernard Wicki took the story from the novel and structured it for a film.

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    1. Fascinating. I'll have to look for that.

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