“Theirs Is the Glory” is a unique war movie. It reenacts the British participation in Operation Market Garden. It was “produced entirely without the use of studio sets or actors. Every incident was either experienced or witnessed by the people who appear in the film.” Everyone in the 200 person cast was either a British soldier who participated in Operation Market Garden or a Dutch civilian who lived through the battle. The veterans were paid three pounds per diem. They had a lot of input in the action and dialogue. Director Brian Desmond Hurst (“Malta Story”) was a veteran of the Gallipoli Campaign of WWI. He considered the movie to be his finest achievement in a stellar career. It was a labor of love. The filming began one year after the battle on the actual sites. The premiere occurred on the two year anniversary of the battle and was attended by the Prime Minister. A private showing was provided for King George VI. The film was a huge hit in Great Britain and was the top grossing film for a decade.
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The movie opens with a view of the destroyed bridge at Arnhem. A montage of sites familiar to students of the battle follow. The Operation Market Garden plan is outlined via a map. Several paratroopers in a barracks are identified by the narrator. The campaign begins with an armada of gliders and transports dropping paratroopers. Upon reaching the Arnhem Bridge, a flamethrower sets off ammunition and a mixed bag of Germans are taken captive, but the bridge cannot be taken. The unit at the bridge is cut off from the main body that ends up surrounded at Oosterbeek. The rest of the movie consists of the last stands of both these bodies of men.
This is a gem of a movie. It is unique in using the actual participants in an historical event. Surprisingly, the “actors” do a commendable job. They are obviously not professionals, but they are still better than many B movie actors. Notice how they duck and flinch at explosions like they have been there before. They have also seen enough death to know how a soldier dies. No one throws his hands in the air and twirls around. The dialogue is natural as is to be expected from men who had input in what they say because they may have said it. One unfortunate decision was not to identify the men. Only keen students of the battle will recognize Majors “Freddie” Gough and “Dickie” Lonsdale, for instance. Look closely and you will see Kate ter Horst (the Liv Ullmann character in “A Bridge Too Far”) reading psalms to the wounded.
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The movie is an amazing blend of footage and reenactments. Basically, whenever anyone speaks it is a reenactment. A narrator provides the documentary feel and also does a great job informing. The narration is sincere, but not treacly. Maps are used well. A nice touch is the use of an embedded war correspondent to give eye-witness accounts of what is happening within the Oosterbeek perimeter.
If the acting is satisfactory, the action is outstanding. And there is a lot of it! The bitter aspects of a last stand against overwhelming odds is reenacted with verve. There is some realistic tank action and excellent bomb effects. The only false note has a Brit throwing a grenade to silence a German broadcasting a surrender demand. It stands out in a movie that is a sober portrayal of the hell of war. There are some emotional deaths in the movie and one can assume they were emotional for the reenactors. The movie ends by returning to the barracks to inform that most of the paratroopers did not return.
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“Theirs Is the Glory” is as good as it gets when it comes to telling the story of the British 1st Airborne’s role in Market Garden. It honors the participants. It is not a propaganda puff piece, but it does leave out a few details that would slightly mar the theme. The movie is mostly free of reference to the mistakes the campaign is famous for. There are no communications problems in the film, for instance. There is only brief mention of Gen. Urquhart being cut off from his men for crucial hours and no mention about the flaws in the overall plan. There is no controversy, not surprisingly.
“Theirs Is the Glory” has often been compared favorably to “A Bridge Too Far” as though one must choose between them. In reality, they are both great movies and when paired do complete justice to the campaign and the men who participated in it. “Bridge” gives the big picture and “Glory”concentrates on just Arnhem and Oosterbeek. I strongly suggest you watch “Bridge” first and use “Glory” as an addendum. Whatever order you choose, watch both because they both are among the 100 Best War Movies.
GRADE = A