Movie Reviews - Featured Films » Epic Films - Wartime

The Bridges at Toko–Ri Movie Review

brubaker film admiral war

1954 – Mark Robson –

This film does not falsify any aspect of its simple story. Harry Brubaker (William Holden), a navy pilot during the Korean War, has to ditch his plane in icy waters but is rescued by a helicopter crew (Mickey Rooney, Earl Holliman). Later, Brubaker gets a short furlough with his wife (Grace Kelly) and daughters during which he explains his imminent mission of taking out enemy bridges spanning a valley between two mountains in North Korea. On this mission, he is shot down and killed. 37-year-old William Holden agreed to appear in the film on the condition that Brubaker die in the movie as he had in James Michener's short novel.

This final scene is brutal in its coldness. The pilot who had a few days ago been relaxing in a Japanese bathhouse is now trapped in a muddy trench as enemy soldiers close in. After his rifle jams, he scurries around like a bug until he is finally shot. The scenes leading up to this moment use editing and silence very effectively to achieve suspense and deepen character. We watch Brubaker's tense reactions during the briefing session as he views footage of the approach to the bridges with flak blasting all around. We watch him unable to sleep, unable to write a letter to his wife. To strengthen his resolve, he goes out to the edge of the naval carrier where the spray hits him in the face; director Mark Robson makes good use of space in these long shots of one lonely man on the vast carrier deck.

The dialogue is equally simple and clipped and perfectly suits Holden's laconic voice, as when he unemotionally describes his rescue in the opening scene for his fatherly admiral (Fredric March): “You're out there all by yourself. You know you can't last very long. You're scared and you're freezing. You curse and you pray. Suddenly, you see that mixmaster whirling at you out of nowhere. You look up, and there's Forney in the green hat. You relax cause you know you got it knocked.” Fredric March is excellent as the admiral who has lost two sons to war, and Holden's scenes with Grace Kelly are equally strong. In one of the best, a Japanese family enters the bathhouse Brubaker thought he had reserved, coming through a door he thought he had locked. They begin to disrobe as he tries to stop them and as his wife gasps in embarrassment. Soon he is laughing and the children are exchanging friendly greetings. The film also benefits from being shot on an actual naval carrier, and the aerial scenes are first rate.

Such consistent realism ultimately creates an ambivalent view of war. Although the film is often cited as an antiwar film, an opening title describes the movie as a “tribute” to the navy; the superb aerial photography of Charles G. Clarke is a testament to the action film at the core. Certainly the bravery of the pilots is never questioned, but indirectly the decision to send them on near-suicidal missions—and even the war effort itself—gets scrutinized rather severely. The criticism comes in the honesty with which the film presents the uncertainty many have about such wars of containment. Admiral Tarrant recites half-heartedly the domino theory about stopping Communist aggression, but his real emotions still grieve over his two lost sons and his wife who has been ruined by grief. Brubaker's final insight, as dozens of enemy soldiers move in to kill him, is that you fight the war you're in whether right or wrong, but no one doubts for a moment that he would rather be a living husband than a dead hero. The film closes with the admiral's baffled question as he watches more planes take off, “Where do such men come from?” Brubaker's fellow pilot Lee (Charles McGraw) tries to convince the admiral that the mission was a success, that they knocked out the bridges, that they suffered only three fatalities, but the human costs of war and blind devotion to duty are what stay in the mind.

Cast: William Holden (Lieutenant Harry Brubaker), Grace Kelly (Nancy Brubaker), Fredric March (Rear-Admiral George Tarrant), Mickey Rooney (Mike Forney), Robert Strauss (Beer Barrel), Charles McGraw (Commander Wayne Lee), Keiko Awaji (Kimiko), Earl Holliman (Nestor Gamidge), Richard Shannon (Lieutenant Olds), Willis Bouchey (Captain Evans), Nadine Ashdown (Cathy Brubaker), Marshall V. Beebe (Pilot), Cheryl Lynn Callaway (Susie Brubaker), Gene Hardy (Chief Petty Officer), James Hyland (Officer of the Day) Screenwriter: Valentine Davies Cinematographer: Loyal Griggs Composer: Lyn Murray Producer: William Perlberg and George Seaton for Paramount Running Time: 102 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1955: Special Effects; Nominations: Editing.

Das Boot Movie Review [next] [back] A Bridge Too Far Movie Review

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or