With the upcoming Flames of War book covering the battles for the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, I've been madly working on and converting miniatures to accurately represent one of the units from Kampfgruppe Hudel (and as soon as I find the charger for my dead camera battery I'll have some new posts there as well). While painting, I generally like to drop in a war movie for background while I work. This time around I figured I'd watch The Bridge at Remagen, the 1969 David L. Wolper release - it just seemed appropriate.
I hadn't watched the film in quite a while, but I remembered that it played a bit fast and loose with the actual events surrounding the capture of the Bridge. Given I'd done a lot of research on the battle for the upcoming book, I was really able to look at the movie with a critical eye in a way I hadn't been able to do in the past. Sometimes I'm not sure whether or not that's a "good thing" as invariably when I take a critical look at most war movies, they fall short.
As with most war movies of the era, The Bridge at Remagen falls incredibly short on many levels. Wikipedia refers to the movie as a "highly-fictionalized version of actual events," and in many ways that is an understatement. The actual assault on the bridge itself was nothing like what is depicted in the movie. Casualties during the initial assault were light to non-existent, though clearing the ridge on the eastern bank was costly. The charges weren't detonated during the assault, but rather before the assault. I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.
However, one important fact to remember about this war film, and many of the World War II films of the late 1960's and early 1970's was that the story wasn't about World War II, it was about the increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam. Other films of the era, like Kelly's Heroes, share similar themes - of inept officers pushing worn out troops forward in a hopeless quest for glory using the perception of a futile conflict as a backdrop.
That being said, I really love Kelly's Heroes while Bridge gets far fewer stars (and far fewer viewings). For me the difference is that Kelly's Heroes doesn't pretend to be anything other than a work of fiction. There was no such action in World War II, and you're pretty much aware of that fact from the outset. The Bridge at Remagen, however, purports to be the story of an actual battle in World War II. Instead it co-opts the place, time, and equipment to tell a completely different story, and that's where I start taking issue.
By taking a battle which was generally well-conducted and turning it into a political statement by twisting the facts seems more than a little dishonest. Given the producers wanted to tell a story that would resonate with war-weary Americans using World War II as a backdrop, there are plenty of actual stories in World War II that would work just fine. The Battle of the Hürtgen Forest would do well. The battle of the Winter Line in Italy is another good example.
That being said, many of the action scenes were good. Most of the equipment used while not entirely accurate to the particular battle (at least on the American side), it was at least of World War II vintage. The movie also does a good job of trying to examine both the American and the German points of view (though there are many inaccuracies on the German side as well). If you're looking for a Vietnam action/war movie - The Bridge at Remagen is not bad. If you're looking for an accurate World War II film, however, you'll have to look elsewhere!