Year :                     1977

Director:                 Richard Attenborough.

Producer:                Joseph E. Levine and Richard P. Levine.

Script:                    William Goldman from the book by Cornelius Ryan

Cinematography:      Geoffrey Unsworth

Music:                              John Addison

 

This was an enormous adaptation by director Richard Attenborough (Gandhi) of Cornelius Ryan's novel. It features one the largest all-star casts in cinematic history. It explains the rendering of a daring, but ultimately disastrous, raid behind enemy lines in Holland during the Second World War, what became known as ‘Operation Market Garden’. In an effort to end the war sooner, the Allied High Command plans an attack that will drop thousands of paratroopers behind enemy lines and then send the armour (XXX CORPS) in to meet up with them and take over several strategic bridges.

 

The film boasts an excellent cast full of big name stars such as Dirk Bogarde, James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox, Elliott Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Hardy Kruger, Laurence Olivier, Ryan O'Neal, Robert Redford, Maximilian Schell and Liv Ullmann – just the top line. It secured good reviews at the time and was a modest success at the box office (competing with Star Wars!!). Lord Attenborough however can still look back and know that it was a worthwhile project despite the lack of obvious peer accolades. The film has been criticised by reviewers because has so many stars and, despite runtime, limited character development. I’m sorry but I just can’t agree. I found myself easily getting attached to Connery, Caine, Hackman and Hopkins characters. 

 

All the players do a brilliant job – for a film packed with big name stars it has to be said there were no – ‘look at me I’m the best’ performances – perhaps because they were dealing with such as serious subject. Yet comedy still plays a large part, mostly British ‘stiff upper lip stuff’ that non brits will not readily identiy with. Examples would be Connerys response when asked if he wants a cup of tea or Hopkins batman wondering why he’ll need a dinner jacket.

 

Edward Fox gets a lovely opportunity to show why he’s such a good actor with a great speech to his officers (that really occurred). Redford leads a boat crossing reminiscent the charge of the light bridge (but a little more successful) and Connery steals every shot he’s in, making you really believe he is Major General Urquhart. Lord Olivier plays a Dutch doctor (well he also has a Danish Knighthood) extremely well and with great sensitivity.

 

I have to say that it is small details that makes the movie for me, the blood dripping onto the blood beside the child, the brave paratrooper recovering the canister and Liv Ullmann reading to the dying soldier. Beautifully shot with reasonable pace and the increasing sense that this one may unravel means that, at least for this writer, the 3 hours flies by. The sense of hopelessness is nicely described by one of Connery adjutants when he states ‘it’s hard to stop tanks with rifles and machine guns’ after they leant they’ve landed on top of two SS Panzer divisions.

 

A finally note should be made of Attenborough’s attention to historical detail. From the weapons they use such as the Piat against the tanks, to the type of house to house street fighting, Major Gen Urquhart getting cut off and the Germans finding the allied plans. Seldom have I know a film that claims to follow a true story that has such rigorous attention to historical events.

 

On a final military note Montgomery made a mistake with this one, a big one but I’ve noted how willing my American friends were to blanket him with being a poor general. I’m not getting into debate here but suffice to say it is well documented that he acted with consummate skill in Africa against arguably on of the best military commanders of this century. Patton had a picnic in the park.

 

John Addisons music score will have you humming along for a number of days and the CD is well worth buying. Oh and the Sspecial Edition DVD is just out.