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The Bridge At Remagen

Featuring: George Segal, Robert Vaughn & Ben Gazzara

Format: DVD | Rating: PG

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  And you, Baumann. Will you fight as hard as you talk?

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Director John Guillermin, directs this tense look at one of the most important battles of World War II: American forces clash with the Germans at Remagen, where the last intact bridge over the Rhine stands between the two opposing forces. The script divides attention evenly and fairly between the two forces, George Segal ("The Longest Day") is Lt. Hartman, a burned out and exhausted junior officer who doesn't want to accept the responsibilities of command when his company commander is killed. The war is almost over, and Hartman is anxious with getting his men home safely, and very reluctant in taking unnecessary risks along the way. On the other side of the river, German Major Krueger (Robert Vaughn) is equally concerned with saving lives - only this time, German soldiers.

Regardless of orders from the High Command to blow up the bridge preventing its capture by the Allies, Major Krueger becomes obsessed with keeping the bridge intact in order to allow retreating German soldiers to return safely to the Rhineland, before the last means of retreat is finally sealed off by destroying the bridge.

The all-star cast is packed with outstanding performances. Particularly Hans Christian Blech ("Battle of the Bulge") as Captain Schmidt, a battle weary Wehrmacht Officer; once a school teacher in Remagen, who feels his responsibility is to protect the civilians, whom Krueger will put in harm's way by continuing an impossible fight. Captain Baumann (Joachim Hansen - "Breakthrough") disagrees with Schmidt; he is loyal to the High Command and wants a battle with the Americans at all costs. These actors bring obsession to their roles and make them very believable wartime officers, all the more believable in an intense atmosphere prior to battle.

It's not hard to be impressed with this movie, because you can almost smell the aftermath of gunfire, shelling and dead bodies on the bridge and throughout the town of Remagen. Most films brush over the reality of war and summarise the diverse type of men that make up an army under fire. There are the commanders at the top safe from the frontline not always aware of the full picture, supplemented with the self centered officers, both career minded and contemptuous to high body counts, the NCOs and the infantry men totally exhausted, who do what they have to do, just to survive the appalling odds of just staying alive. On top of all this, it highlights the emotional bonds that war creates between frontline soldiers involved in battle and far from home.

In the aftermath of battle scenes like this, the human drama unfolds. Sgt. Angelo (Ben Gazzara) is a tough GI who loots the bodies of the dead and sees the war around him as a chance to get rich and take his booty home when it's all over. However when he kills a Hitler Youth member who is sniping at his men, he weeps when he realises he has shot a teenage boy. During a lull in the siege on the bridge, Hartman confronts Maj. Barnes (Bradford Dillman), who wants him to take his men onto the bridge and capture it despite enemy fire and the threat of the bridge's impending destruction. Hartman argues that he cannot risk the lives of his men; Barnes states that it will help to end the war faster if the bridge is captured, thus saving more lives in the long run.

These lower ranking officers and their men are merely pawns to be pushed beyond the breaking point and mostly killed in action. The frontline officers see letters of condolence that they need to write for the families of the fallen men serving under them. The commanders and Generals just see territory gained and strategic flags on maps. The Bridge at Remagen is a deeply cynical and gritty war movie and should be ranked up there with the best.

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  "But who is the enemy?"

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Director John Guillermin must have a deep affection for destroying architecture. In The Towering Inferno he torched a skyscraper, but he throws bombs, bullets, and tanks at the titular bridge in his often overlooked The Bridge At Remargen.
Remargen follows a number of soldiers of all ranks and on both sides as had been the genre standard set by The Longest Day. The American focus is on George Segal, a weary recon officer trying his not to get shot as the war draws to a close. His character seems to be a turning point in war films as he is insubordinate, shell shocked, and faces mutiny from his men as he hands them yet another reckless mission.
Released at the height of the Vietnam war, Segal and Ben Gazzara, as his looting Seargent, uncover the truth about G.I.s in WW2 when they were being held up as a perfect example to the "whinging" soldiers fighting and dying in South East Asia.
Social commentary apart, The Bridge At Remargen is a taut, well made film, balanced in its approach to the conflict. Robert Vaughn is Segal's German counterpart commanded to hold the bridge at all costs. They are both connected and seperated by the Bridge, just as they are by their profession and birth. However a cigarette case is used touchingly to highlight the futility of war, and like any well written adversaries, their similarities.
When the bridge after defiantly resisting constant bombardment finally collapses, we are reminded of the fate of Germany and her people; defying overwhelming odds placed on them by Hitler and the Nazis before finally buckling under intense pressure from all sides.

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