|The Bridge at Remagen|
|Directed by||John Guillermin|
|Produced by||David L. Wolper|
|Written by||Roger O. Hirson|
|Screenplay by||William Roberts|
|Based on||The Bridge at Remagen (1957 book)|
by Kenneth William Hechler
E. G. Marshall
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Edited by||William Cartwright|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$1.6 million (US/ Canada rentals)|
The Bridge at Remagen is a 1969 DeLuxe Color war film starring George Segal, Ben Gazzara and Robert Vaughn in Panavision. The film, which was directed by John Guillermin, was shot on location in Czechoslovakia. It is based on the nonfiction book The Bridge at Remagen: The Amazing Story of March 7, 1945 by writer and U. S. Representative Ken Hechler. The screenplay was adapted by Richard Yates and William Roberts.
The film is a highly fictionalized version of actual events during the last months of World War II when the 9th Armored Division approached Remagen and captured the intact Ludendorff Bridge. Instead of the real week-long battle and several artillery duels fought between the Americans and German defenders, the film focuses on the heroism and human cost in gaining a bridgehead across the Rhine before the Allies' final advance into Germany. It also omits the construction of bailey and pontoon bridges across the Rhine following capture of the bridge.
The bridge itself was never rebuilt with the towers on each bank converted into a museum and arts studios.
The film opens with the U.S. Army failing to capture the still-intact Oberkassel railway bridge. Lieutenant Hartman (George Segal) is an experienced combat team leader who is becoming weary of the war in Europe. After he is promoted to company commander following the reckless death of the previous officer, Hartman is ordered to advance to the Rhine River at Remagen where he is promised a rest for his men. At the same time, Major Paul Kreuger (Robert Vaughn) of the Wehrmacht is tasked with destroying the Remagen bridge by his friend and superior, Colonel General von Brock (Peter van Eyck), who has been given a written order to do it immediately. The general appeals to Kreuger's sense of honor, giving him a verbal command to defend the bridge for as long as possible, to allow the 15th Army trapped on the west bank of the river to escape.
After capturing the undefended town of Meckenheim, four miles from Remagen, Hartman is ordered by his battalion commander, Major Barnes (Bradford Dillman), to continue the advance until encountering resistance. Kreuger tours the defences above the town of Remagen and assures the handful of troops, which are just old men and boys, that the general personally guaranteed tank reserves are on the way. When Hartman's troops attack the town, Kreuger is shown the reality when he calls for the promised tanks and is told they have been sent "elsewhere".
On finding the bridge intact, General Shinner (E. G. Marshall) orders Major Barnes to secure its capture, saying: "It's a crap shoot, Major. We're risking one hundred men, but you may save ten thousand". Barnes agrees to send in Hartman's company, and orders the troops to gain a foothold across the Rhine River, thus avoiding a costly assault-crossing elsewhere. Sergeant Angelo (Ben Gazzara), one of Hartman's squad leaders and friends strikes Barnes after the Major threatens Hartman.
As the American soldiers rush the bridge, Kreuger, along with explosives engineer Captain Baumann (Joachim Hansen) and Captain Schmidt (Hans Christian Blech) from the Remagen Bridge Security Command, try to blow up the bridge, but the explosives they use prove to be not the high-yield military grade charges needed for the job, but weaker, industrial explosives, which fail to destroy the structure. Hartman's troops dig in to consolidate their hold on the bridge.
Kreuger shoots two soldiers as they try to desert. Realising the futility of the situation, Kreuger returns to HQ to make a personal appeal to the general for more reinforcements, but on arrival finds that building taken over by the SS. Von Brock has been arrested for being "defeatist". Kreuger is questioned about the delay to blow up the bridge and arrested.
At Remagen, Hartman leads a raid against a machine gun nest installed by Kreuger on board a barge moored to the bridge, but while taking its crew out, Angelo is hit and falls into the river. Hartman marches on foot towards the bridge defenders' post at the same time as a squadron of M24 Chaffee light tanks cross the bridge. The remaining German soldiers surrender to the Americans. In the aftermath of the battle, Hartman discovers Angelo alive. The next day, Kreuger is led out for execution by an SS firing squad. With the sound of airplanes overhead, Kreuger asks: "Ours or theirs?". The SS attending officer replies, "Enemy planes, sir!" "But who is the enemy?" muses Kreuger before he is shot. (In reality, Hitler ordered five men responsible for the failed defense shot: one was convicted in absentia, four others executed).
A screen crawl informs the viewer that the actual structure collapsed into the Rhine ten days after its capture.
The film was based on a book by Ken Hechler, a war historian who was serving in the US Army in 1945. "I was lucky to be about 10 miles from Remagen when the electrifying news came down that the bridge had been captured," said Hechler later. "We had just liberated this wine cellar. The first units came back and were sent into reserve and had nothing to do but drink wine and talk about what they had done."
The resulting interviews - plus postwar interviews with German soldiers who were at the bridge - formed the bulk of the research for Hechler's book which was published in 1957. The book ended up selling over 500,000 copies.
Hechler used money from the book to finance his successful campaign to the House of Representatives in 1958.
In May 1958 film rights were purchased by Schulberg Productions, the company of Budd Schulberg who had witnessed the crossing and intended to film it as The Day We Crossed the Rhine. It was meant to follow Schulberg's film Wind Across the Everglades. Schulberg said Stanley Kubrick was interested in directing and the film would be made in Germany. Columbia agreed to finance.
In November 1960 Schulberg said the film would be start shooting in May 1961 with finance from the Mirisch Company and United Artists.
The film was not made by Schulberg.
Roger O. Hirson was signed to do the script. A few months later, Richard Yates was reportedly working on the script. Later on William Roberts worked on it. These delays meant Wolper ended up making another war film first, The Devil's Brigade.
Hechler says he was only offered $5,000 for the use of the book. "They told me if I held out for more money they'd change the name from The Bridge at Remagen to The Remagen Bridge and base it on newspaper accounts, which were public domain and covered the event widely at the time."
West German officials would not allow the production to make the film in Germany because of shipping traffic on the River Rhine. There was an increasing trend at the time to film Hollywood films in Eastern Europe in order to save money - The Fixer was filmed in Hungary and Castle Keep in Yugoslavia. According to a British press report it was decided to save £833,000 of the £2,100,000 budget by shooting in Czechoslovakia.
By April 1968 George Segal had signed to star and John Guillermin to direct. Ben Gazzara then agreed to sign - his first feature in three years. Robert Vaughan joined soon after.
Wolper paid $750,000 and Czech distribution rights to Barrandov Studios in exchange for their facilities and local labor.
The American World War Two equipment was borrowed from the government of Austria, who had originally got it from the Americans.
Filming started 6 June 1968 and was meant to go through until October. Shooting was difficult from the beginning. The production manager fell ill and the first assistant director quit. There were also clashes in work methods within the crew, of whom roughly 60 were imported from the west and 200 were Czech. However after an awkward start the Westerns and Czechs forged a decent working relationship.
It was a period of political instability in Czechoslovakia. The film unit were accused by the Soviet and East German press of smuggling weapons into the country and being a cover up for the CIA. The Czechs did not take it too seriously, with Czech members of the crew jokingly referring to Wolper as "Mr CIA". Some government officials did inspect the arsenal of arms at Barrandov studios and found everything in order.
Much of the Remagen town scenes were shot in the town of Most. The old town was being demolished and rebuilt at a new location at the time in order to make lignite lying under it accessible for mining.
The Remagen Bridge scenes were shot at Davle on the Vltava River using the old bridge. Fake towers and a fake railway tunnel were constructed for the film. The film's opening scenes - where the US Army fails to capture the Oberkassel, Bonn bridge - were shot just south of the village of Vrané nad Vltavou using the railway bridge which carries the Prague-Dob?í? line over the River Vltava.
During filming Guillermin told producer Wolper that he did not want the distraction of him being on set and he was therefore banned. Wolper responded by telling him that if he could not direct with Wolper on set, then he was therefore sacked. Guillermin apologised. Wolper later called Guillermin "a real pain in tha ass".
On 20 August 1968, when the film was two-thirds complete, the Soviet Army invaded Czechoslovakia to reinstall a hard-line Communist government. Filming had to halt and the bulk of the cast and crew were struck in the International Hotel in Prague. Wolper had flown out from Prague to Rome the night of the invasion.
The cast and crew voted whether to stay or leave. Only three voted to stay - Guillermin and two stuntmen. Some cast and crew, including Shirley Temple Black, left in a 400-car convoy which took them to Pilsen and then to Nuremberg. A few hours later 79 cast and crew left escaped in a 20-car caravan driven by Czechs. They travelled to Gmud in Austria, one hour before the border was closed. after which they travelled to Vienna.
Items left behind included many personal possessions, the last five days' worth of filming and $1 million worth of equipment, including eight tanks and four cameras of unprocessed film. "It was just like an adventure movie," said Bradford Dillman, "except the tragedy was real." Some had had to flee to Vienna in 60-car convoy.
Wolper said "circumstances have conspired to turn an innocent and expensive enterprise into a political football."
Filming resumed in Hamburg West Germany, where there were ideal studio facilities, in October 1968. Unfinished scenes involving the bridge were shot at Castel Gandolfo in Italy. Wolper also negotiated filming of the blowing up of the bridge in Prague.
Wolper later wrote "the actors get on the bridge in Czechoslovakia, remove explosive under the bridge in Germany and get off the bridge in Italy."
"If we bring some unity to this picture it will be a miracle," said Vaughan.
Wolper says the film had insurance to cover an invasion but that the insurance company argued that it was not an invasion, rather the government invited the Russians in. The matter settled and Wolper got some compensation but not the full amount. The Russian agreed to return the equipment.
The film finished after 93 days.
According to Hechler, "although Hollywood has its own ideas of the truth, probably 95 percent of it is accurate. It was doubly exciting to see the good actors they got to portray it."
Hechler says the opening scene of the tanks going fast was not true. "They said it was more exciting that way. Also, there were several scenes with women, which I never saw in 1945. There's a little bit of a love interest there."
Hechler says the names of the participants were changed "I imagine to avoid lawsuits".
Hechler said he was "very happy with" the film "because it brought attention to one of the great examples of the initiative and training of the American soldiers. They took advantage of an opportunity that had not been planned at all. It's also a tribute to the leadership of [Lt.] Karl Timmermann, who was the first officer who crossed."
The Bridge at Remagen was released in theatres on June 25, 1969. The ABC network broadcast the film on television in the U.S. on July 24, 1977. The film was released on DVD by MGM Home Entertainment on January 24, 2006 and January 31, 2006.
Wolper says "perhaps it was not the best idea to distribute a film about war and heroism at the height of the war in Vietnam. The film received mixed reviews. It was accused of being too realistic and not realistic enough... Given the circumstances, I think it is a fine picture and it plays quite often on television."