28 April 2011 | inspectors71
There's a moment in Mark Robson's The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954) when the viewer begins to seriously suspect that the protagonist of this story, Harry Brubaker (William Holden) isn't going to see his wife and children again. Set in the second half of the "Police Action" known as the Korean War, when both the United Nations' forces and the Communists were locked in a stalemate, Brubaker, a disgruntled lawyer, called up to fulfill his reservist duty as a pilot on an aircraft carrier, fumes at the injustice of having to fly again. "I've done my part!" Lt. Brubaker seethes at his commanding officer. Nothing will stop him from his boiling resentment, nor can he stop thinking about his family; his wife (Grace Kelly) and two daughters come to see him on liberty in Japan, only adding to his internal misery.
Then there are the heavily defended bridges that channel freight through a mountain range in North Korea. To attack the bridges, the carrier pilots must fight their way through murderous anti-aircraft fire. The bridges are important, but more than that, they symbolize how far the U.S. and its allies are willing to go to defeat the Communists.
And this will cost lives.
In this age of computer-generated wizardry, the special effects of BTR really stand up. Using models for jet aircraft attacking the bridges actually works here; the viewer gets the feel for the claustrophobic geography of the place where the aviators must strike. The movie is filmed extensively on one of the navy's Pacific Fleet carriers, adding to the general realism.
But good SFX won't take away the sting of the tragic end Brubaker faces, first in his learning of how hard it will be to survive the attack, then as the North Koreans close in on him after being shot down. The rescue chopper's pilot (Mickey Rooney), also shot down, hunkers in a muddy drainage ditch with Brubaker, taking shots at the North Koreans while dodging grenades lobbed at them.
The last third of the movie is excruciating to watch. And to think this was made in the land of vanilla, the early 1950s!
My recommendation is to see The Bridges at Toko-Ri with your expectations of a happy ending locked away, and your appreciation of the real pilots who fought in this dirty, little war way out front. As Brubaker's commanding admiral (Frederick March) says in quiet and emotional admiration, "Where do we get these men?"