Published on August 15th, 2008 | by Chris1
The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)
Yet another addition to the "all time best classic war movies" list, 1954's The Bridges at Toko-Ri stands as a shining example of quite possibly *the* perfect war movie. Well, maybe that's stretching it, but man, this is really hard to beat.
The film starts on board the aircraft carrier Savo Island in the middle of the Korean war. These carrier deck scenes are just truly incredible, as a near documentary of early navy jet aviation. The Navy provided extensive support and access for this film, and the Grumman F9F Panthers nearly steal the show. Nearly.
One pilot, Lt. Harry Brubaker (William Holden) has to ditch due to mechanical trouble, and is rescued from the cold and choppy waters of the North Pacific by Mike (Mickey Rooney) and Nestor (Earl Holliman). It's from here that his descent starts.
The ship heads back to Tokyo for a couple of days, luckily, Brubaker's wife (Grace Kelly) has also arrived with their two children, and the two are reunited, albeit for a short time. Harry has to run off and get the troublesome Mike out of jail, and futhermore, try and resolve Mike's woman-troubles. Immediately after Harry's leaving, the group Admiral Tarrant (Fredric March) and Nancy have a rather lengthy, heavy, philosophical conversation. At this point we start to see what this film is about, and the tone of the picture changes dramatically.
Well, he finally drags himself back to the hotel in the wee hours of the morning, and the conversation once again gets heavy, to the point of depressing, but we understand why. Nancy has to come to terms with the possibility that this may be the last time she'll see her husband, and exactly why.
A tearful goodbye and another brawl on the part of Mike-and-Nestor later, the carrier group is back underway and back in action. Harry's been tapped to cover the CAG on a recon mission to the Bridges of Toko-Ri, a key strategic target that the Admiral spoke of earlier. It's a heavily defended location which can only be destroyed by flying a dangerous route down a canyon under fire. The descent on Brubaker's part continues, as the dread of this mission continues to overtake him.
Maybe I'd better stop here, before I spoil the whole damn picture for you. Let's just say that the final outcome is a picture which completely and totally illustrates the sacrifice that is involved in war, both on and off the front. The courage (which as you know is defined as acting in the face of fear, not without it) and pull to duty of our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen....
...as the Admiral says in the final scene, "Where do we get such men?" *That* is the legacy of The Bridges at Toko-Ri.
I'd almost go as far as saying that this is a slap-in-the-face wake up call to everybody who had gotten used to the typical cigar-chewing John-Wayne-type heroes and triumphant World War II victory films of the previous decade. That this is *really* what its all about.
Holden is really the star of this film, though. His portrayal of a man tasked with his duty, torn between his family and his job, slowly going mad with the realization that his number will be up soon.... It's just a top-notch performance. I imagine its a role that a lot of people could identify with at that time.
There are a couple of typically 50s-campy (and borderline culturally, well, difficult) moments, such as the scene in the Japanese onsen with the other family. (But hey, its Grace Kelly, how can you not like that!? Come on!) Throw in Mickey Rooney's character for a bit of comic relief (but not much) and it takes the edge off a little. You've also got to give some props to the effects team. Those scenes of the fighters making the raid down the canyon were really well executed for the day. I had to stop and think about it, in one of those "You know, that's an effects shot! Not bad!" moments.
But the overall feeling you should get (I know I did) is one of both respect and introspect, that feeling of "damn, that was a really good movie." I know that's what I got out of The Bridges at Toko-Ri.
Summary: ut the overall feeling you should get (I know I did) is one of both respect and introspect, that feeling of "damn, that was a really good movie." I know that's what I got out of The Bridges at Toko-Ri.