Set during the Korean War, a Navy fighter pilot must come to terms with with his own ambivalence towards the war and the fear of having to bomb a set of highly defended bridges. The ending of this grim war drama is all tension.
William Holden ... Lt. Harry Brubaker
Grace Kelly ... Nancy Brubaker
Fredric March ... Rear Adm. George Tarrant
Mickey Rooney ... Mike Forney
Robert Strauss ... Beer Barrel
Charles McGraw ... Cmdr. Wayne Lee
Keiko Awaji ... Kimiko
Earl Holliman ... Nestor Gamidge
Richard Shannon ... Lt. (j.g.) Olds
Willis Bouchey ... Capt. Evans (as Willis B. Bouchey)
By the time Mark Robson directed The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1955), heroic war epics were a dime a dozen. They were easy enough to pull off - if you didn\'t know how to make American fighting men look like the good guys while a flag waved in the background, you didn\'t deserve to make movies. But The Bridges at Toko-Ri features some magnificent aerial photography by cameraman Loyal Griggs and a hard-bitten ending that was insisted upon by its star, William Holden. It makes for one of the more worthy entries in an overstocked genre.
Set during the Korean War, The Bridges at Toko-Ri follows the story of Lt. Harry Brubaker (Holden), a World War II hero whose stateside life is rudely interrupted when he\'s once again called to aircraft carrier duty. His beautiful wife (Grace Kelly) waits for him to return while she holes up in Tokyo. There\'s also a marvelous turn by Fredric March as a soft-hearted commander, but the real stars here are the intense combat sequences.
The reviews were, for the most part, positive. Cue magazine called the picture \"a taut, thrilling, top-flight documentary drama of men, war, ships and planes. For all the film\'s explosively exciting naval and aerial action brilliantly photographed in color the film is a study of men\'s minds as well as their military actions.\" The New York Times also took special note of the \"spectacular footage of jet planes.\" The film won an Oscar® in 1955 for Best Special Effects, and was nominated for Best Editing.
Of all the terrific actors involved in The Bridges at Toko-Ri, March easily received the strongest notices from the critics. Always a pro, he was wise enough to detect a meaty supporting role when he read the script, and gladly accepted it: \"The size of the role does not interest me much- I\'m the admiral commanding a task force of carrier-based jets. The admiral knows no war is a good war to be in and that it nearly always must be fought in the worst possible place at the worst possible time. He has seen two of his sons killed in action. This affects the admiral\'s relationship with the young pilots he must send off to battle.\"
Holden and Kelly, who give solid if unremarkable performances, committed an equal amount of time off screen to extracurricular activities together...which is to say, they enjoyed a steamy love affair. Both performers had been down this road before, but they still managed to cause a bit of a stir in the Hollywood press when they hooked up. Holden was still married to actress Brenda Marshall at the time, although that didn\'t keep him from also bedding Audrey Hepburn when he worked with her earlier in the year on Sabrina. Kelly even tried to introduce Holden to her family in Philadelphia, but when her father ended up shaking his fist at Holden and (correctly) accusing him of having an affair with his golden-haired daughter, Holden stormed out of the house. The dalliance was exposed in several gossip magazines, but it didn\'t continue after the film\'s completion.
Mickey Rooney, who memorably plays one of Holden\'s flyboy shipmates, was cast, according to his autobiography (Life Is Too Short), because of his friendship with novelist James Michener who wrote The Bridges at Toko-Ri: \"I jumped at the chance of playing Mike Forney, a cocky little Irishman who always wore a derby hat and specialized in jumping out of choppers to save downed navy fliers. And I rather enjoyed the thought that Bill Holden and I would die heroes\' deaths in the icy waters off Korea.\" Rooney also found something to occupy his free time while filming, although it wasn\'t quite as juicy as a passionate romance with Grace Kelly. \"One day I needed him for a scene,\" producer George Seaton said, \"and I couldn\'t find him anywhere. We thought perhaps he had fallen overboard. I spent the day shooting around him. Then, late in the afternoon, just as we were about wrap for the day, one of the carrier\'s planes landed on the deck, and out jumped Mickey from the co-pilot\'s seat. It seems that Mickey had bribed the pilot into flying him to Tokyo, so he could go to the horse races at the track there.\"
The famous Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer, Ted Williams, must have had a grimly ironic appreciation of The Bridges at Toko-Ri when this film came out. After serving in the Marines in World War II, Williams was called back to the Marines for the Korean War and for the better part of two years flew the jets that you see Bill Holden flying here in the Navy.
Just as the Korean War interrupted one of the best baseball careers of the last century in real life, in this film William Holden is recalled from a thriving law practice in Denver, Colorado, not to mention from his lovely wife Grace Kelly and their two children. He flies carrier based jets bombing targets in the Korean War wondering like Ted Williams what he did in life to get called for two wars.
A few years earlier Warner Brothers did a fine film called Task Force which depicted the history of naval aviation through the eyes of its protagonist, Gary Cooper. The history went as far as the end of World War II and we were still flying propeller planes.
Maybe today\'s viewer can identify with a film like Top Gun where the skills are now a learned routine. But the Korean War was the first fought with jet aircraft and pilots had to really learn and develop new skills to take off and land on an aircraft at supersonic speed. Everyone, even the Russians, were all new at this in 1950 when the Korean War started.
Some critics have said Grace Kelly was wasted in this part, basically doing a role June Allyson perfected. Actually if you pay close attention, she\'s not terribly different from her role as housewife and mother in The Country Girl where she got her Oscar. She\'s just married to someone different is all. She has a very effective scene with her husband\'s commander Admiral Fredric March when she flies to Japan to be with Holden, taking along their two children.
My favorite in this film however is Mickey Rooney. He plays a helicopter rescue pilot and we first meet him and his co-pilot Earl Holliman rescuing Holden from the deep blue sea. Rooney is an irreverent sort, on duty with a green scarf and green top hat, looking like one of the little craitures from Ireland. Quick to brawl, but a real friend when you need one, I love his philosophy that you can say anything to officers as long as you put a sir on the end of it. There weren\'t going to be too many promotions in his future.
The Bridges at Toko-Ri is filled with a lot of Cold War nostrums and dated in that respect for today\'s audience. But it is a great tribute to those jet pilots, the crews that supported them, and the families that loved them, trying out those new skills in a brand new kind of war.
The mission is clear and straight: to destroy completely the vital Korean bridges at Toko-Ri in order to frustrate enemy actions...
The film is a competent work and meritorious tribute to the heroism of the Jet-Bomber pilots (William Holden and Charles McGraw) and the extreme courage of the helicopter rescue service (Mickey Rooney and Earl Holliman).
\'Where do we get such men,\' affirms Rear Admiral George Tarran from the bridge of the aircraft carrier, and he was right!
The film exposes a close observation of the men\'s minds, their attitudes, their families, the tragedy of war, and the fascinating danger of the Jet-Bombers take-off and landing...
Charles G. Clarke\'s aerial photography in color of the Jet planes is simply spectacular...
Fredric March as the Admiral is staunch and human, and William Holden perfect as the American soldier fighting man... Grace Kelly flourished with her beauty the splendor of the picture...
Based on James E. Michener\'s novel, this ambitious action thriller is a cut above the usual war tragedy with impressive statements to make about war, death and politics...
* The U.S. Navy\'s cooperation in the movie\'s making included the use of 19 ships.
* The shipboard scenes were filmed on the U.S.S. Oriskany, whose number CV-34 is visible when Lt. Brubaker walks out to the bow to gather his thoughts before the mission. However, during shooting, the Oriskany needed repairs, and the shooting was completed on her sister ship U.S.S. Kearsarge, CV-33. For continuity the 33 was painted out and and replaced with a 34.
* The aircraft that Brubaker and his squadron fly is the Grumman F9F-2 Panther.
* The Japanese resort hotel that appears in the film is modeled on the Fujiya Hotel, located in the village of Miyanoshita near Mount Fuji. This famous hotel was actually commissioned by the U.S. Army as a \"rest and relaxation\" hotel for American soldiers for several years after World War II, and possibly up to the Korean War. The exterior shots of the hotel are real, but the lobby scenes appear to be studio replicas of the original lobby.
* Loosely based on the story of the VF-51 naval aviators, of which astronaut Neil Armstrong was a member.
* William Holden\'s younger brother, Robert Beedle, was a Navy fighter pilot who was killed in action in World War II. After this film was released, he was remembered by his squadron-mates as having been very much like the character of Lt Harry Brubaker.
* Writer James Michener wrote the story after spending time aboard the USS Essex. One of the pilots aboard the Essex at the time was Neil Armstrong. It is not known for certain whether any of the characters in the book or movie were based on Armstrong.
* For realistic close-up shots, William Holden learned how to taxi a fighter on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
* F9F Panther jets from US Navy squadron VF-192 were also used to film Men of the Fighting Lady (1954). After the filming of these two movies, the squadron name was changed from \"Golden Dragons\" to \"World Famous Golden Dragons\".
SPOILER: William Holden agreed to do the film on the sole condition that the producers keep the original ending of the novel, in which Lt. Harry Brubaker dies, and not turn it into a happy ending.