The Bridges at Toko-Ri
Based on the 1953 novella by James A. Michener, The Bridges of Toko-Ri (1954) concerns U.S. Navy Lt. Harry Brubaker (William Holden), a lawyer who is called up from the Reserves to active duty to fly missions in Korea. A veteran of World War II, Brubaker doesn't want to lead the life of a jet pilot, but instead he simply wants to remain settled down with his small family wife Nancy (Grace Kelly) and two small children. Harry survives a life-threatening accident in which he has to ditch at sea, only to find himself days later reunited with Nancy and the kids in Tokyo a gathering that is as stressful as it is joyous. But duty calls, in particular a crucial assault on two bridges held by communists at Toko-Ri that must be destroyed, and Harry's greatest concern is that he will not survive the mission to see his family again. Created with the full cooperation of the U.S. Navy, The Bridges of Toko-Ri is easily classified as an "instructive" war film rather that following a taut narrative thread to an exciting conclusion, it opts for character studies and reflective analyses of lives thrown into turmoil by geopolitical conflict. As such, it's a clear predecessor to Saving Private Ryan, albeit far less exciting. With the dawn of the jet age and the growing dominance of the "flat-top" aircraft carriers in naval combat, director Mark Robson lingers far too often on the hardware, displaying the detailed methods of launching and landing massive jets on relatively small flight decks. It must have been astonishing in 1954 (what new aeronautical technologies aren't?), but by today's standards these sequences simply are repetitive and drag the film down. The human dramas that form the first two-thirds of the story are likewise unappealing, particularly the moments with Grace Kelly, who is gorgeous but bland as Harry's long-suffering wife. A subplot involving Mickey Rooney as a helicopter pilot is meant to provide comic relief (Mickey wears a green top hat and scarf on duty; Mickey gets drunk and picks fights when his Japanese girlfriend jilts him), but such is neither comic nor relieving. The final 30 minutes of the film is the most appealing with the assault on Toko-Ri, but so much has been squandered on the erratic script it's hard to feel fully involved. Patriotic movie-fans will find a lot to appreciate in Toko-Ri's messages of duty and sacrifice; those looking for a good, old-fashioned war flick should skip nearby on the rental shelf for A Bridge Too Far or The Bridge on the River Kwai. Solid transfer (in the original full-frame 1.33:1) with audio in Dolby 2.0 mono. Theatrical trailer, keep-case.