THE BRIDGE (Die Brücke) impacted as the first major antiwar film to come out of (West) Germany after World War II, as well as being the nation’s first postwar picture to be widely shown internationally. An Oscar nominee as Best Foreign Film of 1959 (the winner was Black Orpheus), it was released in the U.S. in 1961. Based on an autobiographical novel by Gregor Dorfmeister, the screenplay was written by Michael Mansfeld and Heinz Pauck, with input from the director, Bernhard Wicki. *
A small town in Bavaria, April, 1945. Seven teenage schoolboys are suddenly whisked up from family, school, games and budding romances and thrown into uniform when the American advance closes in. For their own relative safety they’re assigned to guard the town’s bridge, scheduled for demolition. They have uniforms, weapons, spirit and patriotism. They also have next-to-zero training, and no idea what the fighting might actually be like. When a deadly miscommunication results in their not receiving orders to retreat (the regular troops are fleeing past them) they assume they are to stand and hold. Warm-hearted naivete meets cold-blooded reality.
Casting, acting, script and direction are first-rate, and the furious action finish, though improbable, is decently conveyed, with the sound department deserving extra-credit.
The boys: Folker Bohnet, Fritz Wepper, Michael Hinz, Frank Glaubrecht, Volker Lechtenbrink, Karl Michael Balzer, Günther Hoffman. With Wolfgang Stumpf (their teacher), Edith Schultze-Westrum, Ruth Hausmeister, Cordula Trantow, Til Kiwe. 105 minutes.
* At 39, Austrian-born Bernhard Wicki was a well-regarded actor, who prior to this only directed one film, a documentary. Wicki’s success with this picture helped secure his co-direction of 1962s spectacle The Longest Day. Back in 1939, at age 10, he spent several months in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
Other affecting war films released in 1959—-Pork Chop Hill (USA), Fires On The Plain (Japan), Ballad Of A Soldier (USSR), Kapò (France-Italy), Yesterday’s Enemy (Britain).