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.
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A powerful study of courage in the face of irrational odds, The Bridges at Toko-Ri (based on James Michener's novel) is no less patriotic than many other war films, but it dispenses with gung-ho bluster to focus instead on the very real and tragic consequences of war. This is also one of the first films to openly criticize the morality of the Korean War while praising the honor and integrity of the men who fought it. Lt. Harry Brubaker (William Holden) is one of those men, with one difference: A lawyer with a loving wife (Grace Kelly) and two young daughters, he's been recalled to duty from the Navy Reserve, and reluctantly accepts his mission to fly with a bomber-jet squadron over one of the Communists' most heavily protected targets--the strategically vital bridges in the Korean canyon of Toko-Ri.
Brubaker has his own noble protection, from his fellow pilots (including Charles McGraw in a fine supporting role), his admiring admiral (Frederic March), and from the helicopter scouts (Mickey Rooney and Earl Holliman) who've saved his life on previous missions. But his ambivalence--and his fear that the Toko-Ri mission will be his last--is what gives the film its potent emotional impact. Holden is perfect in his role, and director Mark Robson steadfastly avoids any false sentiment or macho theatrics that would diminish the film's devastating climax. The Bridges at Toko-Ri is also a superlative showcase for Naval operations; the aerial sequences earned an Oscar for special effects, and complete Navy cooperation assures total authenticity in the "flat-top" aircraft carrier scenes. For these and other reasons, this will remain a timeless classic for anyone seeking to comprehend the emotional maelstrom of warfare. --Jeff Shannon
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