powered by AFI
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."
Director: Mark Robson
Producer: William Perlberg, George Seaton
Screenplay: Valentine Davies (adapted from the novel by James Michener
Photography: Loyal Griggs
Aerial Photography: Charles G. Clarke
Editing: Alma Macrorie
Art Direction: Hal Pereira, Henry Bumstead
Music: Lyn Murray
Costumes: Edith Head
Makeup: Wally Westmore
Sound: Hugo Grenzbach, Gene Garvin
Cast: William Holden (Lt. Harry Brubaker), Fredric March (Rear Adm. George Tarrant), Grace Kelly (Nancy Brubaker), Mickey Rooney (Mike Forney), Robert Strauss (Beer Barrel), Charles McGraw (Cdr. Wayne Lee), Keiko Awaji (Kimiko), Earl Holliman (Nestor Gamidge), Richard Shannon (Lt.Olds), Willis B. Bouchey (Capt. Evans), Nadine Ashdown (Kathy Brubaker), Cheryl Lynn Callaway (Susie).
by Paul Tatara