A Bridge Too Far (1977)

Composed by John Addison

A Bridge Too Far is a three hour war epic in the vein of Longest Day and Battle of Britain. Instead of focusing on a major Allied victory, however, it covers the failed Operation Market Garden. Eager to finish the war before 1945, the Western Allies conceived of a plan in which paratroopers would seize vital bridges in the Netherlands and hold then until the rest of the army, spearheaded by the British XXX corps and its tanks, could fight through and secure their gains. Through the Netherlands the Allies could get into Germany and take the fight to the heart of the enemy. However, poor intelligence and resulting unexpected mishaps led to one of the last major Axis victories of the war. This is an amazing film which would have gained more attention and box office revenue if not for its proximity to Star Wars. I really believe it deserves more attention from film and history buffs. It has an all-star cast and lots of great action. It does a wonderful job explaining the ins and outs of the battle, though some points are disputed in the realm of historical debate.

The movie’s music is no slouch either. As with Longest Day large portions of the film are unscored, but composer John Addison has a little more to work with and makes the most of his spots. Before anybody criticizes the score for being a dated rah-rah affair, too heroic for a military tragedy, they should know something about Addison. He was actually a veteran of the battle, having served as a tank officer in the XXX Corps, and asked for a chance serve as composer. Naturally the idea of an actual veteran scoring one of his own major life events was too good to pass up. The result is a heartfelt and sincere score, steeped in heroic fanfares without losing sight of what a tragic event Market Garden was for the paratroopers stuck in Arnhem and the unfortunate Dutch civilians caught in the crossfire. This is the type of war score that is sadly missing from today’s genre offerings, which refuse to engage in such catchy heroic scores for fears of being labeled jingoistic.

There are two main themes, heavily linked, that are introduced off the bat in “Overture.” The first is the main theme. It’s one of my personal favorite World War II film marches. It’s got a lot of emotional power to it and enlivens every scene where it blasts forth. Addison easily manipulates it at points into a melancholic theme to underscore the tragedy this battle is for the Allies. At nearly two minutes in Addison brings in the second theme, another heroic fanfare built around an ascending five-note motif. This theme literally soars and brings to mind thousands of men parachuting from planes. Pretty much the entire score is built around these two themes, which for convenience I will call the main and air themes. “Dutch Rhapsody” is a tragic piano-heavy piece with the first few notes of the main theme trailing off in a different direction. “Before the Holocaust” (not that Holocaust) starts off with the air theme on woodwinds as the Allied soldiers get closer to their next fight. At 0:46 the theme starts over with more power, leading to the primary theme at 1:23.

“Underground Resistance” starts with the melancholic take on the theme. Halfway through it gets into the first suspenseful action material as a German unit retreats through a Dutch town. “Airlift” appropriately uses the air theme as the planes full of paratroopers lift off into the sky. “Hospital Tent,” a melancholy piece, is the first track not to utilize either of the main themes. “Arnhem” is a suspense piece with eerie piano flutters and a tense variation of the air theme, fitting for the besieged, constantly attacked British paratroopers. Addison relieves the tension halfway with a heroic variation of the main theme. “Nijmegen Bridge” underscores the desperate American assault to secure the titular bridge. A minute in the tension builds as the Germans are set to blow the bridge, but something goes wrong. At 1:09 the Allies are able to cross their tanks over to the strains of the main fanfare.

“March of the Paratroopers” showcases the air theme. In the last minute Addison introduces a third theme, this one just as laced with military heroism, but also a more jaunty air. This third theme is a large part of “Bailey Bridge,” from the scene where American troops are able to replace a demolished bridge with one of their own. Their success is capped off with a lengthy exposition of the main theme. “Human Roadblock” is a tragic alteration of the main theme. At this point of the album Addison is underscoring the unraveling of the operation and the growing desperation of the besieged paratroopers. The dourness continues in “Futile Mission.” Faltering horn notes at 1:32 lead into a rhythmic action piece punctuated by dissonant brass and ending with pained woodwinds.

“The Waal River” offers up more action suspense and the main theme. “Arnhem is Destroyed” brings in the melancholic variation as the battle is lost. “Retreat” starts as a sinister track with a forlorn solo trumpet performance of the air theme. The air theme gets more accompaniment as the track goes on. At 1:29 Addison literally drops the last note of the five-note motif. The theme then tries to repeat, but literally melts away, along with the hopes of the Allies. “A Bridge Too Far March” gives a happy ending for listeners by providing one final heroic hurrah for the main theme.

Like the film it serves, Addison’s score is overlooked and underrated. If there’s one criticism it’s that the rare moments that aren’t dominated by one of the three themes can be comparatively less involving, but this isn’t much of a problem considering the album’s (and complete score’s for that matter) length. Also, without them the heroic breakouts of the main theme would not be so impactful. If you want a rousing, brassy, old-school war score, I highly recommend this. There’s also a complete two-disc set with alternate tracks and a chronological complete score, but the original album is good enough on its own as a perfect, concise arrangement.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklisting

  1. Overture (3:39)
  2. A Dutch Rhapsody (2:13)
  3. Before the Holocaust (2:28)
  4. Underground Resistance (2:56)
  5. Airlift (2:41)
  6. Hospital Tent (1:58)
  7. Arnhem (1:56)
  8. Nijmegen Bridge (1:41)
  9. March of the Paratroopers (2:31)
  10. Bailey Bridge (2:53)
  11. Human Roadblock (1:38)
  12. Futile Mission (3:01)
  13. Waal River (1:59)
  14. Arnhem Destroyed (2:29)
  15. Retreat (2:05)
  16. A Bridge Too Far March (1:52)

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