The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)

11 Nov

download-10The Korean War (1950-1953) is not a war I am as familiar with. It is sometimes called The Forgotten War and unlike WWII, Hollywood made very few movies about the conflict – during or after. But in some ways, that is what The Bridges at Toko-Ri is about: men fighting a forgotten war.

Based on the popular novel by James Michener, which was in turn based on several different true stories, the movie focuses on Lieutenant Harry Brubaker, jet pilot in the Navy, stationed on an aircraft carrier and flying fighter-bombers. He is bitter, however, because he also fought during WWII and cannot understand why it had to be him who was called up again to fight. He would rather be back home with his wife, two daughters and his successful business as a lawyer.

The story is more like a slice of war-life. There is no overarching point, per se. The bridges at Toko-ri must be destroyed, says Admiral Tarrant (Fredric March) to show that the US will never give up in the war. He believes in the fight, but most of the men are simply doing a job. There is the loyalty the men show to each other. Mickey Rooney and Earl Holliman play two men whose job it is to rescue downed pilots in their helicopter. Charles McGraw is commander of the the pilots, a tough man, but one who takes care of his men.

There is a lot of footage of the carrier, the planes taking off and landing, flying and bombing, and it is impossible not to have a feeling of awe at what they do and the dangers they face, even the work that Mickey Rooney’s Mike Forney rescuing pilots.

The Bridges at Toko-ri has a very different feeling than the war films made during WWII. There was a sense that America was 100% behind the men fighting during WWII, but in The Bridges of Toko-ri, there is a sense that America is largely unaware of what is going on. This is also true for Brubaker’s wife, Nancy (Grace Kelly), who Admiral Tarrant warns will have to face the reality of the dangers her husband faces.

toko-ri-3At first, I was a little surprised to see Grace Kelly’s name in this film. It’s such a small role; she is only in the film for maybe twenty minutes, but she actually makes the most of it. Nancy has come to Japan to see her husband, having cut through all the red tape and regulations that usually prevents the wives from coming. What she represents in the story is everything that Brubaker left behind and regrets: his home, his job, his life, his children, and of course, his wife. She has to represents everything and she does it very well, bringing a fair amount of passion to the role that makes the sense of what Brubaker could lose by dying all the greater.

William Holden is excellent and it is his film entirely. He’s bitter, but not in a broody way. He mostly does his job, is deeply grateful to Forney for saving his life early in the film, deeply touched by his wife’s presence, scared at the prospect of attacking the bridges and simply doing his work. Admiral Tarrant asks in the end of the film, “where do we get such men?”

The cast is all good. This is the first time I’ve seen Mickey Rooney in anything other than his MGM musicals and comedies, but he’s actually great as the scrappy helicopter pilot who can’t seem to keep out of brawls. Fredric March plays a profoundly sad admiral, who already lost both sons in WWII and has a soft spot for Brubaker, who reminds him of one of his sons.

Spoilers – the movie does not end happily for anyone, though the mission to blow the bridges is successful. It’s a surprisingly gripping tale, though it is not the kind of film I usually watch. It seems to suggest that the reason these men fight is because that is what these men do. If they were home, they would have been working to accomplish the task at hand. Because they in Korea, they are working to accomplish the task at hand. The film is essentially a homage to these men.

toko-ri-4I didn’t intend it this way, but I just realized that this film was the perfect film to review today. It is Veterans Day in America and I wanted to thank each and every veteran – and their families.

This post was also written as part of the 2nd Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon, hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema. In honor of Grace Kelly, I wanted to pay special attention to her role, despite it being small. In many ways, you could argue that she is wasted in this role, but the character is all the better for her performance. It’s the kind of role that could easily get lost, but she demonstrates what good acting (and sheer star magnetism) can do for a small role. I’ve been wondering recently how her career would have developed if she had kept on making movies. What would she have done in the ’60? What kinds of roles would she have taken on (I read that Hitchcock wanted her for Marnie)? But I am at least grateful for the films we have.

Thanks so much to Wonderful World of Cinema for hosting and be sure to read all the rest of the entries, which can be found here.



Posted by on November 11, 2016 in Movies


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12 responses to “The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)

  1. Virginie Pronovost

    November 11, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    Wow fantastic post! You really presented us an interesting reflection of the film! The cast is great as you said and, even if Grace Kelly’s part is small, I couldn’t see the film without it. I own two autographed pictures from Earl Holliman including one of him as Nestor in The Bridges at Toko-Ri! 🙂
    And that was indeed a perfect choice for November 11!
    Thanks for your participation 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • christinawehner

      November 11, 2016 at 4:29 pm

      Thanks! It is a great cast, isn’t it. It has made me doubly curious to see Holden and Kelly in Country Girl, too, because they seemed to have good chemistry, like a couple really in love, even though we didn’t see them together much.

      That is so cool that you have two autographed pictures by Holliman!

      Thanks again for hosting!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Eric Binford

    November 11, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    I really liked this film. A surprisingly sober depiction of war, and light years away from the propaganda films of 1940s. Kelly and Holden were versatile actors. In the b/w drama, The Country Girl, they played much different roles. I think both actors are underrated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      November 11, 2016 at 4:36 pm

      Yes, the more I see of Kelly and Holden, the more impressive they seem. It seems amazing that Grace Kelly was only in her early and mid twenties during her film career – it makes me so curious how her career would have developed if she had continued making movies.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Eric Binford

        November 13, 2016 at 12:01 pm

        Kelly retired too soon! I’m sure she would have made more films with Hitchcock (North by Northwest?). I’ve read that she had three legitimate offers after her retirement: the title role in Marnie, the Czarina in Nicholas & Alexandra, and Shirley MacLaine’s role in The Turning Point. Unfortunately, Monaco forced her to say no. What a pity!

        Liked by 1 person

        • christinawehner

          November 13, 2016 at 1:51 pm

          Yes, I don’t think I ever appreciated what we missed when she quite acting until these past few weeks when I’ve begun watching more of her films. It would have been lovely to have her in those films you mentioned!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Katrina Morrison

    November 13, 2016 at 9:02 am

    Sounds like a perfect film for Veterans Day especially when it highlights the sacrifice by service men and women that is too often not known by most people back home. Plus, you found the lovely Grace Kelly too in a choice role….nice review.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      November 13, 2016 at 2:03 pm

      Thanks! Yes, she was so lovely! Brought such a real, nice, deep emotion to the film. :)And made you imagine how her loss will affect her.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood

    November 14, 2016 at 9:51 am

    I must admit that I’ve never seen this movie, but after reading your post, I definitely want to check it out. Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      November 14, 2016 at 10:03 am

      Thanks! It does seem less known, but definitely worth seeing!



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