Grandpa Felicius: “Where do we get such men?” That’s the rhetorical question posed, toward the end of 1954’s “The Bridges at Toko-Ri,” by Rear Admiral Tarrant (the commanding Fredric March). It’s a question that inherently honors the sacrifices of those who risk all during war (in this particular case, the Korean War). But it is also wary of the folly of war, and March’s solemn face conveys many contradictory emotions (pride, regret, sadness, awe) without giving in to sentimentality. Where DO these heroes come from? The answer to the question has come earlier from the mouth of Lieutenant Brubaker, (the admirable William Holden), while caught in a trench and surrounded by Commies: “I’m a lawyer from Denver, Colorado!” His friend, Forney, (the plucky Mickey Rooney), asks: “So what are you doing here?” Brubaker: “That’s the question I’ve been asking myself. Wrong war in the wrong place, and that’s the one you get stuck with.”
“The Bridges at Toko-Ri” is one of the finest tributes to the U.S. Navy on film. Based on one of James Michener’s less voluminous novels, and directed by Mark Robson (“Peyton Place”) it follows Brubaker as he plans a mission to pilot a plane over the titular tactical targets, (which are guarded by all sorts of anti-aircraft artillery) and then bomb them. He has thirty nerve-crippling seconds in which to accomplish this, if he hopes to survive. This means Brubaker must prepare for a potential good-bye, and so he takes his shore-leave in Tokyo with his wife (the luminous Grace Kelly) as well as two daughters. The tenderness of family life stands in contrast to the tribulations of battle. Many a war has seen these men sacrifice themselves, even as princesses pray for their return, and the Picksherry Family honors them on Memorial Day.
Beatricia: Michener was embedded with the aircraft carriers USS Essex and Oriskany, and his research shines even in movie form. There’s a Tom-Clancy-like obsession with authenticity in machinery that makes for some dry moments earlier on, but puts this above the average gun-ho flick of the ‘50s. Authentic planes here; no hoary models held up by wires. Not much feels fake, other than Grace Kelly’s oh-so-perfectly-devoted Stepford wife. “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” is a drama that saves its action scenes for the end, because it’s not about war, but about what happens to warriors as they get ready for the unthinkable. Happy Memorial Day, everyone!
Hank: William Holden, Grace Kelly, and Fredrich March are predictably aces, but Mickey Rooney flies high above them! What a tiny super trooper! Too bad he doesn’t do one of his zany side-splitting characters like Mr. Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Imagine him playing Little Kim Jong-Il, or whoever the North Koreans were worshiping at the time!
Tracey: Well, “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” is a little dated but still has a relevant message. It’s nice to see a war movie from the ‘50s where the wives and girlfriends of soldiers are more than decorative, even if they’re not where the spotlight goes. I was also relieved when the Asian characters weren’t unduly demonized. In fact, the relationship between the Americans and the Japanese in Tokyo is shown as a surprisingly fraternal one, considering World War II had ended only a few years earlier. This movie isn’t about pitting A vs. B. No jingoistic agenda gets pushed through, and the biggest topical point made is that the enemy isn’t Asian at all. Our soldiers in Korea were being killed by Russian guns, Russian bullets, Russian tanks, Russian artillery- and somehow we weren’t at war with Russia? All the characters are aware of the futility of this proxy war, but what can they do but fight on? This is simply a journalistic story of people who act heroically because they have to. That’s their job. This is what makes it so moving.
Cousin Franz: Full of surprising subtleties, even though it belongs squarely in a genre that favors grand gestures and grander explosions. There’s a fine scene here between Grace Kelly and William Holden, where they lie in bed on the eve of danger, discussing their daughters’ piano lessons as a way of avoiding deadlier topics.
Trent: The only fine scene here is when that Grace Kelly chick learns about the Happy Nudity Swimming Hour at a Tokyo bathhouse. And even then she shows nothing! No cherry!
Grandpa Felicius: You’ll pay for that, you slimy little Khrushchev-loving Kraut! This is Memorial Day, the sainted Holiday where each and every war movie magically transforms into an indisputable patriotic masterpiece, from “Birth of a Nation” all the way to “Ernest in the Army”! If you don’t like it, you can crawl right back to Emperor Hirohito, and tell him that we will never forget the Alamo!
Trent: Yes, Grandpa, anything you say. Look, Grandpa, it’s the Great Confederate General Robert E. Lee! He’s waving at you from right outside the window! Don’t you want to calm down and say ‘Hi’ to him?
Grandpa Felicius: No. I don’t acknowledge quitters.
Blurbarella: “Men sacrifice themselves– on Memorial Day. Grace Kelly and William Holden– Lie in Bed.– Happy Nudity. –Patriotic Masterpiece.”
5 out of 6 Cherries