Film & TV

Rewind, Review and Re-Rate: ‘The Bridges at Toko-Ri’

A harrowing, humane drama set during the Korean War
BY Ian Kane TIMEMay 8, 2022 PRINT

Approved | 1h 42min | Drama, Romance, War | 1954 (Canada)

Epoch Times Photo
A scene from “The Bridges at Toko-Ri.” ( Paramount Pictures)

Numerous war films focus on important military objectives, such as munitions storage plants and bridges that needed to be taken out by allied forces. But usually these movies are set either during World War II, the Vietnam War, or occasionally in other theaters. The Korean War (1950–1953) hardly ever serves as the backdrop for these types of movies.

Therefore, it was a great opportunity to watch 1954’s “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” starring a number of consummate actors including William Holden, Grace Kelly, Fredric March, and Mickey Rooney. The film was directed by Mark Robson and is an adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning author James A. Michener’s 1953 novella of the same name.

Lt. Harry Brubaker (Holden) is as an Inactive Reserve Navy fighter pilot and veteran of World War II. Brubaker’s wartime experiences have made him appreciate his newfound civilian life as a successful attorney with a beautiful wife, Nancy (Grace Kelly), and their two daughters Cathy (Nadine Ashdown) and Susy (Cheryl Callaway).

Epoch Times Photo
William Holden as Lt. Harry Brubaker and Grace Kelly as his wife, Nancy, in “The Bridges at Toko-Ri.” (Paramount Pictures)

But when the Navy comes calling and drafts Brubaker back into the active-duty service, this time for the Korean War, he becomes embittered. After all, he feels that he already paid his military dues and resents once again being thrust into danger, away from his family.

Brubaker is assigned to the USS Savo Island aircraft carrier in the North Pacific Ocean. After a mission, his F9F Panther jet goes down just short of the aircraft carrier, and he is rescued by Chief Petty Officer Mike Forney (Mickey Rooney) and his partner Airman Nestor Gamidge (Earl Holliman) with their helicopter. During the ordeal, Brubaker’s body becomes temporally frozen by the frigid waters.

Dangerous Mission

Brubaker protests the overall fairness of being an Inactive Reserve pilot drafted for service when he points out that there are plenty of Active Reserve pilots available who are allowed to live their civilian lives. However, the commander of the aircraft carrier, Rear Adm. George Tarrant (Fredric March), calms him. Rear Adm. Tarrant is filled with his own angst as Brubaker reminds him of his son, who was killed during World War II.

Epoch Times Photo
William Holden (L) as Lt. Harry Brubaker has a talk with Fredric March as Rear Adm. George Tarrant in “The Bridges at Toko-Ri.” (Paramount Pictures)

Despite this, Tarrant believes that Brubaker has the skills it takes to pull off a highly dangerous mission to destroy a pair of bridges strategically located in North Korea. The mission is so risky that it will most likely result in the death of some of the pilots. Intense drama sets in as Brubaker longs for his idyllic family life back home but knows that he must carry out his military duties.

One of the standout performances in this intense drama is by Mickey Rooney, the fighten’ Irishman rescue pilot who just can’t seem to stay out of a good barroom brawl or three. He’s also a fan of breaking regulations by wearing a garish green top hat and scarf while flying his various helicopter missions.

Watching his character’s antics was like watching a hilarious, yet tragic slow-moving train wreck. Of course, you can also never go wrong with actors such as William Holden, Grace Kelly, and Fredric March, who are all convincing in their roles.

Epoch Times Photo
Mickey Rooney (L) as Chief Petty Officer Mike Forney rescues William Holden as Lt. Harry Brubaker in “The Bridges at Toko-Ri.” (Paramount Pictures)

The film sported some outstanding aerial combat and bombing run scenes that hold up well to this day; the film won the Academy Award in 1956 for Best Special Effects and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Editing. But the real strength of “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” is in its impressive and heartfelt combination of drama and humanism that unfolds gradually throughout its one hour, 42 minute running time.

‘The Bridges at Toko-Ri’
Director: Mark Robson
Starring: William Holden, Grace Kelly, Fredric March
Running Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Release Date: Jan. 20, 1955 (USA)
Rated: 4 stars out of 5

Ian Kane
Ian Kane is an U.S. Army veteran, author, filmmaker, and actor. He is dedicated to the development and production of innovative, thought-provoking, character-driven films and books of the highest quality.
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