Die brcke (The Bridge) (1959)

 

 

 

 

Director:     Bernhard Wicki. 

Starring:     Folker Bohnet (Hans Scholten), Fritz Wepper (Albert Mutz), Michael Hinz (Walter Forst), Frank Glaubrecht (Jurgen Borchert), Karl Michael Balzer (Karl Horber), Volker Lechtenbrink (Klaus Hager), Gnther Hoffmann (Sigi Bernhard), Cordula Trantow (Franziska), Wolfgang Stumpf (Stern), Gnter Pfitzmann (Heilmann), Heinz Spitzner (Frhlich), Siegfried Schrenberg (Lt. Colonel), Ruth Hausmeister (Mrs. Mutz), Eva Vaitl (Mrs. Borchert), Edith Schultze-Westrum (Mother Bernhard).

German teen-age boys drafted to help stop the Allied invasion

 

Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.

 

World War II.  Germany.  An air raid siren goes off.  A huge bomb drops near a bridge in town.  The talk of the town is about that bomb and that they will be attacked by the Allied forces.  A woman, Mrs. Bernhard, says to a doctor that she hopes they don't get bombed again.  The doctor says the war is almost over anyway.  The woman says they are calling up her son Sigi to be in the military.  The guy says that he'll never have time even to get into uniform.  Mrs. Mutz asks Mrs. Borchert if it's true that her son volunteered to join the army?  Yes, because"  "The Borcherts have always been officers." 

The Nazi area organizer Herr Forst and his wife are leaving town.  His wife says that on their way out she must stop to say goodbye to their boy Walter at school.  At the school the students are all abuzz talking about the bomb.  They jokingly say they wish one would fall on their school. Just before a class the students talks about Oberbach having surrendered.  In English class a lot of noise from the outside is distracting the students.  The teacher tells Walter Forst to shut the window.  When Walter looks out the window he sees a long German truck convoy going down the street.   Walter just runs out of the classroom and goes outside.  He grabs his bicycle and takes off.  Now Bernard has to shut the window. 

Herr Forst puts his wife on the train and the train starts going.  Walter runs alongside the train trying to say goodbye to his mother.  She sees him and waves goodbye to him.  When the train is gone Walter accuses his father of sending his mother away. 

Sigi arrives home and his mother tells him she was worried about him.  The boy says they were in the cellar of the school.  Mother says that they are having cabbage once again for dinner. 

Karl Horber goes home.  He stops to talk to the hair stylist named Barbara. In class he drew a picture of her.  Barbara sees it and is flattered.  She smiles.  Karl takes it from her as he is a bit embarrassed.  He goes upstairs where he lives with his father.  He has some soup and then leaves to go see the bomb crater. 

Young Jurgen Borchert accompanied by his mother drives the horse-drawn wagon.  He likes Walter Forst, but says the fellow has lost all his belief in Hitler and the war.  They reach home where they have servants.  Jurgen wonders why he hasn't gotten his enlistment papers yet.  He says he will go see Major Saldern about it. 

Albert Mutz is at home with his mother and one of his friends.  He mentions that they have not received a letter from his father for 23 days. 

At the bridge people stop and talk or they just simply walk over the bridge.  Students Franziska, Klaus Hager and Karl Horber look down at the water going under the bridge.  They are a bit disappointed that nothing happened.  The bomb hit the water, rather than the bridge.  So they don't even get a bomb crater to examine.

Karl goes home and discovers that his Barbara and his father just finished having sex.  Barbara is putting her blouse on (very brief nudity).  Horrified, Karl puts his hands over his face and runs out of the house. 

Four of the guys are down by the river and Sigi finds a small netted container full of brandy.  The guys are thrilled.  They say they will split the goods eight ways with all their pals.  Sigi now hides the liquor in a large draining pipe until the division can be made. 

Karl just sits a bit sad.  He is near a gymnastics class where the girls are throwing around big, heavy balls.  The guys come riding up to Barbara and tell her that they have some brandy for her.  Now the guys, along with Karl, go to work with their English teacher on building a small boat.  Klaus waves hello to his girlfriend Franziska.  Karl is mad at all women and he tells Klaus that all women are filthy, including Klaus's Franziska.  Klaus punches Karl in the nose and his nose starts bleeding.  He leaves the group. 

The guys talk about how a group of Hitler Youth held Oberbruck station for two days.  Jurgen Borchert rides up on his bicycle yelling that he just got his enlistment papers.  All the guys are excited because he says the other guys will probably have their enlistment papers today too.  The guys hover around Jugen, happy, elated, ecstatic.  Their teacher is very sad about all this, but he doesn't say anything to the boys.  Everyone splits now for home. 

The girls get dressed after gymnastic and head out.  Their coach says goodbye to them.  She goes to take a shower.  Walter Forst goes into the shower room and closes the door behind him. 

Sigi goes to the pipe and takes out a bottle of brandy from the cache.  The local policeman catches him and tells him to come up.  Sigi is so shocked that he falls into the river.  He gets out of the river and goes up to the policeman, who thinks that Sigi stole the liquor.  The policeman takes Sigi home.  Sigi asks his mother if his enlistment papers came in?  Yes.  Mom is very upset and she tells the policeman that there must have been a mistake.  But the policeman says that they are calling up everyone.  The police officer says that the boys could have gone to jail for hiding the brandy.  The boy's mother tells the policeman to take her son and lock him up until the war is over.  The policeman leaves. 

Karl's father gives Karl his enlistment papers.  Karl confronts his father about the sex between dad and Barbara.  Barbara comes in and he keeps telling her to get out!  Dad asks his son if he has gone crazy?  Barbara leaves.  Karl starts packing.  His father tells Karl to cool down and then come speak with him.  Dad leaves.  Karl finishes packing and leaves the house with his coat and suitcase. 

The maid tells Jurgen and his mother that the Polish laborers have left.  She says that they must inform the authorities right now.  Mother, however, says this is her boy's last evening here and she won't have the evening spoiled.  She will call the authorities in the morning.  The maid leaves.  Mom now gives her husband's pistol to Jurgen, who is very happy to receive it.  Hans Sholten and Albert Mutz are packing to be ready to leave.  Hans goes to thank Mrs. Mutz for letting him stay with her son Albert.  Mrs. Mutz thanks Hans for being here and she wants him to look out for her Albert.  Hans says he will. 

Klaus and Barbara wait for the 12:17 a.m. train that is late.

Karl shows up at the enlistment station, but the clerk says he can't enlist now.  Go home and come back in the morning!  Karl says he can't go home.  One of the guys feels bad for Karl and tells the clerk to let him stay with them tonight.  They give him a bed and a blanket and Karl tells them thank you. 

Walter Forst wants to know from the pretty maid what is his father doing?  He's packing.  He goes in to shout at his father, saying that everyone knows that he sent mother away so he could go on a trip with Miss Lehmann from his office.  Walter tells his father that dad will never see him again.  He heaps more insults on dad and dad slaps his face.  When the maid comes into his room to clean up, Walter grabs her and throws her against the door demanding to know if she slept with his father.  The maid only says:  'Your father was much nicer than you."  Walter lets her go.

The students are now in full uniform with helmets and going through a form of basic training.  The English teacher goes to the commander of the company with his English class students.  He tells the commander:  "I can't see these boys sacrificed pointlessly at the end of the war."  The commander says that the former students are all idealists and their ideals will keep them fighting.  So the teacher asks that maybe the commander could at least keep them out of the fighting.  The commander gets angry and says he can't listen to this kind of talk.  The teacher leaves. 

In the barracks Sigi says he feels sick, so the super Nazi Jurgen says he will clean his rifle for him.  Corporal Heilmann comes in to check on the boys and is a bit amused by their over-enthusiasm.  An alarm goes off, but the guys sleep through it.  They don't awaken until one of the soldiers comes in and turns the lights on.  The young fellows get dressed quickly.  They pour out of the barracks and onto the parade ground.

A colonel is holding a briefing.  He says the situation's hopeless.  They have to hold this position until tomorrow.  Headquarters tomorrow will be at Kannstett. 

The colonel speaks to row after row of young men.  He tells them that the Americans attacked yesterday.  So their battalion will be attached to the 336 Grenadier Division.  Corporal Heilmann comes up to tell the colonel that he has 7 very inexperienced boys who are only 16 years old and are untrained.  He adds that the boys will run at the first taste of combat.  He asks what about the bridge?  The colonel says the boys could hold the bridge, so let them do it. 

Before the boys leave, the commander tells the corporal not to worry about the bridge because it will be blown up anyway.  So, there are to be no unnecessary deaths. 

There is a disturbance when getting the soldiers are getting their supplies for the upcoming battle.  An officer tells one of the older soldiers to put down those two cans of beef because he is allowed only one.  So the soldier throws the cans on the floor.  The officer tells him to pick them up and the older soldier starts yelling and grabbing at the officer's uniform.  The corporal has to come and tell the soldier to let go of the officer.  As the soldier moves back into the ranks, he sees the faces of the boys and says:  "I didn't know this was a kindergarten." 

The fellows get into the trucks.  The truck with the boys stops at the bridge.  The boys are let off.  The commander is there and he tells Heilmann to make sure the demolition team wires up the bridge properly so it can be blown at the right time.  Now Heilmann sets the boys in the positions he wants them.  Sigi will be the guard on the bridge itself.  Jurgen will use the boys' old wooden tower as an overlook position.  The others are set to digging foxholes. 

Heilmann leaves the boys alone so he can go get the demolition squad.  On his way, he is accosted by one of the home guard people.  The guy has concluded that Heilmann is a deserter, regardless of how much Heilmann explains why he is here and what he is doing.  He says he can't leave the boys alone.  He has orders to watch over them.  The guy pulls his pistol on Heilmann and is going to take him to headquarters, but Heilmann socks the guy in the stomach and he goes down.  Another home guard fellow in a motorcycle chases after the corporal and fires his automatic weapon at the fleeing Heilmann.  The corporal now lies dead on the road. 

The boys hear the shots but don't know what happened.  And they wonder where Heilmann is.  Now the boys hear sounds of artillery fire.  After awhile the boys sit down and start eating breakfast.  An older man comes over to them and tells them that they should return home because this bridge is going to be blown to smithereens.  The guys explain that they have to stay.  They have to defend the bridge.  Again the man tells them to go.  Jurgen pulls out his pistol and demands that the man leave.  The man does so, while saying the boys don't know what they're doing. 

Trucks approach the bridge and the guys hurry to put up the road barrier.  The trucks are filled with German soldiers.  A soldier gets out of the front seat of the first truck and balls the guys out for the delay.  He say's things are really heating up at the front and they are moving back.  The barrier is removed and the trucks roll on. 

An officer in a side car of a motorcycle comes up but the motorcycle quits on them.  He tells the two other men to leave everything there.  They have got to get out of here!  More trucks start coming by.  The officer grabs an automatic weapon and stands in the middle of the bridge to stop the next truck.  He is able to stop a truck and he and his men jump on board.  In the back of the truck the boys see many wounded men.  One of the men throws the boys a small box of chocolates so they can eat something good before they die. 

Why no one tells the boys to get on one of the trucks is a bit of a mystery.  Scholden, who Heilmann put in charge, says they should follow the others and go home.  Jurgen insists that they must stay here and hold the bridge.  An Allied plane briefly strafes the bridge and then drops a bomb nearby.  All the guys get up and go forward to see the bomb damage except for Sigi.  Walter Forst examines Sigi and then starts yelling for the guys to come here and see. Sigi is dead!

The guys can hear the sound of tanks approaching.  They run to their fox holes and prepare to fire tank grenades at the tanks.  Three men, probably of the demolition squad, jump out of their jeep and hide in the cellar.  They are going to let the American tanks by and then blow the bridge.  They wait for the tanks to come.  The lead tank stops and then blows up the barrier that the boy put back up.   As it moves forward Walter hits the tank with a tank grenade (more like a rocket propelled grenade).  The boys start firing the machine guns at the tanks.  American troops arrive and jump off their vehicle.  The tanks start blowing up the area with their shells. The tanks also fire back at the Germans with their machine guns.

A German machine gun kills one of the American soldiers.  The tanks keep overshooting the target, hitting the buildings behind the bridge. 

The demolition team is in the home of Sigi's mother.  They are criticizing the boys for holding the American tanks back instead of letting them through.  One could add that it's pretty silly to fire machine guns at tanks.  Under the constant bombardment, the boys are getting scared to the point that some of them might break.  One boy wets his pants. 

Walter is moving forward to get another good shot at a tank.  He gets pinned down between rows of a home garden.  An American tries to kill him, but with one shot Jurgen kills the American.  Jurgen's automatic weapon jams.  He throws it down and gets out his pistol and starts shooting.  When he stands up to get a better shot an American sniper kills him with one shot. 

Walter gets into the house from which the Americans are firing on the Germans.  The old man who told the boys to go home owns the house and he demands that the boy get out.  Walter shoves the man backwards.  The man comes back and tells Walter not to fire that tank grenade. Walter aims at the tank and fires, but he has the weapon backwards, so the tank grenade hits the old man instead of the tank.  An American soldier rushes in and Walter stands there saying:  "No, no!"  The American soldier shoves Walter back and shouts at what he sees as a kid:  "What are you doing in this friggin' war?" 

The tank outside fires and part of the house collapses onto Walter.  The American soldier that shoved Walter now shouts at the boys that they (the Americans) don't fight kids.  He tells them to give up and go home.  He tells them they are kindergarten kids and this insults Karl who now opens up on the man with his machine gun and hits him in the gut.  The American is in terrible agony and he screams bloody murder so the assistant to the machine gunner Klaus tells Karl to kill the man to put him out of his misery.  But Karl is dead.    Klaus becomes irrational and Hans from the other fox hole has to run over to see what's the matter.  Hans sees that Karl is dead so he takes over on the machine gun.  (When Hans ran over, Albert is wounded in the arm.)  Now crazy Klaus runs forward out of the foxhole and gets shot down.

Now there is one boy left unwounded, Hans, and one wounded boy, Albert.  Hans is not watching his machine gun.  The Americans throw out a smoke grenade, get back on their vehicle and leave.  Now the demolition team comes in to blow the bridge.  One member of the demolition team runs into Hans and Albert.  Hans becomes hysterical at the thought that they are going to blow the bridge.  And he is mad because the demolitions man said that his friends died for nothing.  More words are exchanged between Hans and the demolition man and Hans points his rifle at him.  The man says they have orders to blow the bridge and he points his automatic weapon at Hans.  Just as things are reaching a climax, Albert shoots the demolitions man in the back. 

The two other demolition men call the boys murderers and Hans points his rifle at them and tells them to get out.  They run to their vehicle and as they pull out, the passenger fires an automatic weapon at them, hitting Hans.  Klaus tries to carry Hans but Hans goes limb and dies.  Klaus is now going home. 

"This happened on the 27th of April, 1945.  It was so unimportant that it was not mentioned in any army communiqu"

 

Very good film about the Germans using young kids to fight the Allied armies.  The film follows the student lives of seven sixteen-year old boys.  They are rather typical kids and are very interested in what's going on in the war. The real soldiers have some concern for the boys and their welfare, so they place them to guard the bridge in town.  What the boys never fully seem to realize is that the bridge was unimportant to the Germans because it was to be demolished by a demolitions squad.  The guys were way too idealistic for their own good.  Hundreds of German troops in trucks were retreating across the bridge.  Why didn't they hop on the trucks with the other retreating soldiers? After awhile at the bridge, a couple of the boys wanted to go home, but Jurgen, the most gung-ho of the boys, shamed them all into staying put.  All it took was a little peer pressure. 

Quite a few of the boys fought very well, above and beyond the call of duty.  But why were they defending the bridge if the bridge was going to be blown?  Either they lost their larger perspective or peer pressure trumped the larger perspective, but the result was the same anyway.    

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

 

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