The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)



Director:       Mark Robson.

Starring:       William Holden (Lt. Harry Brubaker),  Grace Kelly (Nancy Brubaker),  Fredric March (RAdm. George Tarrant),  Mickey Rooney (Mike Forney),  Charles McGraw (Cmdr. Wayne Lee),  Robert Strauss (Beer Barrel),  Earl Holliman (Nestor Gamidge).

 air war in the Korean War





Good war movie.  The movie opens with shots of US Naval airplane carrier #34 of Task Force 77 off the coast of Korea. 

This is a story of pilot Lt. Harry Brubaker (William Holden) who has been recalled to the service from his family and his job as a lawyer.  He is bitter that he who was inactive was called up, while others still on active service were not.  What he doesn't understand, or is too bitter to comprehend, is that there was a desperate need for jet pilots. 

In the Korean War, the allied troops pushed up almost to the border of North Korea and China.  MacArthur was too blinded by his rabid anti-communism to consider the possibility that China might enter the war. He thought China was a mere puppet-state of the Soviet Union and that nation would not risk a conflict with the United States.

Given their over-confidence, most of the allied troops were spread out over a single road that went northward along a valley bordered by mountains on both sides.  The troops were strung out in violation of the rulebook of military training that units have to proceed always in an orderly and managed manner.  This situation was a tragedy waiting to happen.

When the Chinese troops entered the war with their massive numbers of troops, they caused such a vast and sudden retreat of the allied troops that the single road could not handle the troop and equipment flow and huge bottlenecks occurred along the highway.  And to make matter much worse, the Chinese, who were lightly equipped and therefore could easily move along the mountain ridges overlooking the valley with its lone road, started attacking the allies at will in hit-and-run attacks that took many allied casualties.  Thank goodness for allied air power.  The pilots, with their constant bombardments of the ridges, saved a good many allied soldiers.

Peace negotiations began in Kaesong (while fighting continued), July 10, 1951. And when the movie opens it is November, 1952, the same month that U.S. President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower traveled to Korea to find out what could be done to end the conflict. (But an actual cease-fire is about eight months away, July 27, 1953.)

The film is an homage to the United States Navy, its pilots and air crews. A lot of footage is shown of  life aboard an aircraft carrier and the process of planes taking off and landing the carrier runway.    

Lt. Brubaker has been spooked by recent personal events.  He had to ditch his plane at sea, barely had time to get out before the plane sunk and had to wait in the freezing water until a helicopter rescued him.  This was followed by a bad landing by the air commander which delayed Brubaker's landing that he had to consider the possibility of ditching in plane in the sea again.  Then he is given an extremely dangerous job of helping his air commander photograph the key military bridges at Toko-Ri where the anti-aircraft fire was extremely intense. All this adds up to a serious case of nerves, as he prepares to go on the bombing run to take-out the bridges at Toko-Ri. 

In war, a man so worried about impending death is more likely to make a mistake and be killed, but we certainly do not want to see this happen to our hero nor to his pretty wife, played by Grace Kelly. 

Comic relief is provided by character Mike Forney (Mickey Rooney) and his buddy Nestor Gamidge (Earl Holliman), who are always getting into fights over a Japanese woman or two.  


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:

See Field of Honor (1986).



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