Sean Connery played one of the largest roles in the film as General Urquhart, but was angered to discover that Robert Redford, in a much smaller role, was getting considerably more money. He went on strike for a short time until his fee was adjusted to his satisfaction.
Film critics derided producer Joseph E. Levine for casting a then 36-year-old Ryan O'Neal to play an army general. But in reality, Brig. Gen. James M. Gavin was only 37 years old at the time of the battle. In fact, shortly after this battle, Gavin was promoted to major general and at 37 was the youngest man ever to hold that rank.
According to the DVD edition, the real-life Col. John Frost chided Anthony Hopkins during the filming for running from house to house during the battle for Arnhem. According to Hopkins, Frost told him that a British officer would never have run but would have shown disdain for enemy fire by walking from place to place. Hopkins claims he tried but as soon as the firing started, instincts took over and he ran as fast as he could.
Steve McQueen and Audrey Hepburn were originally cast to play Major Julian Cook and Kate Ter Horst repectively. But they were dropped when Hepburn's asking salary price was too high, and McQueen only wanted to appear in starring roles, not all-star assembled projects.
Michael Caine claims that director Richard Attenborough did not tell him that a string of dummy tanks behind the scout car Caine was in would be blown up, so Caine could look realistically startled during the shot.
The producers were only able to locate four of the many Sherman tanks seen on the screen. The rest were plastic molds set on top of 88" Land Rovers. VW Beetle chassis were used for German Kubelwagens. The tank treads didn't reach the ground, but the film is edited so that this isn't noticeable (except in the section after Elliott Gould cries "Roll the fuckers / Roll 'em, fellas" there are shots of the tanks rolling over the bridge. One tank is seen silhouetted against the background and its tracks are clearly not moving as fast as they should be if the tank were real).
During WWII, Dirk Bogarde, who played Lt. Gen. Browning, served in intelligence with the British army. He and eight other intelligence officers were sent to Arnhem by Bernard L. Montgomery during the battle.
According to the DVD Production Notes, James Caan agreed to do the film because of the scene in which he forces a reticent army surgeon to operate on one of his buddies at gunpoint (Scene 18). He said, "When [Richard Attenborough] came to see me in Los Angeles, he offered me the choice of several roles. I chose the sergeant chiefly for that one scene."
Dirk Bogarde's portrayal of General Browning was highly controversial, and several friends of the late general suggested that, had Browning still been alive in 1977, he would have sued director Richard Attenborough and screenwriter William Goldman. Bogarde himself took issue with the portrayal during filming, having known Browning personally as he was a member of field marshal Montgomery's staff during the war. Although Attenborough publicly took responsibility for the controversy, his relationship with Bogarde was never the same again.
According to his recent memoir Roger Moore was offered the role of Brian Horrocks. He was forced to decline due to a scheduling conflict with The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) but became available again when the Bond movie was delayed. However Horrocks had approval over the character and turned Moore down, and the role instead went to Edward Fox.
According to the DVD version, Gen. R.E. Urquhart had no idea who Sean Connery was or why his daughters were so excited that he had been chosen to play their father in the movie. Richard Attenborough picked Connery because of his strong resemblance to the younger Urqhart.
The officer who is told to "not rock the boat" over the aerial intelligence was actually called Urquhart. His name was changed in the film so that the audience would not confuse him with Connery's character.
German actor Wolfgang Preiss also appeared in both this film and The Longest Day (1962), also based on a book by Cornelius Ryan. In 'The Longest Day' Preiss plays German Major General Max Pemsel, Chief of Staff of the German Seventh Army. In 'A Bridge Too Far' he plays German Field Marshall Karl Gerd Von Rundstedt, commander in Chief of German ground forces on the western front.
Dame Daphne Du Maurier, the widow of Lt.-General Browning, complained that her husband had been "made the fall guy" for the failure of "Operation Market Garden" by this film. Browning and the unseen Field Marshal Montgomery, who are shown as responsible for the failure, had both died by the time the film opened in 1977 (unlike the other commanders involved). Director Richard Attenborough defended his depiction of Browning by pointing to the final scene, where he says, "As you know, I've always thought we were going a bridge too far". Browning did actually say something very similar to this (hence the title of Cornelius Ryan's original book and this film), but he said it well before the operation started.
Originally, Richard Attenborough did not want to direct this picture, as he was keen to make Gandhi (1982) after Young Winston (1972). However, major studios were reluctant to finance the picture, so he sought producer Joseph E. Levine for financing. This film was part of the agreement in exchange for financing "Gandhi".
Numerous officers have the names of crew members. For instance, in one of the shots of the soldiers occupying the house facing the bridge in Arnhem, Sgt. Clegg was a reference to production manager Terence A. Clegg. During the Bailey bridge segment, one Pvt. Gibbs was a reference to editor Antony Gibbs. During (DVD Chapter 26) Frost's Last Stand, Frost calls out on Sgt. Tomblin, a reference to First Assistant Director David Tomblin. Finally, MacDonald, whom agreed to man the wireless as Gen. Urquhart mentioned, was a reference to then camera operator Peter MacDonald.
In the opening post-invasion scenes, shot in black and white and matted, a column is briefly shown of A27M Cromwell tanks, one the more effective British armoured vehicles of the Second World War. Elements of the Cromwell's design were incorporated within the later A34 Comet, arguably the best British tank of the Second World War. A Bridge Too Far may have been both the cinematic debut and sole appearance of the A27M in a major post-1945 war film production.
Dirk Bogarde's portrayal of General Sir Frederick "Boy" Browning proved to be highly controversial. Browning's widow asked Earl Louis Mountbatten of Burma to boycott the film's London premiere in protest. He declined since it was for charity.
Roger Moore was initially cast in 'A Bridge Too Far', but was unable to appear when problems surrounding the Bond franchise meant that The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) was made a year later than originally planned, therefore coinciding with the production dates.
A familiar story element in the World War II genre war film is the blowing-up of a bridge. This is especially common in films with the word "bridge" in the title such as The Bridge at Remagen (1969) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). Ironically, this film A Bridge Too Far (1977) which features a quite a number of bridges in it, only the Son bridge is depicted as destroyed. Just as Col. Stout ('Elliot Gould') approaches the crossing, the bridge is blown up by German artillery (but the actual blowing-up of the bridge is not seen in the movie). The Germans also attempt to blow up the Waal Bridge at Nijmegen, but are unsuccessful when demolition charges fail to explode. In the case of this film, "A Bridge Too Far" refers to the over-ambitions of the Allied strategy in Operation Market Garden. In order for the campaign to be successful, the Allies needed to secure several enemy bridges in a very short period of time. They were tragically unsuccessful.