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 took issue with the portrayal during filming, having known Browning personally, as he was a member of Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery's staff during the war. Although Attenborough publicly took responsibility for the controversy, his relationship with Bogarde was never the same again.
During World War II, Dirk Bogarde, who played Lieutenant General Browning, served in intelligence with the British army. He, and eight other intelligence officers, were sent to Arnhem by General Bernard L. Montgomery during the battle.
Film critics derided Producer Joseph E. Levine for casting 35 year-old Ryan O'Neal to play an Army General. But in reality, Brigadier General 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 Colonel 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.
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. Volkswagen 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). At about 57 minutes into the film as the Shermans are heading up the road, the last Sherman seen (the fifth one) is floating a few inches off the ground. If you look quickly, you'll just see the rear left wheel from one of the Land Rovers.
Due to permissions and budgetary constraints, the movie was not shot in Arnhem, but in Deventer, which lies 35 kilometers to the north. The scenery and the bridge, however, looked very much like Arnhem.
Michael Caine claims that Richard Attenborough did not tell him that a string of dummy tanks, behind the scout car which Caine was in, would be blown up, so Caine could look realistically startled during the shot.
According to the DVD production notes, James Caan agreed to do the film, because of the scene in which he forces a reluctant Army surgeon to operate on one of his buddies at gunpoint. 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."
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 Joseph E. Levine for financing. This film was part of the agreement in exchange for financing Gandhi (1982).
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.
Major Fuller (Frank Grimes), the officer who is told not to "rock the boat" over the aerial intelligence, was actually named Brian Urquhart. His name was changed in the film, so that the audience would not confuse him with Sean Connery's character, Major R.E. Urquhart (no relation).
Dirk Bogarde's portrayal of General Sir Frederick "Boy" Browning proved to be highly controversial. Browning's widow Daphne Du Maurier asked Earl Louis Mountbatten of Burma to boycott the film's London premiere in protest. He declined since it was for charity.
Dame Daphne Du Maurier, the widow of Lieutenant 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 Bernard L. 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). 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.
Steve McQueen and Audrey Hepburn were originally cast to play Major Julian Cook and Kate Ter Horst respectively. However, they were dropped, when Hepburn's asking salary price was too high, and McQueen only wanted to appear in starring roles, not all-star ensemble projects. There was also a story that the reason Hepburn--who had lived in German-occupied Holland during the war, and had seen German soldiers shoot down civilians on the street, and had friends killed in bombing raids--didn't do the film was because she found the prospect of reliving her wartime experiences, too traumatic.
Special effects supervisor John Richardson was injured driving his BMW, and his assistant / girlfriend Liz Moore was killed in the accident, during production in what was believed as a result of the sinister curse on those who involved in the making of The Omen (1976). The incident happened just after midnight on Sunday, 13 June 1976. The head-on collision beheaded Moore into half (a real-life echo of Jenning's decapitation on that film), but left Richardson alive, but dazed. When he got up after the collision, he noticed a signpost nearby pointing to the nearest town of Ommen, which is 20 kilometers away but the kilometer marker where it happened was 66.6.
According to the DVD, General 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 film. Richard Attenborough picked Connery because of his strong resemblance to the younger Urqhart.
According to his 2008 memoir "My Word is My Bond", 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.
German actor Wolfgang Preiss appeared in both this film, and The Longest Day (1962), also based on a book by Cornelius Ryan. In the earlier film, Preiss plays German Major General Max Pemsel, Chief of Staff of the German Seventh Army, while in this film, he plays German Field Marshal Karl Gerd Von Rundstedt, Commander-in-Chief of German ground forces on the western front.
A common mistake in World War II movies, from this period, is the decals on the Germans helmets. At this stage of the war, you would not have seen any decals on helmets, because three years earlier, they were ordered removed.
In the previous Cornelius Ryan film The Longest Day (1962), D-day veteran Richard Todd had been cast as Major John Howard, and re-enacted a genuine event in the taking of Pegasus Bridge, where Howard had met Richard Todd (at the time, an Army Captain) in the middle of the bridge, an uncredited actor played the role of Todd. A similar remarkable re-enactment was planned for this film. Audrey Hepburn was originally cast to play Arnhem resident Kate ter Horst (Liv Ullmann), but was dropped when her asking salary price was too high. Hepburn, who was half English and half Dutch, had been sent from England, to neutral Holland when war broke out, but her mother's home town of Arnhem was overrun by the Germans and she was trapped there for the duration. During Operation Market Garden, the fifteen year old Hepburn ran errands and messages for the Allies fighting in the town, and so, as Kate Ter Horst, would have met herself in the film.
In the opening post-invasion scenes, shot in black and white and matted, a column of A27M Cromwell tanks, one of the more effective British armored vehicles of the Second World War, is briefly shown. 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.
Michael Caine's scripted line to order the column of tanks and armored cars into battle, was "Forward, go, charge". Luckily for Caine, Lieutenant Colonel J.O.E. Vandeleur was on the set, so he could ask him what the actual line was. Vandeleur told him, "I just said quietly into the microphone, 'Well, get a move on, then'", which is what Caine says in the film.
Numerous soldiers have the names of crew members. For instance, in one of the shots of the soldiers occupying the house facing the bridge in Arnhem, Sergeant Clegg was a reference to Production Manager Terence A. Clegg. During the Bailey bridge segment, Private Gibbs was a reference to Editor Antony Gibbs. During (DVD Chapter 26) Frost's Last Stand, Frost calls out on Sergeant Tomblin, a reference to First Assistant Director David Tomblin. Finally, MacDonald, who agreed to man the wireless as General Urquhart mentioned, was a reference to then Camera Operator Peter MacDonald.
This was the first war film in which actors were put through boot camp prior to filming. Richard Attenborough put many of the extras and soldiers through a mini-boot camp, and had them housed in a barrack accommodation during filming.
Laurence Olivier (Dr. Jan Spaander) previously played Maximilian de Winter in Rebecca (1940), which was based on the 1938 novel of the same name by Daphne Du Maurier. In real-life, du Maurier was married to General Sir Frederick Browning (Dirk Bogarde) from 1932 until his death in 1965.
Sir Laurence Olivier showed up on the set wearing an old suit and a pair of battered black shoes. He informed Sir Richard Attenborough that he had been gardening in the shoes for a month, so that they would look just right for the character, a Dutch farmer and doctor who risks his life to tend the wounded.
Laurence Olivier (Dr. Jan Spaander) and Robert Redford (Major Julian Cook) are the only people to act in and direct different Academy Award for Best Picture winners: (1) Olivier played Maximilian de Winter in Rebecca (1940), and directed Hamlet (1948), in which he also played the title role, and (2) Redford played Johnny Hooker in The Sting (1973), and Denys Finch Hatton in Out of Africa (1985), and directed Ordinary People (1980).
All the lead actors agreed to participate on a '"favored-nation" basis (i.e. they would all receive the same weekly fee), which in this case was 250,000 dollars per week (the 2012 equivalent of 1,008,250 dollars, or 642,000 pounds).
Four Harvards portrayed American and German fighters. Their original identities were PH-KLU, PH-BKT, B-64 and B-118, the latter two aircraft loaned by the Royal Netherlands Air Force. These were flown by members of the Gilze Rijen Aero Club, which also provided an Auster III, PH-NGK, which depicted an Auster V, RT607, in wartime camouflage. Spitfire Mk. IX, MH434, depicting a photo reconnaissance variant, coded AC-S, was lent by the Hon. Patrick Lindsay, and was flown by aerobatic champion Neil Williams.
The film includes some distortions of military history that are not present in the book; in particular, the reasons for the delay in XXX Corps reaching the Arnhem bridge (leading to the failure of the attack) differ considerably from those given in Cornelius Ryan's text.
An episode of the Dutch television history program Andere Tijden (2000), about the making of the film stated that Joseph E. Levine told the Deventer local government that their town would host the world premiere on June 14, 1977. This never came to be and Deventer even missed out on the Dutch premiere, which was held in Amsterdam.
A british paratrooper appears twice in the take off scenes from England, holdong a chicken. This is a portrayal of the Quartermaster of the 10th Paratroop battalion Lieutenant Joseph Glover and his pet chicken Myrtle. Originally liberated from a farm in England by Glover as part of a bet to eatablish whether chickens can fly, she made several non-combat drops between July and September 1944. Glover and Myrtle dropped on Arnhem with the 4th Parachute Brigade in the second lift that occurred on September 18th (not the first lift as portrayed in the film). She was found dead on the 19th of September and buried with parachute wings.
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, in this film, which features quite a lot of bridges in it, only the Son bridge is depicted as destroyed. Just as Colonel Stout (Elliott Gould) approaches the crossing, the bridge is blown up by German artillery (but the actual blowing-up is shown at 68 minutes and 30 seconds into the film). The Germans also attempt to blow up the Waal Bridge at Nijmegen, but were 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.
Air filming was done in the first weeks of September 1976, culminating in a series of air drops of a total of 1,000 men, together with the dropping of supplies from a number of Dakota aircraft. The Dakotas were gathered by the film company Joseph E. Levine Presents Incorporated. All aircraft were required to be CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) or FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) registered and licensed to carry passengers. An original deal for the purchase of ten fell through when two airframes were rejected as passenger configured without the necessary jump doors. Eleven Dakotas were procured. Two Portuguese, ex-Portuguese Air Force, 6153, and 6171, (N9984Q and N9983Q), and two Air International Dakotas, operating from Djibouti in French Somaliland, F-OCKU and F-OCKX, (N9985Q and N9986Q) were purchased by Joseph E. Levine. Three Danish Air Force, K-685, K-687, and K-688, and four Finnish Air Force C-47s, DO-4, DO-7, DO-10 and DO-12, were loaned for the duration of the parachute filming.
The scenes around the "Arnhem" bridge were actually shot in Deventer, where a similar bridge over the IJssel was still available. Although a replica of the original road bridge in Arnhem existed, it was, by the mid-1970s, sitting in modern urban surroundings which could not be used to portray a 1940s city. A few scenes were shot in Zutphen, where the old municipal house (a white building which in the film featured the Nazi command center) and the main church can be seen.
Although they receive "Also Starring" billing, Denholm Elliott (RAF Meteorological Officer) and Jeremy Kemp (RAF Briefing Officer) only appear in one scene each, Wolfgang Preiss (Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt) only appears in two and Frank Grimes (Major Fuller) only appears in three.
Joseph E. Levine financed the 22 million dollar budget himself. During the production, he would show footage from the film to distributors, who would then pay him for distribution rights. By the time the film was finished, Levine had raised 26 million dollars, putting the film four million dollars in the black, before it had even opened.
Shooting of the American-led assault on the Bridge at Nijmegen was dubbed the "Million-Dollar Hour". Because of the heavy traffic, the crew had permission to film on the bridge between 8:00-9:00 on October 3, 1976. Failure to complete the scene, would have necessitated rescheduling, at a cost--including Robert Redford's overtime--of at least a million dollars. For this reason, Richard Attenborough insisted that all actors playing corpses keep their eyes closed.
The bridge at Arnhem was built between 1932 and 1935. It was destroyed by Dutch engineers in 1940 to slow the German invasion of that country. During the occupation of the Netherlands, a pontoon bridge was used as a replacement whilst German engineers repaired the bridge. These repairs were completed in August 1944, a month before Market Garden. In October 1944, the bridge was destroyed by US bombers. After the war, the bridge was repaired again, and re-opened in 1948. In 1977 (the same year as A Bridge Too Far was released) the bridge was officially named the John Frost Bridge (John Frostbrug in Dutch). There are plans to build a new bridge at Oosterbeek, to be named after Stanislaw Sosabowski.
At the time, Laurence Olivier filmed his role, he was involved in a series of filmed plays for British television, many of which aired in the U.S. as well. In fact, between scenes on location, he flew to England to co-star with Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner, and Maureen Stapleton in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Aircraft 6171 doubled as the camera ship on most formations, with a camouflaged Piper Aztec, G-AWDI. A camera was mounted in the astrodome, one on the port upper mainplane surface, with a third camera on the outside of the forward port cabin window and a fourth under the aircraft centre section. In addition, centre escape hatches were removed to make additional camera ports available, provided that no troops were aboard during filming. A second Aztec, G-ASND, was a back-up camera ship on some shots, but it was not camouflaged. An Alouette, G-BDWN, was also employed. After a mishap with G-AWDI, two locally hired Cessna 172s, PH-GVP and PH-ADF, were also used. Ten Horsa glider replicas were built, but a wind storm damaged almost all of them. Seven or eight were hastily repaired for the shoot. The replica gliders were tail-heavy and required a support post under the rear fuselage, with camera angles carefully chosen to avoid revealing this. Dakota 6153 was fitted with tow gear and Horsa replicas were towed at high speed, though none went airborne. A two-seat Blaník sail-plane, provided by a member of the London Gliding Club, Dunstable, was towed aloft for the interior take-off shots.
The scene where Private Marsh is killed, trying to retrieve a supply canister that was actually full of maroon berets, was based on a real event, but the actual paratrooper, Corporal Johnny Johnson, survived unharmed.