Sir 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 Sir Richard Attenborough and Screenwriter William Goldman for libel. 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, Sir 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.
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 this movie, so that the audience would not confuse him with Sir Sean Connery's character, Major R.E. Urquhart. The two Urquharts were not related.
According to the DVD edition, the real-life Colonel John Frost chided Sir 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.
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 movie. Browning, and the unseen Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery, who are shown as responsible for the failure, had died by the time this movie opened in 1977 (unlike the other commanders involved). Sir 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 movie), but he said it well before the operation started.
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 movie is edited so that this isn't noticeable (except in the section after Elliott Gould cries, "Roll the fuckers!") 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 fifty-seven minutes into this movie, 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.
Originally, Sir Richard Attenborough did not want to direct this movie, as he was keen to make Gandhi (1982) after Young Winston (1972). However, major studios were reluctant to finance the movie, so he sought Joseph E. Levine for financing. This movie was part of the agreement in exchange for financing Gandhi (1982).
Film critics derided Producer Joseph E. Levine for casting thirty-five-year-old Ryan O'Neal to play an Army General. But in reality, Brigadier General James M. Gavin was only thirty-seven-years-old at the time of the battle. In fact, shortly after this battle, Gavin was promoted to Major General, and at thirty-seven, was the youngest man ever to hold that rank. All true, but George Armstrong Custer was made a Major General of Volunteers at age 24.
Sir Michael Caine claims that Director Sir 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.
Due to permissions and budgetary constraints, the movie was not shot in Arnhem, but in Deventer, which lies thirty-five kilometers (twenty-two miles) to the north. The scenery and the bridge, however, looked very much like Arnhem.
According to the DVD production notes, James Caan agreed to do this movie, 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."
Sir Sean Connery played one of the largest roles in this movie, 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.
According to his 2008 memoir "My Word is My Bond", Sir 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.
Sir 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 movie.
Sir 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 London premiere in protest. He declined, since it was for charity.
Special Effects Supervisor John Richardson was injured driving his BMW, and his assistant and 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, June 13, 1976. The head-on collision beheaded Moore (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 twenty kilometers away, but the kilometer marker where it happened, was 66.6.
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.
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.
A British paratrooper appears twice in the take off scenes from England, holding 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 establish 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.
According to the DVD, General R.E. Urquhart had no idea who Sir Sean Connery was, or why his daughters were so excited that he had been chosen to play their father in this movie. Sir Richard Attenborough picked Connery because of his strong resemblance to the younger Urquhart.
Wolfgang Preiss appeared in this movie and The Longest Day (1962), also based on a book by Cornelius Ryan. In the earlier movie, Preiss played German Major General Max Pemsel, Chief of Staff of the German Seventh Army, while in this movie, he played German Field Marshal Karl Gerd Von Rundstedt, Commander-in-Chief of German ground forces on the western front.
This was the first war movie in which actors were put through boot camp prior to filming. Sir Richard Attenborough put many of the extras and soldiers through a mini boot camp, and had them housed in a barrack accommodation during filming.
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, Sir Richard Attenborough insisted that all actors playing corpses keep their eyes closed.
Joseph E. Levine financed the twenty-two million dollar budget himself. During the production, he would show footage from the movie to distributors, who would then pay him for distribution rights. By the time the movie was finished, Levine had raised twenty-six million dollars, putting the movie four million dollars in the black, before it had even opened.
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 World War II, is briefly shown. Elements of the Cromwell's design were incorporated within the later A34 Comet, arguably the best British tank of World War II. This movie may have been both the cinematic debut and sole appearance of the A27M in a major post-1945 war movie production.
In 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 movie. 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 movie.
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.
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.
All of the lead actors agreed to participate on a '"favored-nation" basis (they would all receive the same weekly fee), which, in this case, was two hundred fifty thousand dollars per week (the 1977 equivalent of 1,008,250 dollars, or 642,000 pounds sterling).
This movie had the biggest production cost in the entire movie history, but costs were continuously soaring during the making of this movie. Word got around in the country of Holland, that this was the most expensive movie ever made. Therefore local businessmen started charging Producer Joseph E. Levine with insane prices for ordinary products. This drove Levine to desperate measures in trying to restrain these skyrocketing expenses. In order to keep costs down, products were bought in Germany instead of Holland, where the local greedy businessmen went berserk with their charging of insane prices for ordinary products. This movie almost didn't get made because of these skyrocketing expenses during shooting. Only because of the huge investments risks of notorious Producer Joseph E. Levine, this movie eventually did see the day of light. But profits at the box-office were one hundred percent, since Levine sold the distribution rights during filming, and the movie was already four million dollars in the black upon release.
This movie 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.
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.
An episode of the Dutch television history program In Other Times (2000), about the making of this movie 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.
Air filming was done in the first weeks of September 1976, culminating in a series of air drops of a total of one thousand men, together with the dropping of supplies from several Dakota aircraft. The Dakotas were gathered by the movie company Joseph E. Levine Presents Incorporated. All aircraft were required to be C.A.A. (Civil Aviation Authority) or F.A.A. (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.
Sir Richard Attenborough's overall involvement with the project extended to twenty-four months all told, working an average of eighteen hours a day, seven days a week. When he finally finished the movie, Attenborough went to bed and slept solidly for three days.
The scenes around the "Arnhem" bridge were 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 movie featured the Nazi command center) and the main church can be seen.
Sir Sean Connery played a Private in The Longest Day (1962), and a Major General in this movie. All of these fictional promotions, would have occurred in the three and a half months between the actual events.
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: Olivier played Maximilian de Winter in Rebecca (1940) and directed Hamlet (1948), in which he also played the title role, while Redford played Johnny Hooker in The Sting (1973) and Denys Finch Hatton in Out of Africa (1985) and directed Ordinary People (1980).
Paul Copley (Private Wicks) previously played Finnegan in Arnhem: The Story of an Escape (1976), another production which depicted Operation Market Garden in September 1944. Both characters were members of the 1st Airborne Division.
This was the first of a two-picture deal that Sir Richard Attenborough signed with Producer Joseph E. Levine. The other being Magic (1978). Attenborough happily signed on with Levine in the hope of getting the financing in place for Gandhi (1982), though Levine ultimately decided not to get involved with that project.
Although they receive "Also Starring" billing, Denholm Elliott (R.A.F. Meteorological Officer) and Jeremy Kemp (R.A.F. Briefing Officer) only appeared in one scene each, Wolfgang Preiss (Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt) only appeared in two and Frank Grimes (Major Fuller) only appeared in three.
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.
All of the star actors received a two hundred fifty thousand dollar weekly fee. This was a way for the production to keep the costs down. The exception was Robert Redford, who received five hundred thousand dollars a week for four weeks' work.
Waffen-SS General Wilhelm Bittrich (Maximilian Schell) is one of the few high-ranking SS officers generally considered to have not been personally involved with any war crimes. After the war, he was tried in France for the execution of 17 members of the Resistance. The trial brought to light that in fact Bittrich had known nothing of the atrocity, had not given the orders, and had attempted to have those responsible court-martialed. Bittrich was nevertheless convicted and sentenced to 5 years as the responsible commanding officer. He was released for time served during his long pretrial detention. In later life, Bittrich became active in groups that indulged in revisionist history to resurrect the shattered reputation of the SS.
All the main characters were actual participants in the operation, other than Karl Ludwig (Hardy Krueger). SS-Brigadefuehrer Heinz Harmel, on whom the role is based, did not want his name mentioned in the film, preferring to keep a low profile in post-war Germany.
The scene in which SSgt. Eddie (real name Charles) Dohun (James Caan) forces the doctor (Arthur Hill) to see to his captain, happened substantially as depicted. The wife of the captain whose life had been saved related the story by letter to author Cornelius Ryan. Dohun however was under arrest for a full minute before being released. The custody period was precisely timed on the arresting officer's wristwatch.
The film went to some lengths to get small details correct. One example is the uniform worn by the German commanding general Gerd von Rundstedt (Wolfgang Preiss). He wears the tunic of a colonel of infantry, not that of his actual rank, which was field marshal (the highest rank possible). He had retired in late 1938 at least in part due to Hitler's meddling with the Army, but was persuaded to come out of retirement when Germany found itself at war. Thereafter he wore the uniform of his permanent honorary rank of instead of his acting rank.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
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.