In a small town in Germany which is relatively untouched by the war despite the fact that Allied troops have broken into Germany in the closing days of April 1945, a group of seven 16-year-old boys in the little school wait to be called up for service (although they would normally be underage for the army).
A bomb badly aimed at the local bridge heralds the approach of the Americans and the call comes through.
One of their teachers, Mr Stern (Wolfgang Stumpf), who has been in charge of their military training in the village square, tries to keep the children from being sent to the front and is eventually joined in this effort by Captain Fröhlich (Heinz Spitzner), who had been a teacher himself before joining the army.
The captain puts the seven boys under the command of Corporal Heilmann (Günter Pfitzmann) and instructs the corporal to see that they are unharmed.
Heilmann posts them at the local bridge – where he believes they will be out of harm’s way – and goes back to town where he is mistaken for a deserter and killed.
Boredom ends for the boys at dawn when an American fighter plane comes over the horizon and strafes them, killing one of their number, Sigi (Günther Hoffmann), and goading them into a reckless attack on American tanks that arrive moments later. Their rashness disables two tanks and causes the others to turn back, but at a price. Four of the boys are dead.
Then their little victory turns to ashes when a German demolition squad appears and blows up the bridge; doubly ironic because it is of no military value.
When Albert Mutz (Fritz Wepper) learns that his companions have given their lives in vain, he shoots and kills the demolition sergeant, whose squad returns the fire and kills one more boy, Hans Scholten (Folker Bohnet).
Bone-tired and disillusioned, Mutz staggers back into the town as white flags and sheets are being hung out of all the windows, signalling surrender to the approaching Americans.
The nature of the photography and the fact that all the players are unknown give this anti-war film the believability of a newsreel making The Bridge a difficult film to watch at times. Cordula Trantow received the Bundesfilmpreis award for her performance as Franziska.
The movie was filmed at the Florian-Geyer-Brücke (Florian Geyer Bridge) – which was demolished in 1991 and replaced in 1995 – and at other locations in the town of Cham in Oberpfalz, Bavaria, 150 miles northeast of Bad Tölz.
The three M24 Chaffee light tanks shown in the movie are not real. Because the newly formed Bundeswehr (postwar German Army) still did not have any tanks in 1959, Bernhard Wicki had wooden models constructed and placed on top of truck chassis (the truck wheels can be seen clearly under the body of each “tank”).
The original German title is Die Brücke. A made-for-German-TV remake, directed by Wolfgang Panzer, appeared in 2008 but is widely regarded as inferior to the original version.
Karl Michael Balzer
Vicco von Bülow
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