Last night, as part of their Memorial Day series of war films this weekend, TCM showed A Bridge Too Far, which I consider perhaps the greatest war movie ever made. Okay, fine, admittedly I'm biased for an exceedingly odd reason, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong. That's because my cousin, Susie Elisberg Duttge is in it, if you look closely enough.
A Bridge Too Far was shot in 1976, made on location in Holland and the surrounding area. There's a sequence in the film when Allied troops have liberated a Dutch town and enter it to waves of celebration by the residents, almost as a parade. As it happened, my cousin and a girlfriend of hers were hiking through Europe, and were in Holland at the time and heard that a movie was being shot nearby. Curious, they altered their plans a bit and made their way over to watch.
As director Richard Attenborough was setting up the elaborate sequence, he felt that something was missing. What he decided it needed was to have a couple of local girls sitting on one of the Allied tanks as it drove though the cheering throng. And so, at the very last minute, the filmmakers started to do some scouting -- and they spotted these two pretty, young girls there among the spectators and asked if they'd like to be in the movie. And you got it, that was my cousin Susie and her friend. They were cast, gotten into hair and make-up, put in place on the tank, and the scene was shot. No doubt first discussing with Richard Attenborough the motivation of their characters. (Probably, "You're really happy.")
Yes, okay, it's hard to spot from the angles the scene was shot and edited, but they're there. And as the saying goes, it's not the size of the role that matters, but the size of the actor. Ultimately, of course, that's an artistic decision by director Attenborough of what was most-need to make the impactful scene as effective as it is, perfectly balanced without overwhelming the focus of the scene away from the troops. And in the end, I've always believed that that moment is what helped make A Bridge Too Far the highly-regarded epic it is, as much as the performances by Sir Laurence Olivier, Sean Connery, Robert Redford and others.
I heard back from my cousin about the piece She noted a few corrections, but I'm pleased that I got as much of the story as accurate as I did. However, I do stand by my larger point that she is the star of the film.
For the sake of accuracy, here's what she wrote --
" Bob, you're so funny. That's amazing you remember (kind of remember) the story from 4 decades ago! I was traveling Europe, by myself except for the people I kept meeting and traveling with along the way, two of which were friendly Dutch boys. I went back to their town to visit them while A Bridge Too Far was being filmed. Hans had a minor role and brought me to the set a lot. That's when Richard Attenborough asked me to be in the scene where I sit on top of the tanker with a soldier as it rolled into town. It was a ton of fun and my spot was edited down to a couple nano seconds. Blink and you'll miss it! wink emoticon The photographs I have from being on the set for a week look reflect "
Oh, okay, for those interested in seeing the other actors and scenes, to each their taste, so here's the trailer. You'll note that it only includes a partial cast list, leaving out such important actors as."And starring as 'Girl Sitting on Tank'..." But that's most-likely contractual, set before production began, to protect traditional hierarchy in advance of any casting changes that might occur later.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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