"The Bridges at Toko-Ri" is not a war movie and it is not an anti-war movie either, which may sound rather stupid when we have a story about the Korean War. But the reason I say this is that at the centre of the movie is pilot Lt. Harry Brubaker, a man who did his duty and retired to become a lawyer and a family man only to be called back up when the war in Korea started. He is a patriot and will do his duty but he doesn't want to be there, he is not anti war he just doesn't want to be in another one. And that is what "The Bridges at Toko-Ri" is about, those who don't want to be involved in war but are not anti it.
Now that sounds like it could be a terrific and different sort of movie and at times "The Bridges at Toko-Ri" gets this across as we discover Brubaker's bitterness to be called back up to fight having done his duty before. We see how he fears every moment of action could be his last as he is pushing his luck especially as he has various close calls from having to ditch in the ocean to issues landing on deck.
But at the same time it struggles because for long periods of time there is almost nothing going on. In fact whilst we get these moments from Brubaker, the entire first hour feels just like another war movie especially when chopper pilot Mike Forney ends up in jail for starting a fight on shore leave. It almost feels like an hour of padding where we get some camaraderie, some action, some humour and also a small part for Grace Kelly as Brubaker's wife who doesn't fully understand the life he leads. It is still entertaining but that is mainly thanks to Mickey Rooney providing some humour as Mike Forney and whenever Rooney isn't in a scene it sways to being dull.
This does eventually build to more familiar war territory as we watch the men go on their crucial and dangerous mission to destroy the bridges at Toko-Ri. Now firstly there are some non traditional Hollywood surprises when it comes to the narrative which makes it an ending much better than you expect. But more importantly we have the brilliant mix of great camera work, great flying shots and great editing which makes "The Bridges at Toko-Ri" visually impressive be it the planes trying to blow up the bridges or when we witness them land on deck of the Navy vessel.
As for the acting well William Holden is his usual solid self delivering a character who is a man of duty but at the same time a man of inner conflict, not understanding why he has to fight although he will. And Mickey Rooney does a nice job of adding some humour and some quirkiness as Mike without it ever becoming out and out comedy. But these are not performances you are going to remember because in the end the characters are quite ordinary.
What this all boils down to is that "The Bridges at Toko-Ri" could have been a really good movie about doing your duty when you don't want to be doing your duty. But because the first half is so drawn out and laborious that it becomes a bit dull only pepped up by some terrific camera work and the surprise ending.