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The Bridge on the River Kwai
Drama, Adventure, War
IMDB rating:
David Lean
William Holden as Shears
Alec Guinness as Colonel Nicholson
Jack Hawkins as Major Warden
Sessue Hayakawa as Colonel Saito
James Donald as Major Clipton
Geoffrey Horne as Lieutenant Joyce
André Morell as Colonel Green (as Andre Morell)
Peter Williams as Captain Reeves
John Boxer as Major Hughes
Percy Herbert as Grogan
Ann Sears as Nurse
Heihachiro Okawa as Captain Kanematsu (as Henry Okawa)
Keiichirô Katsumoto as Lieutenant Miura (as K. Katsumoto)
Storyline: The film deals with the situation of British prisoners of war during World War II who are ordered to build a bridge to accommodate the Burma-Siam railway. Their instinct is to sabotage the bridge but, under the leadership of Colonel Nicholson, they are persuaded that the bridge should be constructed as a symbol of British morale, spirit and dignity in adverse circumstances. At first, the prisoners admire Nicholson when he bravely endures torture rather than compromise his principles for the benefit of the Japanese commandant Saito. He is an honorable but arrogant man, who is slowly revealed to be a deluded obsessive. He convinces himself that the bridge is a monument to British character, but actually is a monument to himself, and his insistence on its construction becomes a subtle form of collaboration with the enemy. Unknown to him, the Allies have sent a mission into the jungle, led by Warden and an American, Shears, to blow up the bridge.
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A Disgraceful Insult to the People who Died and Survived the Real Railway of Death
It was my late father, who was a Far East Prisoner of War, which included a stint on the Kwai Bridge, who pointed out everything that was wrong with this film. And EVERYTHING is what is wrong with it.

The bridge was bombed by the Americans, and that is why the two inner spans of the current bridge are of a different shape to the outer two. Note again, the bridge was bombed from the air, it was not blown up by Alec Guiness's dead body falling on the blast box.

The notion that the Japanese would have been swayed by a British officer who sweated out a week in the cage is utter nonsense. My father said they would have beaten him till he submitted, and if he happened to die...well, too bad.

My father also pointed out that the notion that the Japanese engineers didn't possess the know-how to build a railway bridge to cross the Kwai River, and had to rely on British engineers is utter drivel.

If you can bear to insult those who died on the Railway of Death by watching this film, do not take the film seriously. It's rubbish!
Far Ahead of Its Time
First off, what is so amazing about this film is that, for the time that it was made, how modern it looks. David Lean certainly had the eye of any modern director and managed to direct a visual masterpiece at a time when many films were still being shot in black and white.

William Holden gives one of his finest performances as a cynic of warfare , citing for us the insanity and absurdity that the combatants often convey. And he hates the war, but he cannot avoid been thrown back into it again and again. We wish he could stay on the beach with his nurse lover, but he is a man destined for a tragic doom for his country, whether he wants to or not.

Alec Guiness also delivers a fine performance as a bold general whose own pride is, at the same time, his most noble quality as well as his greatest fault. He is uncompromising, yet when the Japanese submit to his demands, he begins overseeing the construction of the bridge with great esteem. Eventually, for him, the bridge becomes a manifestation of his belief of the superiority of the British Army, which he follows like a religion. And in putting all his pride into this bridge, he loses sight of even the British's own true agenda. Truly, his sense of overwhelming honor is, at the same time, his downfall in a descent to a loss of morality, and a sense of good and evil.

And yes, by the end of this film, we learn a great lesson of the horrors of war. Not only does it take the lives of many good men, but the utter failure and despair that accompany it make it an unbearable existence. And this message has only recently been re-evaluated with the also-brilliant masterpiece "Saving Private Ryan." But, keep in mind that it took forty years to regain the power that this film inspired so long ago.
A clash of wills, principles, and egos amidst the madness of war...
British Army Colonel, captured along with his regimen by the Japanese on the island of Burma in 1943, refuses to abandon the rules of his government and build a railroad bridge across the Kwai river according to the plans of his mercurial Japanese counterpart, Colonel Saito. Saito, under orders from his superiors to have the bridge completed by a certain date, eventually yields to the Britisher's demands and construction gets under way, but a POW escapee from the American Navy has been recruited by British officials in nearby Ceylon to return to Burma and blow the bridge up. Complex clash of personalities, with Best Actor Oscar Winner Alec Guinness nimbly helping us to understand his character's motivations (he not only engineers the building of the bridge to aid the enemy, but helps construct a masterpiece--while underlings wonder if perhaps a temporary structure might have sufficed). To be engrossed by this Best Picture Academy Award winner is to eventually sympathize with Guinness' Colonel Nicholson, who figures it's better to build something worthwhile and long-lasting (even as a prisoner) than to do a sloppy job. David Lean (winner for Best Director) does some of his liveliest work behind the camera; opening the film carefully, like a good novel, he lays all these difficult, stubborn warriors on the table and allows us to get close to each one. That said, the big climactic finish--while suspenseful--is ultimately a let-down. Lean's staging is sufficient...perhaps the editing is at fault? Throwing out the people we've come to know so intimately for the sake of rousing visual action leaves a sour taste behind. Yes, it is the madness of war to finish with no winners, only losers; however, the way it plays out here feels half-hearted, and a line of dialogue from Jack Hawkins' Major Warden adds a curious layer of dissatisfaction and confusion. Pierre Boulle was also awarded an Oscar for adapting his own novel (he was fronting for blacklisted screenwriters Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson); Jack Hildyard won for his cinematography, Malcolm Arnold for his commanding music, and Peter Taylor for his (rather spotty) editing. *** from ****
Nice bridge,Colonel,but there is a war on you know.......
I saw this at the cinema as a 17 year - old and was most impressed by the sheer size and sweep of the film - a characteristic,I later learned of most David Lean productions.Mr A.Guiness represented the bulldog spirit and unquestionable integrity of the British officer - class and the various jolly cockney,witty scouses,dour northeners in the ranks were typical of the portrayals of rank and file soldiery we had come to expect in just over a decade of obsession with the role of the armed forces in the second world war. Mr S.Hayakawa was eminently hissable as the evil Oriental who was eventually outwitted by our brave and stubborn Col.Nicholson. Nearly sixty years and many viewings later I have come to realise that "Bridge on the River Kwai is still a hugely impressive film and Mr A.Guiness is even better than I first thought,but that my reading of the film was all wrong. Mr Lean has in fact borrowed deeply from Joseph Conrads"Heart of darkness"with a plot about a rogue officer with his own agenda running what is virtually his own private army in cahoots with the enemy to the extent that an assassin is sent on a mission to kill him. Col.Nicholson,in short,is as mad as a sack of weasels and his obsession with building the eponymous bridge,rather than giving his chaps something to do and improve their conditions,is considerably aiding the Japanese Imperial Forces and the movement of their troops. The last third of the film detailing the efforts of Mr J.Hawkins and Mr W.Holden to destroy the bridge is amongst Mr Leans's best work,taut, with beautifully conceived editing,and a wonderfully managed climax where Nicholson finally realises the blind alley his obsession has led him into. "What have I done?"he asks as the first train is about to cross the bridge and he stumbles around on the sand seeing the explosives set by Mr Hawkin's commandos exposed by low tide. In "Heart of darkness",Kurtz's last words are "The horror,the horror". As the bridge finally blows up, Mr J.Donald mutters "Madness,madness",which isn't too far removed from that. With the possible exception of "Lawrence of Arabia"(maybe just a little self - indulgent)Mr Lean never again made a film so near to perfection that was so ambiguous and no character that was so complex. Undoubtedly one of the best "British" movies ever made.
fraud in movies
I have seen this movie in 1958, and now I have seen it again after 53 years, and I have liked it the same as before. the only thing I was disgusted was the party they made after the bridge is finished, I found this ridiculous for soldiers, I say this because I serve for 7 years in the Legion, and we never will do this sort of ridiculous fiesta. the real history is nothing to do with the movie. of course I understand the producers that looks very much for the money, instead of the reallity, and I disagree totally with this matter, I prefer movies made accordingly with the true history, and the Hollywood movies they are plenty of this fiction movies, but not reality and you become very disappointed when you take acquaintance of the real history.
In early 1943, World War II British prisoners arrive by train at a Japanese prison camp in Burma. The commandant, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), informs them that all prisoners, regardless of rank, are to work on the construction of a railway bridge over the River Kwai that will connect Bangkok and Rangoon. The senior British officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), reminds Saito that the Geneva Conventions exempt officers from manual labor.

At the following morning's assembly, Nicholson orders his officers to remain behind when the enlisted men are sent off to work. Saito slaps him across the face with his copy of the conventions and threatens to have them shot, but Nicholson refuses to back down. When Major Clipton (James Donald), the British medical officer, intervenes, telling Saito there are too many witnesses for him to get away with murdering the officers, Saito leaves the officers standing all day in the intense tropical heat. That evening, the officers are placed in a punishment hut, while Nicholson is locked in an iron box.
One of Cinema's All-time Greatest Achievements
Wow this is still a powerful work. The Bridge on the River Kwai is David Lean's WW2 epic made several years before his masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia. It's not on that level of perfection, but it's still a damned great movie. They don't make films like this anymore. I remember being shown this film in a movie appreciation segment by a teacher in elementary school. I then would watch it every chance I got as I grew older. Alec Guinness and William Holden give what may be their best performances. Younger people raised on fast-paced CGI hyper-edited ADHD movies would probably complain that this is boring. Their loss, and dead wrong. THIS is how films should be made. Take your time with location work and character development. There is one particular shot in the jungle where the commandos are hunting a stray Japanese solder. They startle hundreds of bats from sleep, and the bats fill the sky. The shadows of the bats flicker on the jungle below, making the search even more difficult due to the eye being drawn all around to the shadows flickering on the leaves. Brilliant scene. If you haven't seen this movie, you owe it to yourself to watch it. "Madness."
Definitely great then, but slightly timeworn now
This large-scale and realistic film was just a decade after the World War II had ended, without much technology assisting in creating credible atmosphere and effects. Even colour films were not so common... As the Brits had maintained more or less normal relations with their former colony Ceylon, they were able to film there, using lots of mass scenes and manual labour.

The idea behind is intriguing, and after a certain escape, the film consists of two parallel set of events intertwined in the end. However, many scenes are depicted too lengthily, bringing along temporary uneven pace and and diminishing excitement (or current viewers have just become too impatient...) As for the cast, only Alec Guinness as Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson and Sessue Hayakawa as Colonel Saito were catchy to me, I can't remember the others from other films, for example. Well, Guinness was awarded his only Oscar for the role (great, but lengthwise not a real leading one)... All in all, the film received 7 Academy Awards, showing that the opportunities of that period were used in a maximum way. I could particularly point out the directing and the music, with many songs becoming hits afterwards. A real pleasant supporting actor is the nature, forming a contrast to construction activities and prison camps (however, life of Japanese POWs was not as harsh as of German or Soviet ones).

Thus, The Bridge on the River Kwai is undoubtedly a great war film, but I am not sure it "accosts" modern viewers with Oliver Stone, Brian de Palma and Clint Eastwood in mind...
Super Film
I watched this movie with my grandma at night she was over, everyone else was gone to bed and we were looking through Netflix for a movie to watch. After some looking we stumbled across Bridge on The River Kwai. Being an elder person herself she remembered it from her childhood, so we watched it. The film is slow, yes. But that doesn't harm it, even though it's 160 minutes long, it "only" feels as it is 2 hours long. This length gives you the ability to care about our principal cast. And the ending, though without grand dramatic music is extremely intense. And grandma and I where both at the edge of our seats. I've read that this movie is not completely historically accurate, this does not bother me as this isn't a documentary but a work of fiction to enjoyed. Definitely recommend to anyone with a love for film making, and it does sadden me that this film isn't rated higher, an all time classic.
The Perks of Being An Officer
The Bridge on the River Kwai is about a culture clash of two different races going to war and how they view each other. It's also about a British colonel's concern for the morale of his men and observation of the rules of war that it blinds him to the situation he's in.

I like to compare The Bridge on the River Kwai with The Great Escape. Though the prisoners in the former are in a far worse predicament than those in that 'escape proof' stalag in the latter, note the differences in how they view their captivity. No one in The Great Escape ever forgets that they are at war and who the enemy. Their morale is kept very high with the diabolical escape plan they devise.

Alec Guinness who is a stickler for protocol reminds us that escape might not be justified under the rules because they were ordered to surrender. But as prisoners he will not be denied the rank and privileges of being an officer. So he gets the sweat box until the commandant, Sessue Hayakawa, gives in for his own reasons.

His reasons involve the building of a bridge on a railway the Japanese are constructing from Bangkok to Rangoon, part of their Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity scheme. Hayakawa reminds us that his code of honor is Bushido, the Samurai code which does not entertain surrender. The British to him are an inferior people for doing that and not fighting until the last man.

That's not going to sit well with Guinness who's going to show the Japanese who's inferior. He notes that the bridge being built is not sound structurally and he determines that to combat the idleness of the men and the bad effect on morale, he'll build a bridge that will show Hayakawa who's inferior. And Hayakawa loses control of his own bridge construction to the enemy and breaks down because of it.

The Bridge on the River Kwai as a film wouldn't work at all if it were not for Alec Guinness. He's clearly not kept his eye on the ball to use an American baseball term, forgotten that two countries are at war, that it's not a private spat between him and Hayakawa. Yet his concern for his men is genuine and he must have been a pretty good commander in a combat situation to retain the affection his men have for him. Executing the complexity of Colonel Nicholson won him the Academy Award and it carries the film.

Taking a different view of the perks of being an officer is William Holden. His role is not in the original novel by Pierre Boule, but was created to justify a big American box office name for the USA market. But it was a good thing because Holden as an American does bring a different perspective to the events.

Holden having won his Oscar in Stalag 17 as a prisoner of war brings his former role of Sefton to this film. That's not as flip as it sounds because Sefton in Stalag 17 did remark about escaping and then being sent to the Pacific and getting captured and doing time in a Japanese prison. Of course he'd have had to have changed branches of the service. And we never do learn Holden's real name.

Seems as though when his ship went down, Holden the survivor exchanges uniform and dog tags with a Navy commander named Shears. It doesn't get him quite the perks he thought he'd get, but he's resourceful enough.

It took me several viewings of The Bridge on the River Kwai to figure out why Holden didn't go back to his real name and rank after he escaped and after he arrived in the British hospital in Sri Lanka. It's the reason why Ann Sears has a small, but critical role as the WREN that Holden enjoys a little romantic idyll with. She might not have given him the time of day if he was a seaman first class instead of a Lieutenant Commander.

But the British get on to Holden's charade and Jack Hawkins blackjacks him into going on a mission to destroy the bridge that British Intelligence has found out the Japanese are building. If Guinness has forgotten what side he's on, Hawkins sure hasn't. Jack Hawkins's role tends to get overshadowed by Guinness and he never gets the credit due him for this film, but he does well as the determined man on a mission.

One other part worthy mentioning is James Donald as the medical officer of Guinness's battalion. He has great affection for Guinness, but apparently he's the only one in the POW camp that sees the implication of what the British prisoners are being ordered to do by their commander and also who'll tell Guinness ever so gently.

And Donald puts the final coda on The Bridge on the River Kwai with his words that end this great film achievement.
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