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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 battle of minds and codes of honor, as well as an adventure flick
Bridge over the River Kwai (1957)

A superbly well crafted World War II movie about British POWs working on a bridge in the Thai jungle for their Japanese captors.

That may sound like a summary, but along those lines it's simply a really well made (and fictional) movie. What makes it rise above (much as "Lawrence of Arabia" by the same director does) is the psychology, and the aggrandizing pro-British agenda. It's all feel-good stuff (if you're not Japanese, at least). And smart, sharply filmed, and increasingly complicated.

There are some welcome contrasts quite intentionally worked out at the start, including a common one in these film—the different military culture of the British (in Asia still very much of the British Empire mindset) and the Americans (represented by William Holden). The Japanese are really only present in the form of the prison commander, who is a combination of cruel and pathetic. You eventually feel sympathy for the fellow in a way, as the Brits show an unlikely but well-hones superiority in engineering and in morality.

There is some true basis to the movie but there were so many liberties taken with the truth that there is no need to dig into that (except for some sense of what the war was really like in SE Asia before 1945). So you really can't watch it for a glimpse of prison life in a Japanese camp. Instead think of it as a larger tale of dignity and perseverance. Alec Guinness (as the leading British officer) is wonderful.

The eventual climax is filled with irony and difficulty (and tragedy), but I can't go into that and the meanings here. Let it be said that you need to stick it out if the three hours starts to seem long. It has both a resolution to the plot and to the ethical issues that turn up.

Powerful stuff. In the big picture this will seem "by the book," an epic that is excellent but takes few chances. But it's so well made you need to appreciate it for what it is.
Battle Of The Rule Bound Robots
Spoilers Ahead:

Have no illusions, Nicholson is every bit the robot that Saito was. Notice, how each thinks the other is insane. What would you call a man who almost kills all his fellow officers standing up to Saito and then after conquering him, orders his men to do the very things that he, and all his officers, almost died fighting over? Insane, yes they both are. Saito lives by Bushido just as rigidly as Nicholson does by his code. The humor of the film comes from watching Nicholson agree to all the enemies' demands: officers work, sick work, extra shifts, etc. When one of the more bold subordinates dares to suggest to the fool that he is collaborating by building them a better bridge than they could have ever made themselves, watch the colonel have a baby. How dare he? Why, following the rulebook blindly can only lead to total victory. While Saito appears defeated, he quietly plans his revenge. There was a reason he wants Nicholson to stay behind. Notice, we see him writing his last wishes, preparing to commit seppuku. He intended to shoot Guiness on that bridge when he was prattling away like he was in summer camp. Notice Saito covertly reaching for his gun. It was only Nicholson seeing the wires that saved him momentarily.

When Shears escapes we see the same insanity on display. He has never parachuted before and their rulebook says well no use practicing. When Shears tries to joke with them it is taken as a great jest; imagine, with or without a parachute, jolly good show, pip, pip? Shears makes a great mistake not leaving Hawkins behind when he gets wounded for he ends up killing everybody in the group later, according to the book you know. Yes, as many reviewers, have said the theme is madness. It is deeper than that, Lean wants you to see two fools who have lost themselves so far into the rule book that human lives are destroyed because these nitwits cannot adapt their code to situational contingencies. Saito is going to kill himself because his code was violated. The core of Lean's film is a study of mindless martinets that are oblivious to all the suffering and havoc they cause by following their stupid codes. Nicholson ends up being the best soldier in the Japanese army building them a great bridge to bring supplies to kill his fellow soldiers with.

It is a special kind of insanity. Immersion within a role never to return to reality. I will not lie to you I am not a David Lean fan. This is the only film of his I own. If it says directed by David Lean, get ready to be bored. This film is no exception to the rule. It is still like lightning compared to LAWRENCE OF ARABIA or PASSAGE TO COMA. Those two films are excruciatingly boring especially the latter. I had to take one star off for the boring drifting and rescue of Shears. I was so enthralled by which woman, at the English base, he was dating. Why is this extraneous crap in the film? Lean is infamous for putting scenes in you will yell: why do I give a crap about this? Get back to the movie. It still is his best film; it has much to teach about moron martinets oblivious that any code requires situational evaluation. Watch what happens when you just obey it blindly.
"This is not a game of cricket"
The Bridge on the River Kwai – David Lean's first epic, a genre he would later be associated with more than any other. Previously having made his mark as a director of deep and often psychological dramas, Lean's easy transition into bigger pictures reflects the change that was taking place in the genre itself, moving from the grandiose spectacle of De Mille et al, towards the "intimate" epic of the late 50s and early 60s.

We are also here seeing the development of the war, or rather, the anti-war picture. Prior to this most anti-war or anti-military pictures were small-scale dramas, whereas all the big war films were rousing flag wavers. Bridge on the River Kwai ticks both boxes, and is all the more effective for it. It is an anti-war film which prevents itself from becoming static or preachy, and an action film with a humanist edge.

The problem presented to David Lean, aside from the fact that he had never done anything on this scale before, is that Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman's multi-layered screenplay contains many different strands, with stories told from multiple points of view. Lean fortunately had dealt with such fragmentary narratives before – 1952's The Sound Barrier for example – and here he actually uses the trappings of the epic to keep the narrative focused. This was the first time he had used the cinemascope aspect ratio, but rather than employing it purely to show off the stunning landscapes (although he does do a fair bit of that too, and why not?) he also uses the width of the screen to cram varying elements into the frame. For example, in the scene where Nicholson (Alec Guinness) surveys the railway construction with his fellow officers, the figure of Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) can be seen on a hill in the background. This reminds us of his presence, and subtly keeps his story arc going.

Lean's use of colour is also remarkable. Of course, when your film is set in a PoW camp in the middle of a jungle, you have a fairly limited colour palette anyway, but Lean's crafty choice of camera angle and positioning is calculated to show off different tones at different times. In the opening moments, highly reminiscent of The African Queen (which, like Kwai, was produced by Sam Spiegel) he begins with the greens of the jungle – a fairly cold colour. As we descend through the trees, Lean gradually turns up the heat with those dusty yellows and browns. For the middle section of the film, he cools things off again with more lush greens and even some vibrant shades, before returning to the stark hot tones for the tense finale. Again, this is all very subtle director's work, but these touches do create little shifts in mood and influence the way we view each scene.

Lean's handling of the larger canvas was however not yet quite up to best showing off his actors upon it. That's a shame with such a good cast, although Alec Guinness in one of his earliest non-comedic roles shone through enough to garner an Oscar. William Holden was also deserving of at least a nomination, but didn't get one. To my mind though the best performance of the picture was that of Sessue Hayakawa. Hayakawa was an incredibly powerful silent film actor – check him out in De Mille's The Cheat (1915) – and it's great to see him at the top of his game again here.

Bombarded with awards, Bridge on the River Kwai is typical Oscar-winning fare, particularly for the conflicted political climate of the 1950s. It can be read as a damning critique of war, but also enjoyed as a gripping action film. This broad appeal, the depth of the screenplay and Lean's assured direction made it a hit in its day and allowed its popularity to endure in the generations since.
Great war movie
I heard a film critic once say that there really aren't "war movies"; there are only "anti-war" movies. I'm still not sure what I think of that claim, but having seen - The Bridge on the River Kwai- enough times in the past several years, I think I'm persuaded that it's at least half right. -Kwai-, I believe, is both a "war" and "anti-war" movie, and, in my view, it succeeds admirably at both.

There is almost no element of -Kwai- that is not praise-worthy. David Lean's direction is tight and evocative. The cinematography is great (even though the color seems increasingly drained in film versions that I have seen). The acting is top-notch. I honestly believe that this is Alec Guiness's best performance, and Sessue Hayakawa is also highly sympathetic and believable. William Holden and Jack Hawkins round out the cast nicely.

The musical score is also right on. Simply put, -Kwai- is an excellently constructed film made by people who obviously cared a great deal about it. As a result, the viewer comes to care a great deal about it as well.

Clearly -Kwai- is an anti-war film. There is no glorification here. War is brutal, period. It's brutality is not captured here in terms of gory carnage or senseless battles. Instead, the psychological dimension of brutality comes across clearly. Yet, -Kwai- also shows the resilience of the human spirit as well as its complexity. One is left wondering if participation in World War II not only psychologically brutalized the characters played by Guiness, Hayakawa, and Holden but also if it simultaneously uplifted them. The paradox is striking to me each time I view this film. War can act both as a positive and negative catalyst, and it can do both of these things at the same instant.

So, is -The Bridge on the River Kwai- a war movie or an anti-war movie? I think Lean clearly preferred the latter, but the subject matter and his approach to it may have landed somewhere in between.

Regardless, -Kwai- is a fantastic film experience and is not to be missed. It is, simply put, my very favorite film--bar none.
A great span of a film. rather like the bridge in question, no less
I really feel out of my depth talking about a film with such gargantuan architectural scope as this - no doubt made at a time when budgetary constraints weren't what they are. Impressively the film runs for almost 3 hours, but never seems to really be that long.

It's talent to engross is down to Lean's straightforward storytelling that nonetheless bristles at the edges with tangential narratives. He allows the characters to develop enough to drive the film without being sidetracked. On his side in this respect is the strong contribution of Guiness (although I think his performance is more ambiguous than Lean really needed it to be) and the contrasting but equally committed characters of Holden and Hawkins. I wasn't knocked out by Malcolm Arnold's score, but I sweated in sympathy with the climate, caught without recourse to extraneous symbols to press the issue. The perfect post-prandial picture for a Bank Holiday weekend 6.5/10
A Stretch Too Far
Certainly 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' has a gorgeous and epic sweep. If viewers simply want an entertaining evening, just cue it up and enjoy. For that matter, if you want encouragement, The AFI 100 once placed 'The Bridge' as the 13th best film ever and it has garnered more 4 of 4 and 5 of 5 star reviews than can be counted.

However, The AFI now places the Film 37th and perhaps it is past due for re-vision. Although larger problems develop more slowly, it is a bad sign when there are not one, but two, obvious editing problems before the end of the credits! We are right behind the mounted machine gun on a train. The view is of the at least 2 carloads of wood for fuel and the engine. But now we see the same view with no fuel cars, OR EVEN THE ENGINE. Where did they go?

In the same scene, the train now stops as the rail ends amidst about 15 workers. But now the dramatic score kicks in and there suddenly are several dozen workers on the rail line. In a low-budget film, this could be overlooked. But this is a major production that won an Oscar....for best direction AND editing!

Moving on to the more serious issues, we are told that the British Commander (Alec Guinness) has been ordered to surrender, along with over 100 men and about a dozen officers. No explanation is offered for this. Really? He was just 'ordered to surrender'? According to historical estimates, over 100,000 men died building this railroad. For that matter, although there are ample references to men dying in this prison camp, all the men who have already been imprisoned there, even those in the infirmary, look well-fed, some even in 'beef-cake' condition. Again, this sort of over-sight would be fine for a 2nd rate 'action-genre' flick. It's Bill Holden-he's tanned, buff, and sweaty. Enough said?

The central problem with 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' has at least been occasionally mentioned. Guinness' Commander not only helps the Japanese build a crucial bridge in their supply line, he goes to great lengths to make sure the bridge will hold and be finished on time. This to prove superior British logistics and character. Along the way, he is warned of the possibly treasonous nature of his collaboration, and yet he continues on without a doubt. Nothing is made of this...he just comes across as 'funny that way'.

However, as far as I know, it has not been pointed out that all of his men and his officers would therefore have had to join him in this inexplicable lapse. This despite what appears to be a very democratic officers meeting and over two months time to reflect on the matter. Treason?...well...no problem! What a credulous bunch of guys. And more to the point, what a credulous bunch of reviewers have failed to notice this.

Clearly the original 1957 release of 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' struck a cord. To portray an American, (British in the book), played by William Holden, as cynically detached from the war effort and yet ultimately humane was not new. Several Bogart films prepared audiences for this. But to sum it all up as 'Madness', this before Catch-22 and Mash, was ahead of it's time. This progressive spirit, some great cinematography, and a rousing combination of star-power and studio support make for an entertaining evening. But as a 'Closely Watched Film', it is almost as much train-wreck as classic.
" All that effort and loss of life, madness, simply madness "
When this film appeared, in 1957, it naturally garnered many an award and much personal acclaim for director David Lean. The story itself, originally written by none other than noted French writer Pierre Boulle, who wrote the book, Planet of the Apes, was pleased with the finished project. The story is very loosely based on the actual construction endeavor, called building the Kwai bridge, is herein incorporated to include the British prisoner of war camp, run by the Japanese during World War Two. A culturally traditional, hard-nose commandant, one Col. Saito (internationally acclaimed Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa) has been given the task of constructing a railroad bridge over the river Kwai and is further ordered to have it completed by a given date. Failure is not an option. To his camp arrives an equally stubborn and somewhat arrogant British officer, one Col. Nicholson, (Alec Guinness) with several hundred POW soldiers. Already in the camp is a small detachment of American and allied soldiers who have been assailed and threatened to build the bridge. Among them is, Commander Shears (William Holden) an American POW who manages to escape the hell hole and makes it safely to a British base. Though Saito and Nicholson begin a battle of wits as to who is in command of the camp and its men, Shears is confronted by another British officer, Maj. Warden (Jack Hawkings) who asks him to return to the site of the bridge, to help him blow it up! James Donald plays Maj. Clipton, a British medical officer who watches as the various conflicting officers strive to give logic to insane goals. Every audience who views this movie, has to decided for themselves who among the officers, makes any sense to a mad-cap project. The film should be a testament to the insanity of every war. ****
Madness (okay not original, but, I'm sticking with it)
Okay, my summary is aimed at some of the, quite frankly) ridiculous poor reviews of this movie and in particular the reasons given as to why they have rated this movie so poorly, some of them are quite simply, anti British, one idiot even has a go at it's historical inaccuracies, this by a reviewer from America which has produced more historically inaccurate WW2 films than I can shake a stick at. Oh and the reviewer who said it was the worst film they had ever seen (there is always one) they must have seen a grand total of two in their lifetime, this and Raging Bull and tbh, this is better than Raging Bull in my opinion, some will agree with my view others won't, that's life, but, few will agree with that particular reviewer that this is the worst film ever.

This is a marvellous movie that won it's Oscars justifiably, Alec Guinness is unsurpassable as Nicholson, William Holden is pretty darn good as Shears and Sessue Hayakawa is excellent, if at time illegible as Saito. Not enough credit is given to James Donald as Clipton, who is almost the only voice of sanity among the main protagonists and there is a fabulous supporting cast of British character actors to boot.

My only quibble, and David Lean's too, was the Producer and studio's insistence of having a love interest put in for Shear's character, it was unnecessary and I'm sure if there had been a way to edit it out for VHS/DVD release then Lean may well have done it as it is a pointless distraction. But, at the time a film without a female in it was practically unthinkable, thank god times have changed.

One of the finest War movies, heck no, movies ever made. David Lean rarely put a foot wrong in any of his movies (Ryan's Daughter possibly, but, still a great, but, not fantastic film)
A rather odd story,but entertaining
I thoroughly enjoy this film,though I find it to be a rather odd story.Looking at it realistically,I find it hard to believe that a British commander,or any other commander,would give in to the will of the enemy under any circumstances,but I realize that even films based on true events can never be told 100% accurately,so I have no problem seeing as a great fictionalized account of true events.All the performances were excellent,particularly those of Alec Guiness and Bill Holden.If you are looking for a different type of war story,you have a winner in this one,but I would advise not reading up on how things really happened on The River Kwaiuntil after viewing it.It may make the film a disappointment to you.
My #1 film of all time
I firmly stand with Great Britain in anyway I can. I simply love England and this tells the story of Britain's sheer power, resilience and willingness to continue through harsh conditions. A classic and purely courageous is this blockbuster. Everyone will know who built the bridge and why it was built. This is a great, historical film. It appeals to all audiences. There's no swearing in it. Not to say that swearing is bad in a film but the film can appeal to all/most audiences if the film is rated a "family-like" rating (i.e. PG,G). This film will stand the test of time and the Bridge on the River Kwai will certainly stand the test of time. I rate this film an automatic 10 and it's not to be rented, it is to be bought because it's that dang great!
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