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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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Nothing less than a masterpiece...
About as Oscar-worthy as any film made in the '50s is David Lean's gripping BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. Based loosely on a real-life incident, it tells the story of an imprisoned British officer (Alec Guinness) who loses sight of his mission when forced to build a bridge for the Japanese that will enable the enemy to carry supplies by train through the jungle during World War II. Guinness plays the crisp British officer to perfection, brilliant in all of his scenes but especially in his confrontations with Sessue Hayakawa. William Holden has a pivotal role as one of the prisoners who escapes and enjoys his freedom for awhile before being asked to return with a small squadron to destroy the bridge. Jack Hawkins and Geoffrey Horne have colorful roles too and all are superb under David Lean's direction.

The jungle settings filmed in Ceylon add the necessary realism to the project and there is never a suspension of interest although the story runs well over two-and-a-half hours. The film builds to a tense and magnificent climax with an ending that seems to be deliberately ambiguous and thought provoking. Well worth watching, especially if shown in the restored letterbox version now being shown on TCM.

Some of the best lines go to William Holden and he makes the most of a complex role--a mixture of cynicism and heroism in a character that ranks with his best anti-hero roles in films of the '50s. He brings as much conviction to his role as Alec Guinness does and deserved a Best Actor nomination that he did not get.

Wanted it to end 10 minutes into the film
This is a film about a group of British prisoners of war that must build a bridge over the river Kwai. The commanding British officer decides to build a better bridge along with the Americans wants to blow up the bridge. For me the film story never started, and I feel the film should have been at least an hour or more shorter. The speed is really slow all the time, spending a lot of times on scenes that gives nothing to the story or me as a viewer. All of the night scenes screams of being day-for- night, and with the film stock chosen with a big contrast it doesn't work. Also the music several times seems misplaced and all of the gunfights are really bad. I know this film is almost 60 years old, but as a viewer in 2016 it just doesn't work anymore.
Bridge On the River Mae Klong
This film represents all that is wrong with Hollywood productions. I have seen this film on several occasions and found it to make good viewing. That was until I learned the true story that is so cleverly concealed behind Hollywood's plastic exterior.

Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Toosey (renamed Colonel Nickleson in the film) was a magnificent man, one of the best to serve under the British army. Nickleson, in the film, is portrayed as a mad man, obsessed with his mens mighty accomplishment. How anyone can 'bag' a man of such valor is beside me...

To Hollywood: If you want this film done right, hard and direct to the truth, let the English make it, after all, it was their war, not yours.

Unrelated facts: WWII is not America's war, mainly because they weren't there for the majority of it. Only when they were attacked did they provide assistance. Where were they in Africa, Eastern Europe or England itself when is was being torn down?
Unrealistic Hollywood style cartoon
I have a deep admiration for David Lean as the director who pushed the boundaries of film making far beyond, and set the marker not only in technical aspects of the craft, but often in atmosphere and feel of the film. His movies are beautiful to watch and that's why sometimes we can't see how bad the cake tastes from all the icing and decorations. "The Bridge on the River Kwai" is like that, sticky sweet but ultimately nauseating. Every time a movie parts from reality we observe a genre, and the intention of film maker, along with symbolism it's trying to project. War movies in particular have to be true to the bone (unless they're parodies) because they represent the bestiality of mankind, and duality of man. This film tried to portray those essential elements but fell into Hollywood blender and came out silly and unrealistic.

First and foremost, anybody who even remotely knows anything about Japanese tradition, military culture social and military codes and character of Japanese man, can only laugh at pitiful Colonel Saito who is not only without any remorselessness, but looks like a powerless teacher on the first day in a new school, being played like a flute by honorable Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness),who not only survives days, locked in a tin box in tropical heat and humidity, but wins every concession for his troops he can think of, making the poor Colonel Saito cry at the end of one of his parades of will?!? Japanese soldiers and camp commanders were "very well known" for their compassion, sensitivity and sensibility which was expressed many times during the war, especially in Wake Island massacre, Manila massacre and Bataan Death March, so even the hint of Colonel Nicholson's behavior would result in quick decapitation. William Holden with his tanned biceps glowing in the sun is a true picture of starved Japanese prisoner, and his escape, along with return through the jungle in 50's style loafers (observe the scene where he and his band of sturdy man are being washed by Burmese women prior to attacking the bridge), is down right preposterous. Building a bridge as a monument to his ego is possible way of expression for "open only in a case of war" type of character Col. Nicholson apparently is, but convincing other prisoners to join in that venture simply on "let's show 'em" premise, in those times and circumstances is not likely to happen. To complete the three-ring circus, Japanese soldiers show solidarity and play along, so at the end you're not sure what did you just see. The battle of wills, winner makes history film, anti-war film, or simply a Hollywood action movie/spectacle without any plausibility or logic? Judge for yourself. Oh, and 5 stars are only for cinematography and Holden's loafers.
A Flawless Piece of Cinema History!
The Bridge on River Kwai is another example of great filmmaking from the Golden Age of Cinema. I shouldn't be surprised with the pedigree of the cast and that the director is the renowned David Lean. The film may approach three hours, but it a work of legacy and one of the greatest war films ever made. This film features underlying drama and some spectacular battle scenes towards the end. Also the ruthless treatment of the POW camp towards the British colonel was hard to watch, but it was fitting towards how the Axis powers actually treated the Allies.

David Lean's film is about a British colonel named Nicholson who he and his men were captured by the Japanese. After enduring endless amounts of torture, Nicholson is able to convince the commander of the camp, Saito to allow him to help design the bridge they are tasked to building. However, the Allies hatch a plot, whom Nicholson is completely oblivious of, to destroy the bridge.

If you want fine acting, you have come to the right place. Alec Guinness truly absorbs himself into the role of Nicholson and we see his acting ability fly high as Nicholson endures Japanese brutality to convince them to do what he wants. Sessue Hayakawa as Saito was indeed very good in his role as we see personal greed overcome his character. William Holden was excellent and does not hold back as the sarcastic American soldier, Shears. We also get a strong performance from Jack Hawkins as Major Warden, the man who knows his explosives.

Overall, The Bridge on River Kwai is probably one of the top ten films ever made. Any young person should view this film, as this epic holds up very well. It may be historical fiction, but it does have its place in history. This is the kind of film David Lean knows how to make, just like his other films like Lawrence of Arabia. Those who watch this film for the first time will be rewarded with such rich cinema Everything about the film: the acting, directing, cinematography, score, and plot just screams perfection. One of the greatest war films ever made.

My Grade: A+
American Versus British Values
This movie is about a clash of cultures, partly between East and West, the Orient and the Occident, but even more so between America and Great Britain, between American cynicism, individualism, and egalitarianism on the one hand, and idealistic, class-conscious British collectivism on the other.

Shears is the sole American in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during World War II, while the rest of the prisoners are British. This underscores his individualism. It turns out later that he is really an enlisted man posing as an officer, showing his contempt for class distinctions. He thought being an officer would mean that he would not have to work as hard as a prisoner. Since that did not go as planned, he bribes the guards to give him light duty. And he regularly ridicules the British dedication to the war effort.

The British on the other hand regard the distinction between officers and enlisted men as sacrosanct. This is especially embodied in commanding officer Colonel Nicholson, who balks when he finds out, as did Shears, that the Japanese camp commander, Colonel Saito, requires officers to work right alongside the enlisted men. He refuses to order his men to work and suffers several days of harsh punishment as a result. Saito eventually has to relent and let the British officers merely supervise the work of enlisted men, because he needs to get the title bridge built.

But then, half-way through the movie, after Shears has escaped and winds up in a British hospital, everything goes into reverse. Major Warden, a British officer, coerces Shears into going back to sabotage the railroad bridge in the camp he escaped from, which will allow Shears to avoid being prosecuted for impersonating an officer. The other member of the team will be Lieutenant Joyce, so Warden says he will make Shears a major for the purpose of the mission, so that the rigid distinction between officers and enlisted men will not have to be observed.

Meanwhile, back in the jungle, Nicholson is anxious to get the bridge built, and to build it as an example of British engineering excellence. The other officers are in favor of surreptitiously delaying the building of the bridge and making sure that it is inferior, so as to minimize their assistance to the enemy, but Nicholson thinks that building a bridge that will redound to British glory for hundreds of years is more important than its effect on the war. Furthermore, when he realizes that they are behind schedule, he violates the very code he fought for, and gets the officers to work alongside the enlisted men. He even asks men in the camp hospital to get out of their beds and pitch in.

In spite of himself, Shears ends up being the officer in charge of the mission, sacrificing himself in order to destroy the bridge, while Nicholson dies realizing the enormity of what he has done.
Historical Accuracy is Not Relevant Here
I write this review as a response to another review here at (the first review listed, as of 6/9/2017, titled "Good film, but a travesty of history," written by someone with the screen name "gcaplan").

The review by gcaplan states as follows: "I am normally an admirer of David Lean. But it is difficult to understand why he chose to base this film on a real event at the River Kwai, as it grossly misrepresents the real 'Colonel Nicholson' and caused considerable distress to both him and the River Kwai veterans. The Colonel Nicholson character is based on the allied camp commander, Lieutenant Colonel Philip Toosey, who was a remarkable officer by any standards."

I have the greatest respect for the sacrifices of the warriors of World War II. I also have the greatest respect for historical facts. I would urge upon reviewer "gcaplan" the following thought: making a great Hollywood film that will sell tickets to millions of people is not necessarily connected to historical accuracy. David Lean did NOT consider himself bound by historical fact as he made this film. He considered himself bound by the need to deliver a great and inspiring movie-going experience to movie-goers of the world. In my opinion, this is the ONLY criteria a filmmaker should adhere to, unless he/she is making a documentary film.

History, generally speaking, is too squishy, too-spread-out, too ambiguous, too complex, too lacking in the elements of drama to produce a good two- or three-hour film. Shakespeare knew this. David Lean knew this. If you're spending a fortune making a two- or three-hour production that intends to appeal to lots of people, and you're dealing with history, you've got to compress, change, simplify, enhance, move things around. Above all you've got to create drama and conflict. Otherwise you're just doing a vanity project. If you've got millions of dollars to spend on a vanity project, fine, do what you want, but if you want a return on your investment, as most filmmakers do, you'd better create a great story with dramatic conflict.

Lean's creation of the Col. Nicholson of "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (with a lot of help from Alec Guinness, needless to say) was a key step toward generating dramatic conflict in the script and thus creating a great film. Minus this depiction of Nicholson we have a lesser film - in fact, we probably have a nothing film that few people pay money to see.

I am skeptical of the assertion by gcaplan that the film has caused "considerable distress" to the brave and strong survivors of this prison hell. I would like to see substantive evidence for this assertion in the form of a specific citation. This assertion is the crux of gcaplan's review; I want evidence. I suggest the possibility that the film has caused "considerable distress' to SOME of the survivors of this hell, and has been loved by others, who recognize that, minus Lean's monumental effort to create dramatic tension, virtually no one would have ever heard of the movie, nor of them--and surely no one in the younger generation. As it is, everyone who loves great movies has heard of these men and regards them as great.

David Lean creates a wonderful conflict-driven story in "The Bridge on the River Kwai." It is a true depiction of what might happen to men at war. It is NOT true in terms of actual facts and makes no pretensions in that regard. I say to gcaplan, and the people who agree with him, come down here and live in the real world. Stop living in your rareified air of "Oh, dear me, the movie is so WRONG, it doesn't show the REAL facts." Down here in the real world, millions of people seek entertainment. They got it from this film. The film would have died on the vine had it failed to provide strong entertainment. It's possibly the best World War II film; it has nothing to do with the actual facts; and I say to David Lean, WTG. Well done, to have the guts and talent to take a less-than-cinematic story, tweak it, massage it, re-write it and make a great cinematic story.

Down here in the real world, millions of people, watching this film, came to a new level of appreciation for the sacrifice of prisoners in World War II. I am one of them. I salute the prisoners of World War II and every man and woman who fought for liberty in the war. I also salute David Lean, the finest filmmaker of our time, who created a movie that tens of millions of people have seen and loved.

The facts of the great bridge can be found by anyone who cares to do a bit of looking. I urge them to look. Meanwhile I recognize that, down here in the real world, few people have the historical curiosity to do so. Is there a single 17-year-old in the world today with the historical curiosity to dig out the facts of the great bridge? I rather doubt it. Maybe a few. Are there MANY 17-year-olds who have watched "The Bridge on the River Kwai" in a state of great excitement and fallen in love with its heroes and perhaps begun life-long reading about the war? I am inclined to say "yes."

The actual facts of the great bridge will not be found in this film. The drama of a great fictional story - a story of pain, sacrifice, and inspiring courage - can be found in this film.
One of the best
British officer goes daft in a sweat box, builds a bridge, and finally falls down on the job.

A masterpiece, but a difficult movie. The point of the movie is the tangled nature of duty, ethics and morality, but it always seemed to me that they get even more tangled up than the movie intended. Just what is good and evil, at the end? I'm darned if I know. The movie seems to indicate self-discoveries by both the British and Japanese commanding officers, and yet the end of the movie makes a hollow mockery of those discoveries, and pretty much everything else beyond killing and destruction. Even the final destruction of the bridge is mere accident. It's just about the bleakest picture painted by any movie.

I always found the soundtrack a bit overblown, to tell the truth, and a little distracting. Especially during the hike of the demo team to the bridge. The obligatory love interest is tacked-on and never feels like anything more than the obligatory love interest.

Otherwise, the movie is engrossing, the performances are riveting, the scenes are awe-inspiring, and the ending is shattering. If, as I said before, difficult. At 161 minutes, this is a very long movie, and I am very rarely willing to grant that any movie should be longer than about 100 minutes. In this case, every one of those 161 minutes are worthwhile. (OK maybe a few minutes could have been trimmed from the hike, and the lovey-dovey stuff.) It's a shame we'll never see the likes of Guinness again. (I say that not because a Guinness could never be born again, but because I can't believe we'll ever see movies that can provide these kinds of roles again.) His performance when he emerges from the sweat box and marches to the commanding Japanese officer's hut is alone enough to put him into the highest rank of acting. Sessue Hayakawa was also brilliant but overshadowed. Holden was good but frankly he looked a bit hackneyed when considered against the rest of the cast. To be fair, he was given the pontificating speeches, and it's hard not to look hackneyed when you're pontificating.
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 ****
A must see with an interesting plot and character development.
The Bridge on the River Kwai is an excellent movie and definitely one of the best of it's time. Yes, it's another world war 2 story, however, it's completely different from all the rest and shows us some of the events that took place elsewhere during this time of war.

As many of you probably know, this movie is based on real life events. In many ways, I believe that the message being portrayed throughout the film shows us the "other" harsh realities of war, not just soldiers dying in battle, but soldiers fighting to survive under harsh conditions, the pride of a captain who stands by his code, the pride of a Japanese captain and overall how both parties realise that war is what it is and we have to make the best out of each situation to survive.

When I first decided to see this movie, I thought it was going to be very mediocre and plain. It was not. On several occasions they managed to keep the plot interesting and create new character developments from both the leading actors as well as the supporting actors that made the story enjoyable to watch. And on a final note, you can really tell that they tried to put a lot of detail and "special effects" into their shots which is impressive for the time.

Don't miss out on this one.
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