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The Bridge on the River Kwai
Year:
1957
Country:
USA, UK
Genre:
Drama, Adventure, War
IMDB rating:
8.3
Director:
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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Reviews
The madness of war and of the men who wage it
One of my Top Ten films. This film was remarkable in 1957 because it followed a long line of "war movies" after World War 2 which glorified war and the soldiers who fought. This film displays the absurdity of war, and the corresponding absurdities of humanity, and toys with the notion that the two are firmly linked. Many may compare it to the more recent Saving Private Ryan, but the two films have completely different lessons. Bridge is about the absurdity of war and the irrationality of those who fight, whereas Ryan is about the way in which brave men deal with the horrors of war, and the debt owed by all of us for their sacrifice.

This film shares many of the same undercurrents as another one of my personal Top Ten motion pictures, Planet of the Apes (1968). I was surprised to recently learn that both films are based on novels by the same French writer, Pierre Boulle. The screenplay for Planet of the Apes was written by Rod Serling (TV's Twilight Zone) and bears his unique style. If you have not seen either of these films, and like films that make you think, watch Bridge first, then Planet, and note the similarities.
1999-06-26
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.
2006-09-01
Madness...Madness
Bridge on the River Kwai, is a very Intriguing movie centering around a man who refuses to compromise his principles regardless of the situation surrounding him, and the conflict that is caused when his principles become contrary to one another. I enjoyed this movie very much, but would like to have seen Alec Guinness receive a little more of the screen time. The music is also very memorable. I'm sure there are many people who are familiar with the "Colonel Bogey March" who have never even seen the film! The last line of the film sums it up nicely, not just in reference to the main characters but the situation and war in general. 8 out of ten.
2001-07-29
"Kwai" is a thing that hardly exists anymore: a big-budget war film that is observational and cerebral, not triumphalist
"Bridge on the River Kwai" is two big movies in one, and they're both fantastic. Both tell fantastic tales of duty and self-sacrifice through big personalities brought to life by incomparable actors. But there are no idealized heroes here; everyone is as much wrong as they are right, and they are as motivated by pride and stubbornness as much as principles. While a power-tripping General Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) tests Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness)'s commitment to the international rules of war, a crack saboteur (Jack Hawkins) dragoons a deserter (William Holden) into doing a soldier's duty. These stories are ingeniously structured and interwoven so that all threads come to unexpected and compromised conclusions. A character may appear to win his battle, but if so, we may be certain that he will lose his war, and vice versa. Nicholson manfully (as the British might say) makes his point about the treatment of prisoners, and it is stirring to see him submit to severe mistreatment for the sake of an idea. But his real objective is not to uphold the rule of law, but to wound the pride of his foe, Saito, and to establish himself as the most influential— albeit imprisoned—figure in the camp. Once done, he zealously carries out the task Saito always intended for him, and in the fullness of his pride he does it better than he otherwise might have. Meanwhile, the would-be deserter Shears escapes from the prison camp and nearly escapes from the army as well, but the saboteur Warden traps him with the rule book. Nicholson and Shears are each prisoners, and each is used as a means to an end, but their arcs are also inversions of one another. Nicholson faces down his captor, but the determination that brought him that victory is also what leads him to undermine the army he loves. Shears submits to Warden and to the inescapable logic of the army he longs to leave, but in the end his personal sacrifice is a net gain for the cause. Lest the army come out smelling like a rose, victorious and free of compromise, Hawkins plays Warden as a cold man who in a second would sacrifice not only the charming audience surrogate Shears, but a group of female Thai porters as well. His Pyrrhic destruction of Nicholson's magnificent if misguided bridge is the occasion of the film's final word: "Madness!" There is a great deal of madness on display, but it is conveyed through wide-awake plotting and characterization.

David Lean's direction and Jack Hildyard's cinematography convey sweltering heat: the heat of the jungle, of Saito's tent and Nicholson's box, of Shears's beach and Warden's bungalow. But there is also a conscious distance separating audience from action. Whether framing a huge, explosive set piece with dozens of extras or a tense huddle over a table, the cameras are detached observers rather than participants. We see the big picture and think about why people act the way they do in their particular settings. We know them better than they know themselves, and understand each truth before it dawns on them. "Kwai," then, is a thing that hardly exists now: a big-budget war film that is observational and cerebral, not just gritty and melodramatic. Nor is it a simple matter of good versus evil. Though not at all a complicated movie to follow, its moral complexity is such that British audiences (and even some of the British actors) could feel it was anti-British, while Japanese audiences found it anti-Japanese. The movie is critical of all blind zealotry, and no wonder: screenwriters Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson had to go uncredited as a result of a Hollywood blacklist. Despite being an an uncomfortable watch for partisans and flag-wavers of all stripes, "Kwai" was a huge hit with audiences and critics, winning the 1958 box office and heaps of awards. Not everything has held up in the nearly 60 years since. The day-for-night shots, standard at the time, are particularly unconvincing. But the challenging messages and the flawed characters still hit hard and loom large, and the dramatic finale remains one of the great benchmarks of cinema.
2015-01-22
True events - madness...Movie - pure hogwash!
I had an uncle (since deceased) who survived the horrors of the "Bridge". He talked to me (with some persuasion needed, and not a little difficulty on his part) about his experiences, and I've also had the opportunity (and the honour) of talking to other men who had undergone a similar fate. I also met up with POWs of the Japanese who worked on, not just the bridge, but the actual railway, and some on different projects entirely. They all said the same things about this movie. It was an utter travesty, and a diabolical insult not only to the men that died, but also the survivors. And I have to agree with them.

Those people who think this film is a true reflection of what really went on, should seriously consider a brain scan, and/or maybe several visits to a psychiatrist, or three. They could however begin their return to the real world by watching the "History Channel" on digital TV, and start learning the true facts.

I don't intend to list everything that is wrong in (and about) this totally inaccurate movie, I would be writing all day, and probably get steamed up in the process. Besides, other anti-BOTRK reviewers have already done it, and probably better than I could.

As for the actual film itself, I couldn't really watch it as a piece of "art", or even entertainment. I couldn't do anything but see the film for what it really was. Absolute hogwash from start to finish. And to think that at the time of it's release, David Lean (and others) made a hell of a lot of cash out of it, whilst the true heroes of the "bridge" and the "railway of death" still had to live with the hell... and got damn all. I suppose if the true horrors of it had been filmed, instead of the twaddle that was produced, probably no one would have adored the movie as much as most people seem to. It would have been too awful to watch, then no-one would have made any money.

I had a great admiration for Lean as a director, but with regard to BOTRK, I think he should have put his head in his hands, and said to himself, "Did I really make this garbage?"
2006-08-28
Bit of trivia on Bridge over River Kwai
The "Siamese Woman" in the movie actually are members of the Karen Tribe. They are a national minority in Thailand that lives along the Mayanmar(Burma) border as well as in Mayanmar along the Thai border. Karen are a hill tribe that lives mainly along the northern Thai-Mayanmar border. The Karen were promised by the British that in exchange for their help, the British would help the Karen set up an independent state. Sadly, this never happened. Although the Thai/Mayanmar border is somewhat quiet now, every 10-15 years there are attempts by Karen to establish their independent state. This usually results in Karen refugees pouring into Thailand near a town in the north named Mae Sote. This town was also the location of the infamous border crossing in "Beyond Ragoon".
2006-11-28
One of the best films ever made.
Well, we can all read the 8.4 rating. This is a very well liked movie, and for good reasons I imagine. I cannot pretend to speak for all of these positive ratings, but I will say that it deserves better than a 5.0 rating from your reviewer.

I first saw the film as an 11 year old. All I remembered then was the whistling. Seeing it again on video many years after was quite an experience for me. This is the ultimate anti-war film, bar none. It is beautifully done, but it can be painful to watch.

The film offers defining moments for both Guiness and Holden that would follow them for some time afterwards.

If only all of David Lean's films had been this wonderful.
2004-05-24
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+
2015-02-26
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?
2006-06-11
Historically inaccurate but great film.
While this film is loaded with historical inaccuracies it nonetheless remains a great motion picture. Many fine performances and the dual story line make it the picture that it is. However don't view it for historic purposes. The true story of the bridge and railway built by POW's is more brutal and horrifying than what is presented here. The History Channel has an excellent presentation about the actual story. By all means watch this film but don't pass up learning the real story.
2000-05-03
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