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Drama, Adventure, War
IMDB rating:
David Lean


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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)
The Bridge on the River Kwai 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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" 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. ****
from British victory to Colbert's interview with Branson
David Lean's epic about the construction of a bridge by POWs won him his first Oscar. I understand that much of what the movie depicts is fictional, but it's among the most impressive fiction. The ambient heat in the Burmese setting is nothing compared to the tension between the POWs and the captors. As Sessue Hayakawa's colonel proclaims, the rules don't apply in wartime.

Alec Guinness - still several years away from playing a certain Jedi mentor - is particularly impressive as the British officer. His refusal to let the Japanese break him reminds me of Louis Zamperini's will to survive and maintain his dignity in the recent "Unbroken". This office is a true role model for the men under his command. Guinness won a well deserved Oscar for his performance.

All in all, a movie that everyone should see. I also recommend "The Railway Man", starring Colin Firth as a former POW who tries to find his former captor many years later.

As a final note, when Stephen Colbert was getting ready to interview Richard Branson on "The Colbert Report", he advertised it with this movie's climax. It was the greatest kind of madness.
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.
Colonel Bogey's Barmy Army.
OK! Lets get it out there right away, for historical facts of the real Bridge on the River Kwai story, one should research elsewhere, this film is a fictionalised account of the said events. Sadly there are those out there who simply refuse to judge this purely as a piece of cinematic art - and cinematic art it is.

A squad of British soldiers are held in a Japanese POW camp in the Burmese jungle. The respective Japanese and British leaders clash but an understanding is finally reached to build a bridge across the River Kwai. The importance of which could prove crucial in more ways than one...

It won 7 Academy Awards and 4 BAFTAS, and it was the film that saw the great David Lean enter his epic period. And what a start it is. Kwai is a masterful piece of cinema, it has a magnificently intelligent and complex screenplay - with tough edged dialogue in the script, is bursting at the seams with high quality performances, and beautifully photographed (filmed in Ceylon). Thematically it's about the folly and psychological madness of war, which in turn is ensconced in sub - plots of genuine worth. It all builds to a tremendous finale, where everything we have witnessed is realised with a deftness of talent from across the board. 10/10
makes you think... timeless classic!
This is not your typical movie. The Bridge On the River Kwai is in that exclusive class of movies which makes you think.

Throughout the movie, you are left wondering who to root for. Without spoiling too much, even at the very end, it is hard to decide who was right and who was wrong. It makes for a very different movie experience.

The only negative this movie has is its length. This movie is VERY long, but with such a great story, it is much more bearable. Other than that, there is nothing else bad to say about this movie.

All in all, this movie is a must see. Between the great acting and interesting story, there is something here for everyone.
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.
Episode II
Spoilers herein.

Except for the historical interest as preparation for "Lawrence," this film deserves to be on few best lists in my opinion. It has some fine cinematography (mostly experimental) but otherwise no center. The rewritten Japanese history bothered me. Seen `Paradise Road'? So I invent my own cinematic pleasure.

I write this a couple weeks after the invasion of `Star Wars, Episode II.' Here is where we find out about how the storm troopers were made and we see the young Obi-Wan Kenobi. We see two factions at war, each leader sticking to their principles. An evil force and barbarism drive the plot. Lean's film is much better than Lucas' and serves the same purpose. Precisely while Americans were making this film, Kurosawa in Japan was making `Kakushi Toride no San Akunin' (`Hidden Fortress') from which Lucas stole much of `Star Wars' most famously including the storm trooper costumes. Here, in `Bridge,' we see the young Obiwan in his first important mission as a Jedi actor. (He would be knighted the next year in large part for this role.) `Star Wars' ended up being the bridge between `Bridge' and `Fortress.'

Or alternatively, you could see this as Paul McCartney did, as one of the inspirations for `Sgt. Pepper.' (Just the idea for the band of four led by the joker Billy Shears, mixed with the whistle march, destroying things and conceptions that other parts of British society were building -- or at least maintaining through doggedness.) This is where the line `All you need is love' comes from as well. (And Ono?)

Or you can see this as David Lean's apprenticeship in Cinemascope. The acting is rather stilted, especially with Holden. In fact everyone but the medical officer was living in a prior world of `Great Expectations' acting -- stagy readings of lines. But Lean came through it well enough to next make essentially the same picture but in the desert. That had a better score, superb superb editing, and an inspired actor. This film is merely competent. But you can see him testing out the epic in this new medium, especially the framing of a man's emotion in a long shot.

Or -- here's another take. War films are a primary means by which a nation redefines itserf. And there's major change evident here. The Japanese committed the worst barbarisms of the century in this time and place, but since the Cold War was gearing up and the US needed the Japanese as a buffer against the Russians, here they are depicted mildly, no less intensely than the British and somewhat comically. Here we have the first appearance of the Brando type of American, not as a rebel but as the prototypical American: no guff, ladies' man; somewhat dishonest but only on minor matters; inventive; and brave when the chips are down. (See `Great Escape' for the next step in this evolution.)

At this very same time (in a picture also advised by Washington) Brando himself was in Japan making `Sayonara' where he as a war hero falls in love with a Japanese girl. We needed to rewrite history and make friends.

And Siamese peasant girls from this period with bras and makeup? See, that's indicative of the inherent "let's pretend" stance of this purportedly realistic world.
The greatest Anti-War, no, the greatest War movie ever, bar none!
Although I heard several times the quality of The Bridge on the River Kwai, no review can prepare you for the sheer jaw-dropping, absolute perfection that this movie is.

The movie, set in World War II, begins with a pan down to a batallion of British soldiers whistling a very recognizable tune, and marching in step into a Japanese POW camp in the jungles of modern-day Burma. The camp is run by Colonel Saito, played by Sessue Hayakowa, a part-time artist and wine connoisseur, and full-time prison warden and sadist. Colonel Saito tells his captives, members of the Royal Armed Corps of Engineers, that they must build a rail bridge over the Kwai River, or be executed "without honor". He also orders the officers of the corps, led by Colonel Nicholson, played by Sir Alec Guiness, to assist in the manual labor. Colonel Nicholson resists, citing a book of the rules of warfare written by the League of Nations forbiding captured officers to serve manual labor. In honorable protest, they stand at full attention in a hunger strike for a full 24 hours until Colonel Saito relents.

Colonel Nicholson goes to the construction site and realizes that the bridge should be built on more solid ground further downstream. He convinces Colonel Saito that they should build in another site. If his men are being forced to work, Nicholson argues, they will work to build the best possible construction. During the second construction, an American soldier Shears escapes the camp and ends up in Ceylon, a British Territory at the time. His British liberators use him and his knowledge of the project, and they assemble a small team to go back to the bridge to destroy it.

And therein lies the conflict. In most movies, there is a person or group that you can "root" for without conviction, like the Americans in Saving Private Ryan. If you root for Shears and his team, they are destroying something that their countrymen slaved hard labor to build. Rooting for Nicholson means you are upholding the Japanese in their goal of expansion. Even Saito, although very brutal, is honorable. He fights and does what he does for his country, not his own glory. Honor is usually a virtue, but here it is a fatal flaw. The pointlessness of war becomes completely apparent. Pardon the cliche, but there are no winners in this movie, or in war, just degrees of losing. Two points drive this home. The first is Shears's exclaimation "'re all worrying about the proper way to die, when you should be worrying about the proper way to live!" The second is after the bridge is completed, Colonel Nicholson gives a final lookover and sets a placard on the bridge that states that although it is under a Japanese flag, it was build by the hard work of the Royal Armed Corps of Engineers. The final end sequence is totally gripping, and one that you will never forget.

This movie won 7 Oscars, and it deserved every one. Every element, the plot, acting, characterization, editing, is stunning. The cinematography of the jungle and the bridge itself is among the best ever, and is a real treat in widescreen. It's 2:45 running time will amaze you when you realize it after you are over, because it doesn't seem the least bit overlong. Even the visual effects do not seem dated, and it was made over 40 years ago. I don't give out 10's very often, but this movie more than earns it. There are absolutely no flaws in this movie, and is director David Lean's (Dr. Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia) masterpiece and is truly timeless. A perfect movie that marries blockbuster entertainment with cinematic artistry, this should not be missed. And you'll be whistling that tune for days after seeing it.
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 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.
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