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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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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.
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 powerful statement on the madness of war
Why I waste my time watching all of the newest films that come out (of course, not all of them are bad) when there are plenty of tried-and-true classics waiting to be discovered is something I'll never completely understand. It's not even like I have the excuse that I don't know about them, or even don't have the time (because I do). Still, I do like the feeling of seeing something for the first time and THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI delivered everything I expected and more. The story is set during WWII and is about a group of British POWs who arrive at a Japanese labor camp in the Burmese jungle (modern-day Myanmar). They are tasked with building a bridge over the Kwai River, but initially have difficulty because the camp's commander Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) has a clash of wills with their own commander, Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guiness). There is also an American POW, Shears (William Holden) who manages to escape but is "recruited" to lead a team back to the jungle to blow up the bridge.

If there's one thing that David Lean knows how to do, it's craft an epic film and that's exactly what he did here. It did drag a little bit for me in the first hour, but it was an engrossing watch after that point. It almost goes without saying that this film is perfect from a technical standpoint, and some truly great images were captured. The acting was also just as good, especially from the three key players: Alec Guiness, Sessue Hayakawa, and William Holden. Each of them brought their A-game and turned in probably the best performances of their entire careers. One aspect of the story I really liked was the psychological battle of wills that occurs between Saito and Nicholson. Both of them were equal in rank, but also similar in their approach to their own specific situations. One might say that they were cut from the same cloth. William Holden rounds out this trio of characters by portraying a man who is drafted for a difficult task in spite of his desire to just keep on surviving, and in a cruel turn of irony, puts him at cross-purposes with Nicholson who feels like he is doing good work by building the bridge.

Although the film plays it rather close to the vest in terms of message-making, only really making its statement in the final minutes, I thought that it handled the subject of war in a rather balanced and mature way despite taking a stand against it. Nobody is turned into a villain, instead having each major character be an unwitting foil to the other in a way that suggests what is later explicitly stated (by the medic) as madness. It's not perhaps the most original of anti-war statements, but it was portrayed to extremely good effect. Also, the last 20 minutes or so is as riveting and tense as anything that has come out since. Granted, it's not perfect as there is a rather superfluous romance between Shears and his nurse but, studio-mandated love interest aside, this film stands as not only one of the best anti-war films ever made, but one of the best films period.
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.
The battle of will between two monolithic soldiers of war
Director David Lean's earlier war movie, this one taking place in the jungles of Burma. A group of British soldiers have been captured by the Japanese, but their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), instantly clashes with the camp commander, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), who he sees trying to undermine the rules of war by forcing the officers into manual labour alongside their men. Whereas Saito sees Nicholson as a traitor to the rules of war for having surrendered alive. Also, soon after the British have arrived, an American soldier named Shears (William Holden) manages to escape.

Lean takes us on a long journey in this film. The duality of war's conventions and rules being put against the sheer savagery of it is examined through the characters of Nicholson and Saito - and to a lesser degree Shears and the company he keeps. War is horrendous and oftentimes meaningless, but quite often men try to deal with this by forcing artificial rules onto it. Rules, which become so precious to them, that they cannot adapt them or operate outside of them. And in a way this is just as horrendous and meaningless.

This film lives by its grand scope and the talent of its actors. And luckily both of those work very well. Guinness is hands down the most memorable performance and the one that embodies the themes of the movie the best, but the rest of the cast is also very good. The film is also shot beautifully, with some great scenes and sets included.

The Bridge on the River Kwai doesn't quite live up to the grandeur of Lawrence of Arabia, but it is still a fine piece of war cinema and well worth a watch for all interested.
David Lean's first Best Director Oscar for this Best Picture Winner with a whistle
A long film about "keeping a stiff upper lip", following orders, and leadership earned David Lean his first Best Director Oscar (though Howard Hawks was originally asked to direct it). Alec Guinness received his only Best Actor Oscar; Sessue Hayakawa his only nomination. This Academy Award winning Best Picture also won for Writing, Music, Editing, and Cinematography. Added to the National Film Registry in 1997. #13 on AFI's 100 Greatest Movies list; #58 on AFI's 100 Most Heart-Pounding Movies list. #14 on AFI's 100 Most Inspiring Movies list.

Guinness is the British Officer in charge of the P.O.W.s (including James Donald, among others) being held in a Japanese camp during World War II; Holden is an American among the prisoners who's lied about being an officer for the benefits therein, but escapes shortly after the captured British 'battalion' arrives. The ranking Japanese officer (Hayakawa) tries to force all the prisoners to build a train bridge in the jungle, but loses a "battle of wills" to Guinness, who insists that officers don't have to labor per the Geneva Convention.

However, to keep his men's spirits up, Guinness agrees to build the bridge as long as he and his officers are put in charge. Faced with death if he doesn't meet the deadline for completion, Hayakawa acquiesces and subsequently "loses face". Safely in Ceylon, Holden is "found out" by a British Commando unit led by Jack Hawkins's character, and is more or less forced to join the team that plans to blow up the bridge before it can be used to assist the enemy.
Do yourself a favor...

Watch the REAL story of the Bridge on the River Kwai (it airs frequently on the History Channel) and listen to the accounts of the men who survived. THEN watch this piece of fiction before you comment on how it portrays the blah blah of war, and the madness of blah blah. BOTRK is fiction, nothing more. The fact that people have praised the film for its realism and frank depiction of war is a great dishonor to the people who were beaten, starved, tortured and even eaten in Japanese prison camps. Try to imagine, if you will, a film about Auschwitz where the concentration camp prisoners are all well fed, not a single walking skeleton in sight, as they whistle while they work. No mention of ovens, gas chambers or horrible 'medical' experiments. Pretty offensive, isn't it? Now try to imagine having lived through an ordeal such as that, and knowing that IMBD users have voted that film into the top 250. Anybody who feels they owe any debt of gratitude to the old men who gave their lives and minds for our freedom, please vote '1' for this film. Get it into the *other* top 150, right up there with Santa With Muscles and Manos, the Hands of Fate.
A classic war film
In Japanese prisoner of war camp in Burma a camp a newly arrived group of British prisoners are told that they are to construct a bridge over the River Kwai. Their CO, Lt Col Nicholson, informs the camp commandant, Colonel Saito, that as per the Geneva Convention he and his officers will not work. Saito orders the officers placed in a punishment cell while Nicholson is put in an iron 'hot box'. While they are being punished the man work on the bridge but progress is very slow. There is also an escape attempt by American prisoner Commander Shears and two British prisoners; the latter are shot and killed and it looks as though Shears is dead too after being shot at and falling into the river. As the progress of the bridge falls further and further behind schedule Saito talks to Nicholson; the latter tells him that his men would do a better job if led by their own officers… soon he has effectively taken over the project; moving the bridge to a better location, coming up with a better design and the moral of the men is improving… but in the process is he guilty of helping the enemy.

Shears survives the fall into the river, and with the help of local villagers recovers and is eventually rescued and taken to a hospital in Ceylon. Here he is recruited, somewhat against his will, by Major Warden who is planning to lead a small group into the jungle to destroy the bridge.

This film is rightly considered a classic; its cast doing a great job telling an interesting story. Alec Guinness is on top form as Col Nicholson as he gradually changes from an officer who bravely stands up to his captors to somebody who could be considered to be aiding the enemy; his motives are the moral and wellbeing of his men but as completion of the bridge nears he is clearly proud of the work they have done. William Holden impresses as Shears, a character who provides some of the films few lighter moments. Jack Hawkins is also on good form as Major Warden.

This can be considered a film of two halves; the first concerning what is going on in the camp with Nicolson risking all to stand up to the Japanese and the second which largely follows the planning and execution of the raid against the bridge with occasional returns to the camp where we see Nicholson accidentally slipping into collaboration. There are of course some problems; most notably the character of Nicholson; it is unlikely that a senior British officer would have behaved the way he did… the officer he is loosely based on certainly didn't. This isn't an action packed film but it is certainly tense and never boring. What action there is, is impressive. Overall I'd definitely recommend this classic film… I'd also recommend reading a little about the actual events which inspired this work of fiction.
one of the quintessential POW/WW2 movies, with unforgettable characterizations
What does it mean to be a solider versus a prisoner? How about the meaning of a Colonel's duty, pride, and everything in a male-centric view in times of war? And really, what everything seems to come down to- in the case of The Bridge on the River Kwai- is that priorities end up being eschewed with moral ambiguity and heroism in the oddest circumstances. David's Lean's masterpiece takes a compelling look at men who wont give in, and when they do they somehow lose a piece of themselves in the process- a big part really depending on point of view &/or country- and how being ultra-tough and stubborn and headstrong may get you killed for the wrong reasons. Colonel Nicholson (Sir Alec Guiness in a very well deserved Oscar winning turn) and Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa, who is actually a really great actor as well) both don't want to give in when Nicholson arrives at Saito's camp, and refuses adamantly to work alongside the fellow soldiers on the bridge- he sees it's against the Geneva conventions, and makes it a point of principle not to do it. He's put away for a while, but then finally Saito can't take the stubbornness any more- as he knows he's been evenly matched perhaps- and has no choice (ala seppuku if not achieved) but to let him direct the building of the bridge. But what this turns into for Nicholson, as a further elongation of the principle of the matter for his men and the situation, into a really mad situation.

So in this there is also the other main section of the story, where the idea of what it is to have principles starts to pick up via 'Major' Shears (William Holden, the conventional 'star' who grows more interesting in the second half). He's not really a major, but he's done in a quasi-cowardly quasi-pragmatic move to take a major's place when taken prisoner in the camp. When he achieves escape, however, he's caught between a rock and a hard place when he has to go with Major Warden (also a headstrong, 'war is a game' character played by Jack Hawkins), otherwise he'll be dishonorably discharged as an impersonator, already with a criminal record. There's a pivotal scene when he and Warden are on their way to the bridge, which undercuts the whole bond between Nicholson and Saito, when Warden wants to be left for dead after injuring his foot. Does it make more sense to hold one's own sense of duty to a mission, or to one's self, or not? What becomes Shears's gain- a sense of obligation as opposed to being a 'have no choice' scenario- becomes Nicholson's loss. The bridge to Nicholson becomes something abstracted from what is really going on, and his original ideal of not giving in to being a prisoner becomes muddled, leading up to that incredibly tense, maddening climax where his final words punctuate it all: "what have I done?"

But it's not all completely a serious endeavor, and what's so brilliant about Lean's approach to Boulle's material is that it's also a grand old entertainment, where the characters are rich and fully engrossing (albeit with Shears's/Holden given an obligatory "I'm the star" scene with a blond on a beach that seems from a different movie), and with a scope and direction that is just as ambitious in its own right as Lawrence of Arabia. Lean occasionally lets some visual metaphors in that do work very well (the huge flock of birds flying around, and the bridge itself being a metaphor in itself of colonial interests). But for the most part he lets the atmosphere of a war-time adventure work by itself, with the cinematography and editing sometimes working in ultra-suspenseful ways (particularly with the setting up of the wires around the bridge, and 'go time'), and in a traditional way of solid storytelling. He lets the themes work through the characters, which gives the actors a lot more to work with than with pushing it down the viewer's throat. There's a sense that the boundaries of the typical POW/war movie, particularly from a British viewpoint, are stretched and expanded, questioning the means of the main characters while still showing them, in spurts, to have great merit.

And if for nothing else, the acting's really what stands out, especially in the subtle notes and turns that seem over-the-top like with Hayakawa but are really nuanced too (he, especially, has a crux to deal with in suddenly losing his own sense of duty to country as a Brit takes over his job essentially). Guiness, meanwhile, gives something extraordinary in practically every scene, when he's either reserved or having to finally break down and show emotion (it's not the first bridge he's over-seen, hence the extra amount of pride that it'll be a "British-built" bridge). As Shears notes, there's something dangerous to a man like Nicholson who wont give in, and Guiness undercuts this dangerous quality with the elegance that he's perfect at, and then lets it become full-circle when he meets his all-too-ironic end. Holden, by the way, is also quite good here, if sort of given the almost thankless role of the star who's typically cocky, and only when finally on the mission is there some opening up in relation to Hawkins's Warden; his speech to Warden is especially engrossing.

Featuring the catchiest of all whistling in the movies, and a dynamite cast and graceful and distinctively superlative directorial vision, this is one of those rare films about war where character takes precedence over action (compared to the common war movies of the period, it's only sporadic and more suggestive in the violence), not to mention in big-budget splendor, and ends up truly memorable.
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.

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