After settling his differences with a Japanese PoW camp commander, a British colonel co-operates to oversee his men's construction of a railway bridge for their captors - while oblivious to a plan by the Allies to destroy it.
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. Written by
When Geoffrey Horne came to Ceylon he was amazed by the entire production. One of the most memorable details for him was his living accommodation in a tin shack shared with the film's English technical advisor, Major General L.E.M. Perowne. The military man wore a monocle and read letters by his wife about the flowers in their garden back in England. See more »
It wouldn't have been necessary for Joyce, the Canadian, to go to the UK to enlist to fight against the Japanese, as he says when being interviewed to join the commando group going back to the Kwai. Canada joined the war only ten days after war was declared by the British, and Joyce could easily have enlisted at home in Montreal. However, Joyce may have wished to serve in an elite commando unit such as the SAS, which Canada lacked, or to serve in the Pacific, which, due to Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King's 'limited liability' policies, Canada's involvement in the Pacific was limited to the Battle of Hong Kong in 1941 and the Aluetian Islands in 1942. See more »
[looks at the completed bridge]
I've been thinking. Tomorrow it will be 28 years to the day that I've been in the service. 28 years in peace and war. I don't suppose I've been at home more than 10 months in all that time. Still, it's been a good life. I loved India. I wouldn't have had it any other way. But there are times when suddenly you realize you're nearer the end than the beginning. And you wonder, you ask yourself, what the sum total of your life represents. What difference your being ...
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First off, what is so amazing about this film is that, for the time that it was made, how modern it looks. David Lean certainly had the eye of any modern director and managed to direct a visual masterpiece at a time when many films were still being shot in black and white.
William Holden gives one of his finest performances as a cynic of warfare , citing for us the insanity and absurdity that the combatants often convey. And he hates the war, but he cannot avoid been thrown back into it again and again. We wish he could stay on the beach with his nurse lover, but he is a man destined for a tragic doom for his country, whether he wants to or not.
Alec Guiness also delivers a fine performance as a bold general whose own pride is, at the same time, his most noble quality as well as his greatest fault. He is uncompromising, yet when the Japanese submit to his demands, he begins overseeing the construction of the bridge with great esteem. Eventually, for him, the bridge becomes a manifestation of his belief of the superiority of the British Army, which he follows like a religion. And in putting all his pride into this bridge, he loses sight of even the British's own true agenda. Truly, his sense of overwhelming honor is, at the same time, his downfall in a descent to a loss of morality, and a sense of good and evil.
And yes, by the end of this film, we learn a great lesson of the horrors of war. Not only does it take the lives of many good men, but the utter failure and despair that accompany it make it an unbearable existence. And this message has only recently been re-evaluated with the also-brilliant masterpiece "Saving Private Ryan." But, keep in mind that it took forty years to regain the power that this film inspired so long ago.
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