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
Charles Laughton was considered for the part of Nicholson but David Lean knew that the sizable Laughton would have had to lose a lot of weight in order to be taken seriously as a POW. 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 »
Of all war movies this is the one with the best idea behind it. Think how easy it is to make a bad war movie. A group of people must blow up a bridge, and this is the story of their quest ... Actually, that DID serve as the premise for a film: it was called `Force Ten from Navarone', and it was dire. Or how about this one: we see close up the brutalities of war. (Then we see them again. Then we see some more of the brutalities of war. Then we see the credits.) Or how about this: a humble American soldier, with the pragmatism native to his breed, rejects his superiors' highfalutin talk of honour and glory and asserts his basic humanity in trying to stay alive. Or this one: we see English prisoners of war maintain their dignity in the face of Japanese brutality.
They're all present, in a sort of a way: but ALSO present is a magnificent, long, suspenseful, tight story, around which these apparent clichés wrap naturally. If the clichés don't wrap naturally then they, not the story, are bent out of shape. Just when we think that the American pragmatist will turn out to be the hero, we see him cut a rather shabby figure, and it seems that there really WAS something to that highfalutin talk of honour and glory, after all. But then we discover that he has standards of his own, and they appear to be better ones. But THEN it seems that ... I could go on indefinitely, since there are many people here with something to be said for them, and it requires some thought to see who has the most to be said for him in the end.
There's almost no need to mention the excellent performances, photography and music. The only thing one might have qualms about is historical accuracy. Nothing like this ever happened. Still, that makes the movie much less dishonest than those that base themselves on historical events, and then proceed to get them all wrong. You can only be misled by `The Bridge on the River Kwai' if you don't know that it's pure fiction. Well - you know now.
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