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
Screenwriters Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman were on the blacklist of people with accused Communist ties at the time the film was made, and went uncredited. The sole writing credit, and therefore the Oscar for best adapted screenplay, went to Pierre Boulle, who wrote the original French novel but did not speak English. Clearly Pierre had not written the English script and this became a long-running controversy between the Academy and the actual authors to achieve recognition for their work. In 1984 the Academy retrospectively awarded the Oscar to Wilson and Foreman. Sadly Wilson did not live to see this; Foreman died the day after it was announced. When the film was restored, their names were added to the credits. See more »
During the first two formations in front of Colonel Saito's office, the sun is behind the men, yet we can see some shadows in their foreground, caused by the movie lights behind or to the sides of the cameras. See more »
I recently saw The Bridge on the River Kwai at the Cinerama Dome, and it was quite spectacular. Unlike some of today's grand adventure films, you get to know the characters along with seeing great scenes of acting and cinematography. Alec Guinness is at the top of his form as the single minded Colonel Nicholson. The scene between Nicholson and Saito in Saito's hut is remarkable. Nicholson still will not concede defeat, he even takes offense that other officers of different armies gave in and worked alongside the enlisted men. Saito can't understand Nicholson's acceptance of his punishment, and it drives him crazy. The film's plot has two stories that are beautifully intertwined. Shears' return to the bridge is his only way to escape the bridge. In the film's final act, the tension is turned up as the British commandos try to blow up the bridge, and a train, and only then does Nicholson realise what the bridge really is. The Bridge on the River Kwai is one film that is hard to top, the only film able to do that is Lawrence of Arabia, both directed by the meticulous eye of David Lean. One director who could put intimacy in epic circumstances.
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