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
Shooting in the jungles of Ceylon was not always a happy experience for cast and crew. Living conditions were uncomfortable due to intense heat and humidity. The unit also had to co-exist with snakes, leeches and other indigenous creatures of the area. Illness was rampant. Adding to the discomfort was David Lean's tendency to take many hours or even days to get a single shot. See more »
When Shears is escaping from the camp, he is shown traipsing through an arid, desert-like landscape. His empty canteen is dragging behind him and he appears to be thoroughly parched. He collapses on the edge of a Thai village. When he departs the village after having recovered his health, the village is shown to be on a river's edge and surrounded on all other sides by lush jungle. No arid landscape is in the vicinity. See more »
You'll go on without me. That's an order. You're in command now, Shears.
You make me sick with your heroics! There's a stench of death about you. You carry it in your pack like the plague. Explosives and L-pills - they go well together, don't they? And with you it's just one thing or the other: destroy a bridge or destroy yourself. This is just a game, this war! You and Colonel Nicholson, you're two of a kind, crazy with courage. For what? How to die like a gentleman, how to die by the rules - ...
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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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