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The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

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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.

Director:

David Lean

Writers:

Pierre Boulle (novel), Carl Foreman (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
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3,592 ( 226)
Top Rated Movies #139 | Won 7 Oscars. Another 23 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
William Holden ... Cmdr. Shears
Alec Guinness ... Colonel Nicholson
Jack Hawkins ... Major Warden
Sessue Hayakawa ... Colonel Saito
James Donald ... Major Clipton / Doctor
Geoffrey Horne ... Lieutenant Joyce
André Morell ... Colonel Green (as Andre Morell)
Peter Williams Peter Williams ... Captain Reeves
John Boxer John Boxer ... Major Hughes
Percy Herbert ... Grogan
Harold Goodwin ... Baker
Ann Sears ... Nurse
Heihachirô Ôkawa Heihachirô Ôkawa ... Captain Kanematsu (as Heihachirô 'Henry' Ôkawa)
Keiichirô Katsumoto Keiichirô Katsumoto ... Lieutenant Miura (as Keiichiro Katsumoto) (as K. Katsumoto)
M.R.B. Chakrabandhu M.R.B. Chakrabandhu ... Yai
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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. Written by alfiehitchie

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

It spans a whole new world of entertainment!

Genres:

Adventure | Drama | War

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG for mild war violence | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

UK | USA

Language:

English | Japanese | Thai

Release Date:

14 December 1957 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

El puente sobre el río Kwai See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$3,000,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

$44,908,000
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

70 mm 6-Track (1973 re-isssue 70 mm prints) (RCA Sound Recording)| Mono (35 mm prints) (RCA Sound Recording)| 4-Track Stereo (Linear PCM)

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

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 »

Goofs

When Shears escapes from the camp the Japanese soldiers in pursuit are carrying British Army issue Lee Enfield SMLE MkIII rifles. See more »

Quotes

Colonel Saito: Let me remind you of General Yamashita's motto: be happy in your work.
See more »

Crazy Credits

And introducing Geoffrey Horne See more »

Connections

Referenced in Tropic Thunder (2008) See more »

Soundtracks

God Save the King
(1744) (uncredited)
Written by Henry Carey
Performed by the British Prisoners of War
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
Still Stirring Wartime Adventure and Compelling Psychological Drama Exhibit David Lean at His Peak
1 June 2006 | by Ed UyeshimaSee all my reviews

After years of more intimate British films and just discovering the joys of location shooting with 1955's "Summertime", master director David Lean made his first actual widescreen epic with 1957's "The Bridge on the River Kwai", an acknowledged classic that deserves attention from a new generation of viewers and another visit from the rest of us who love perfectly executed films by an unparalleled craftsman. Recently, this movie has been overshadowed by his 1962 follow-up epic, the comparatively more elaborate "Lawrence of Arabia", but this richly textured WWII-set adventure is special enough on its own terms. While it has its share of action and suspense presented in exacting detail, the film is even more resonant as a psychological drama about the test of wills between mission-driven officers amid the perils of wartime survival.

The plot takes place in 1943 when after surrendering in Singapore, Col. Nicholson marches his ragged British company into a Japanese prisoner work camp in the Burmese jungle (this is where the famous whistling of "Colonel Bogey March" is first heard). The erudite Col. Saito runs the camp and demands that the new prisoners build a massive railway bridge, a critical juncture between Rangoon and Malaysia. In a classic stand-off, Nicholson finally forces Saito to respect Geneva Convention and not allow his officers to do manual labor on the construction. Upon his ironic Pyrrhic victory, Nicholson slowly descends into the madness of seeing the completed bridge as a potential morale booster for his battle-weary men. Meanwhile, shortly after Nicholson's arrival, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Shears escapes from the camp only to be later blackmailed into joining a British commando mission led by do-or-die Maj. Warden and hesitant Lt. Joyce with the sole goal of blowing up the bridge. Through Peter Taylor's thoughtful film editing, the movie breathlessly alternates between the parallel story lines of the bridge construction and the jungle commando mission until the exciting climax.

Lean's accomplishments are many with this memorable film - the authenticity of the Burmese jungle locations (filmed in Sri Lanka), the seamless integration of the two story lines, the masterful handing of the final scenes, and in particular, the gradual metamorphosis of Nicholson from a by-the-book British officer to Saito's willing collaborator. A frequent participant in Lean's films, Alec Guinness gives his career-best performance as Nicholson providing all sorts of unexpected shades to his complex characterization. As Shears, William Holden does what he did best in the 1950's, concurrently exude natural bravado and a conflicted soul and then added a layer of cynicism that dares to challenge the viewer to support him. The 68-year old Sessue Hayakawa came out of retirement to play Saito and delivers a subtle performance of unbending discipline and pained humiliation. Jack Hawkins and Geoffrey Horne lend sturdy support as Warden and Joyce respectively. With the same expert eye he lent to "Summertime", Jack Hildyard provides the superbly expressive and composed cinematography. Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman, both blacklisted at the time, wrote the brilliantly developed screenplay. This is essential viewing.

The two-disc 2000 Limited Edition DVD set has a pristine print transfer with great sound making the entire experience feel surprisingly fresh upon viewing. There is a nearly hour-long documentary on Disc Two, "The Making of The Bridge on the River Kwai", produced for the DVD and full of intriguing insight into the production logistics. There are a couple of shorter featurettes produced around the time of the film's original release, the first is a black-and-white teaser for the film itself and the second a rather pedestrian lesson in Film 101 produced by USC grad students and introduced by Holden. Director John Milius provides a respectful tribute to the film in another short.


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