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The Bridge on the River Kwai

The Bridge on the River Kwai poster#5 – The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) – Top 10 Favorite War Films

Directed By: David Lean
Produced by: Sam Spiegel
Written By: Pierre Boulle (novel)
Music by: Malcolm Arnold
Cinematography by: Jack Hildyard
Rating: PG
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1
Running Time: 161 Minutes

Cast: As:
William Holden Shears
Alec Guinness Col. Nicholson
Jack Hawkins Maj. Warden
Sessue Hayakawa Col. Saito
James Donald Maj. Clipton
Geoffrey Horne Lt. Joyce
Andre Morell Col. Green
Peter Williams Maj. Reeves
John Boxer Maj. Hughes
Percy Herbert Grogan

The text below is part of a series of articles originally published May 25th – June 6, 1999.

The Bridge on the River Kwai is a 1957 WW II masterpiece based on Pierre Boulle’s novel of the same name.  Apparently the two scriptwriters (Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson) had been blacklisted by Hollywood at the time, so Boulle was credited with the script and thus won the Oscar for Best Screenplay!  I’m not certain, but it’s safe to say these two writers where later given their due for such an excellent adaptation of Boulle’s book.

The story takes place in a remote Japanese prisoner of war camp deep in the jungles of Burma.  Central to the story is the conflict between the driving and sometimes ruthless camp commander, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), and the stubborn prisoner Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness).  It is Colonel Saito’s task to build a crucial bridge across the River Kwai . . . and he decides that he should use the prisoner populace to complete his task.  Nicholson at first is against it, but the battle of the wills is eventually won by Saito after conditions of the POWs are improved when they agree and begin work on the bridge.  In the meantime, Shears (William Holden of Stalag 17) escapes and ends up leading a commando team back to the bridge to blow it up after completion.  By this time, Nicholson has become so obsessed with finishing the bridge he actually defends it during the commando attack.  At the last minute he realizes his tragic error, and spends his last breath destroying that which helped him maintain his sanity while a POW, and that which helped the prison populace survive.

The action is pretty sparse in this movie, but the plot elements, the confrontations between Saito and Nicholson, and the excellent acting are what set this apart from the usual combat fare.  Probably THE most famous WW II whistling march song, Colonel Bogey March, was popularized by this great film.  I wish I could whistle it for you . . . but I know you’ve heard it and are familiar with it even if you’ve never seen a frame of film.

The Bridge on the River Kwai garnered eight Academy Award nominations and won seven, including: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Alec Guinness), Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score (Malcolm Arnold–who used the famous WWII whistling tune “Colonel Bogey March”), and Best Screenplay.  This movie was placed at #13 on the American Film Institutes Top 100 films . . . and deservedly so!

Note:   I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant.  These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.

About Neal Ulen

Neal Ulen
Editor/Webmaster - Engineer by training, nerd by passion. Speculative fiction has influenced me since I was a kid, guiding me to the career I have now, and likely saving me from myself during times in my young life when the path was fraught with a minefield of choices. I dabble in tech, game, film, fiction, and writing. These are my true passions, and have been since the summer of '77.