The Bridge On The River Kwai-1957
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… when the only important thing is how to live like a human being.
It’s World War II and the Japanese are compelling a bunch of British prisoners of war (POWs), led by Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), to build a bridge across the River Kwai. It will form an important link in the Rangoon-Bangkok railway (the Burma Railway), a construction effort, which actually cost many Allied POWs their lives or health.
I’d say the odds against a successful escape are about 100 to one. But may I add another word, Colonel? The odds against survival in this camp are even worse.
Colonel Saito (Oscar-nominated Sessue Hayakawa) is the Japanese taskmaster who has a deadline for completing the bridge. Colonel Nicholson takes the job seriously and decides to show the Japanese how a job like this should be tackled.
One day the war will be over. And I hope that the people that use this bridge in years to come will remember how it was built and who built it. Not a gang of slaves, but soldiers, British soldiers, Clipton, even in captivity.
A group of escaped prisoners, led by the cynical loner Shears (William Holden) plan to blow up the bridge. The Japanese intend to use the bridge to transport troops and materials in support of their war effort.
THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957)
Shears: William Holden
Major Warden: Jack Hawkins
Colonel Saito: Sessue Hayakawa
Major Clipton: James Donald
Lieutenant Joyce: Geoffrey Horne
* Best Picture
* Best Actor (Sir Alec Guinness)
* Best Director
* Best Adapted Screenplay
* Best Cinematography (Jack Hildyard)
* Best Editing
* Best Music
* Best Supporting Actor (Sessue Hayakawa)
Despite being a predominately a British feature film, Bridge on the River Kwai make in at number 13 on the American Film Institute’s top 100 list. They seemed to count director David Lean as an honorary American. The film is an adaptation of Pierre Boulle’s novel of the same name. Boulle picked up the Oscar for best screen play, although it was in fact written by Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson. At the time, both were blacklisted following the with-hunts of the HUAC, so could not be given credit. They finally got their award in 1985.
In Bridge on the River Kwai, cultures clash but similarities are pointed up too. There’s not much to choose between Nicholson’s pride and the single-mindedness of the Empire of Japan as portrayed here. Norms of Organizations and societies do not hold up. As Major Saito says:
Do not speak to me of rules. This is war! This is not a game of cricket!
For the technically minded:
The long, difficult trek into the jungle is a crucial segment in the dramatic development and how the editor has successfully controlled time to convey the sense of hardship is worth remembering. Had the film compressed time in a few shots audience would have felt the journey was too short to be really difficult and as a result failed in impact. If too long it would have impacted negatively. So the tight handling of time is crucial.
This segment is shown in a series of long shots freely mixed with close-ups. Some days are covered in two or three shots; other in fifty shots. The days following the injury to the leader’s foot are extended by repeated shots of the bandages and bleeding leg, of the sun glinting through the trees, faces of the crew and all add to the sense of passage of time. As the journey nears it end audience feel with the participants that it was hard and long.