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Drama, Adventure, War
IMDB rating:
David Lean
William Holden as Shears
Alec Guinness as Colonel Nicholson
Jack Hawkins as Major Warden
Sessue Hayakawa as Colonel Saito
James Donald as Major Clipton
Geoffrey Horne as Lieutenant Joyce
André Morell as Colonel Green (as Andre Morell)
Peter Williams as Captain Reeves
John Boxer as Major Hughes
Percy Herbert as Grogan
Ann Sears as Nurse
Heihachiro Okawa as Captain Kanematsu (as Henry Okawa)
Keiichirô Katsumoto as Lieutenant Miura (as K. Katsumoto)
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.
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Has the world gone mad?
8.5 / 10 IMDb points? best IMDb movie? Many reviewers' favourite movie of all times bar none? Has the world gone quite mad? To me it's a highly forgettable movie. I'm not really addressing those lost souls who actually enjoyed this, to quote Bill Hicks, p. o. s. film, but to warn those impressionable souls who still haven't seen it: beware! Beware this p. o. s. film!

As for the plot, this movie falls roughly into two halves; in the first we follow a contingent of British soldiers in Japanese captivity in Burma during World War II (the one with the funny mustaches). When the dastardly Saito orders the officers to work alongside their regulars -- a breach of the Geneva Convention -- he is faced off by the impeccable colonel Nicholson. Eventually Saito gives in and the British soldiers build him a magnificent railway bridge.

In the second half of the movie we follow an American soldier, Shears, who has managed to escape from Saito's jungle camp. Against his will he is sent back on a secret mission to blow up that very bridge.

At the climax, two men are pitched against each other: Nicholson, to whom the bridge is a symbol of his perseverance and supremacy, and the American, who has gone through hell and back to destroy it and do damage to the Japs.

My major problem with the movie is that colonel Nicholson is obviously a complete idiot. His nemesis Saito may be an evil sadist, but at least he has a weak and human side as well. He is a pudgy little fellow who's been to art school, but now has to make do as a CO. My heart went out to him, whereas I fail to see how anyone can sympathise with the blimpish Nicholson.

It's only after the bridge has been completed that a single officer mildly questions the wisdom of building the most magnificent bridge of all times for the Japanese, who are, after all, not exactly their allies. And I never saw what was so unethical about officers working alongside their troops in the first place.

Apart from that, it's a pretty conventional, John-Wayne-style war movie. The enemy is inscrutable and evil, Asian women are almond-eyed, servile foxes, the soldiers are undyingly loyal and war is hell but fun (in a rough, it's-a-man's-world sort of way). The production is excellent but overall it's a very dated movie. I'm surprised how anyone would consider this a classic rather than just an old movie. Its only benefit is that it allowed director David Lean to make Lawrence Of Arabia.
Excellent Movie
Lost count of how many times I have watched and re-watched this film I think there may even been times I rewound the tape and played it again!

At first you think the film is a war epic, perhaps its about torture, prisoners of war, but I actually think there is more a madness and also a pride aspect to the film.

Both Colonel Nicholson and also Saiko are prime examples of the very pride I am talking about. This is so evident that they have problems drawing common sense conclusions about their attitudes and issues they have with each other!

Both are POW's but neither will lift a finger to help the other!

Instead they are each determined they will make it on their own.

Both William Holdena and Alec Guiness deliver outstanding performances. Fantastic film, haven't you seen it 20 times yet?
True events - madness...Movie - pure hogwash!
I had an uncle (since deceased) who survived the horrors of the "Bridge". He talked to me (with some persuasion needed, and not a little difficulty on his part) about his experiences, and I've also had the opportunity (and the honour) of talking to other men who had undergone a similar fate. I also met up with POWs of the Japanese who worked on, not just the bridge, but the actual railway, and some on different projects entirely. They all said the same things about this movie. It was an utter travesty, and a diabolical insult not only to the men that died, but also the survivors. And I have to agree with them.

Those people who think this film is a true reflection of what really went on, should seriously consider a brain scan, and/or maybe several visits to a psychiatrist, or three. They could however begin their return to the real world by watching the "History Channel" on digital TV, and start learning the true facts.

I don't intend to list everything that is wrong in (and about) this totally inaccurate movie, I would be writing all day, and probably get steamed up in the process. Besides, other anti-BOTRK reviewers have already done it, and probably better than I could.

As for the actual film itself, I couldn't really watch it as a piece of "art", or even entertainment. I couldn't do anything but see the film for what it really was. Absolute hogwash from start to finish. And to think that at the time of it's release, David Lean (and others) made a hell of a lot of cash out of it, whilst the true heroes of the "bridge" and the "railway of death" still had to live with the hell... and got damn all. I suppose if the true horrors of it had been filmed, instead of the twaddle that was produced, probably no one would have adored the movie as much as most people seem to. It would have been too awful to watch, then no-one would have made any money.

I had a great admiration for Lean as a director, but with regard to BOTRK, I think he should have put his head in his hands, and said to himself, "Did I really make this garbage?"
Battle Of The Rule Bound Robots
Spoilers Ahead:

Have no illusions, Nicholson is every bit the robot that Saito was. Notice, how each thinks the other is insane. What would you call a man who almost kills all his fellow officers standing up to Saito and then after conquering him, orders his men to do the very things that he, and all his officers, almost died fighting over? Insane, yes they both are. Saito lives by Bushido just as rigidly as Nicholson does by his code. The humor of the film comes from watching Nicholson agree to all the enemies' demands: officers work, sick work, extra shifts, etc. When one of the more bold subordinates dares to suggest to the fool that he is collaborating by building them a better bridge than they could have ever made themselves, watch the colonel have a baby. How dare he? Why, following the rulebook blindly can only lead to total victory. While Saito appears defeated, he quietly plans his revenge. There was a reason he wants Nicholson to stay behind. Notice, we see him writing his last wishes, preparing to commit seppuku. He intended to shoot Guiness on that bridge when he was prattling away like he was in summer camp. Notice Saito covertly reaching for his gun. It was only Nicholson seeing the wires that saved him momentarily.

When Shears escapes we see the same insanity on display. He has never parachuted before and their rulebook says well no use practicing. When Shears tries to joke with them it is taken as a great jest; imagine, with or without a parachute, jolly good show, pip, pip? Shears makes a great mistake not leaving Hawkins behind when he gets wounded for he ends up killing everybody in the group later, according to the book you know. Yes, as many reviewers, have said the theme is madness. It is deeper than that, Lean wants you to see two fools who have lost themselves so far into the rule book that human lives are destroyed because these nitwits cannot adapt their code to situational contingencies. Saito is going to kill himself because his code was violated. The core of Lean's film is a study of mindless martinets that are oblivious to all the suffering and havoc they cause by following their stupid codes. Nicholson ends up being the best soldier in the Japanese army building them a great bridge to bring supplies to kill his fellow soldiers with.

It is a special kind of insanity. Immersion within a role never to return to reality. I will not lie to you I am not a David Lean fan. This is the only film of his I own. If it says directed by David Lean, get ready to be bored. This film is no exception to the rule. It is still like lightning compared to LAWRENCE OF ARABIA or PASSAGE TO COMA. Those two films are excruciatingly boring especially the latter. I had to take one star off for the boring drifting and rescue of Shears. I was so enthralled by which woman, at the English base, he was dating. Why is this extraneous crap in the film? Lean is infamous for putting scenes in you will yell: why do I give a crap about this? Get back to the movie. It still is his best film; it has much to teach about moron martinets oblivious that any code requires situational evaluation. Watch what happens when you just obey it blindly.
Still Stirring Wartime Adventure and Compelling Psychological Drama Exhibit David Lean at His Peak
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.
Historically inaccurate but great film.
While this film is loaded with historical inaccuracies it nonetheless remains a great motion picture. Many fine performances and the dual story line make it the picture that it is. However don't view it for historic purposes. The true story of the bridge and railway built by POW's is more brutal and horrifying than what is presented here. The History Channel has an excellent presentation about the actual story. By all means watch this film but don't pass up learning the real story.
Far Ahead of Its Time
First off, what is so amazing about this film is that, for the time that it was made, how modern it looks. David Lean certainly had the eye of any modern director and managed to direct a visual masterpiece at a time when many films were still being shot in black and white.

William Holden gives one of his finest performances as a cynic of warfare , citing for us the insanity and absurdity that the combatants often convey. And he hates the war, but he cannot avoid been thrown back into it again and again. We wish he could stay on the beach with his nurse lover, but he is a man destined for a tragic doom for his country, whether he wants to or not.

Alec Guiness also delivers a fine performance as a bold general whose own pride is, at the same time, his most noble quality as well as his greatest fault. He is uncompromising, yet when the Japanese submit to his demands, he begins overseeing the construction of the bridge with great esteem. Eventually, for him, the bridge becomes a manifestation of his belief of the superiority of the British Army, which he follows like a religion. And in putting all his pride into this bridge, he loses sight of even the British's own true agenda. Truly, his sense of overwhelming honor is, at the same time, his downfall in a descent to a loss of morality, and a sense of good and evil.

And yes, by the end of this film, we learn a great lesson of the horrors of war. Not only does it take the lives of many good men, but the utter failure and despair that accompany it make it an unbearable existence. And this message has only recently been re-evaluated with the also-brilliant masterpiece "Saving Private Ryan." But, keep in mind that it took forty years to regain the power that this film inspired so long ago.
from British victory to Colbert's interview with Branson
David Lean's epic about the construction of a bridge by POWs won him his first Oscar. I understand that much of what the movie depicts is fictional, but it's among the most impressive fiction. The ambient heat in the Burmese setting is nothing compared to the tension between the POWs and the captors. As Sessue Hayakawa's colonel proclaims, the rules don't apply in wartime.

Alec Guinness - still several years away from playing a certain Jedi mentor - is particularly impressive as the British officer. His refusal to let the Japanese break him reminds me of Louis Zamperini's will to survive and maintain his dignity in the recent "Unbroken". This office is a true role model for the men under his command. Guinness won a well deserved Oscar for his performance.

All in all, a movie that everyone should see. I also recommend "The Railway Man", starring Colin Firth as a former POW who tries to find his former captor many years later.

As a final note, when Stephen Colbert was getting ready to interview Richard Branson on "The Colbert Report", he advertised it with this movie's climax. It was the greatest kind of madness.
A Classic Story and Brilliant Acting
"The Bridge on the River Kwai" is, as others have said, an anti-war film. It concerns the struggle between a British officer, Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), who is confined with his men in a Japanese POW camp, and the Japanese commander, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), who has orders to finish a section of railroad using prisoner labor.

The conditions in the camp are brutal. The tropical sun makes for punishing working conditions, especially for men whose health has been compromised by injuries, punishment and jungle diseases. Despite the hardships, Nicholson is dedicated to proving the superiority of the British will. He is an admirable figure, but he has one fatal flaw.

The other major character is Shears, an American naval officer whose knack for self-preservation helped him survive Saito and the sun before Nicholson's men ever marched into the prison camp. Shears is a cynic who is dedicated not to military rules and regulations but to his own welfare. He views Saito and Nicholson from the sidelines. Like Puck, he seems to say "Lord what fools these mortals be."

Shears is the most complex character in the film. He makes decisions that might appear contrary to his basic nature. As such, the role of Shears can be viewed as a companion to William Holden's performance as Sefton in "Stalag 17". Sefton is a prisoner in a German POW camp. Like Shears, he is cynical and pragmatic.

Viewers might find elements of heroism in the behaviors of Nicholson, Shears or Saito, depending upon their points of view. Regardless, the story of "The Bridge on the River Kwai"--from the novel by Pierre Boulle-- is fascinating. David Lean's direction pays attention to so many details, creating a vivid world that envelopes the characters and makes the jungle a significant character itself. His framing of the final scenes (and some brilliant editing) create an ending filled with suspense and blinding insight.
Super Film
I watched this movie with my grandma at night she was over, everyone else was gone to bed and we were looking through Netflix for a movie to watch. After some looking we stumbled across Bridge on The River Kwai. Being an elder person herself she remembered it from her childhood, so we watched it. The film is slow, yes. But that doesn't harm it, even though it's 160 minutes long, it "only" feels as it is 2 hours long. This length gives you the ability to care about our principal cast. And the ending, though without grand dramatic music is extremely intense. And grandma and I where both at the edge of our seats. I've read that this movie is not completely historically accurate, this does not bother me as this isn't a documentary but a work of fiction to enjoyed. Definitely recommend to anyone with a love for film making, and it does sadden me that this film isn't rated higher, an all time classic.
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