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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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A movie about madness
I have watched this movie several times and it is just getting better and better all the time. Why? Because this movie actually has a message built-in, this isn't a violent story, like "Saving Private Ryan" - also a good movie with a message - but it is still not a slow story.

When I last saw it, I realised that there was something in the movie that I had never understood, this isn't a movie about war, torture or how it was to be a prisoner of war; this is a movie about madness and pride. The pride shows both in Saiko and Colonel Nicholson, they are so full of it that it is almost impossible for them to come to a civil-conclusion with the problems they have with each other. The madness is shown in Colonel Nicholson and Holden's character - here they are, two prisoners of war and they don't want to help each other out, instead they try to reach separate goals, and they are both willing to die for it.

After you have watched this movie one is amazed by the performances made by Alec Guinness and William Holden and I must say that this is therefore one of the best War/Drama movies ever made My vote? 9 out of 10 naturally.
"The only important thing is how to live like a human being."
Few movies tell the story of war in such an unbiased way, only to show its dehumanizing effects. About midway through Bridge on the River Kwai, the viewer no longer is too interested in who will "win" the conflict (how do you do that anyway?—But that's for another conversation), but rather about the lengths these men have gone away from their beings. We see people who were driven to the brink of what one can survive, and not all of them did. A true test of the boundaries of the human spirit, Bridge on the River Kwai, directed by David Lean, took home Oscar's top prize in 1957.

Brash, yet civil Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) commander of a group of British soldiers captured as POW's by the Japanese military in the midst of WWII has a single vision in mind. Armed with the promise of the Geneva Convention, Nicolson is determined to lead his men with honor. Determined to conduct himself and his men with the honor betrothed to those that don the British uniform, Nicolson endures more than anyone thought he could survive to gain the respect of his captors. The Japanese eventually realize that Nicholson is a force to be reckoned with, and as much as they may wish to kill him, their hands are figuratively tied. Gaining respect, Nicholson eventually becomes an integral part of the Japanese plan to build a bridge over the river Kwai veiled as a useful wartime measure that actually only serves as a monument to Japanese commanding officer Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa). Although his men don't want to do the work that glorifies the Japanese, Nicholson ensures them that completion of the bridge will actually serve as a testament to the will and honorability of the British. Construction goes on, with the help of the British, all the while allies have hatched a plan to burn the bridge down, led by escaped American prisoner Shears (William Holden). The two plots work together to form one cohesive story of men afflicted with battle and the concessions that some won't even allow themselves to make in a time of war.

This film shows Alec Guinness at his best, a raw look at a man in the heart of battle that refuses to leave his morals behind. He excels as a man leading his men with the dignity each deserves as a human being. William Holden is also a standout in this picture. Holden plays the role of the disillusioned prisoner who has given up hope with ease, coming off both believable and lovable. The cinematography of this film was a thing of beauty. In scenes with hundreds of men marching, the audience is graced with seeing the vast landscape that is so grand it appears to completely encompass the men. There were also incredible shots through binoculars that show, in part, the directorial genius of David Lean. The acting and technical elements came together to create a strong film that explores the depth of the human spirit.

It is sometimes difficult to watch a movie with no clear hero. Everyone comes off a little crazy in this film; which perhaps, may explain why the final lines in this film were "the madness, the madness". I don't want a cookie-cutter movie by any means, but I also don't want to travel half way through an almost three-hour film rooting for someone, only to realize he's a bit off his rocker. I suppose, however, that is what happens when you have a movie like Bridge on the River Kwai, with such heavy themes as honor, strength, and valor. Technically, I understand why this film took home Oscar's top prize; the acting and writing allows one to understand this as well. I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoys war films, of course, even though this one is quite different from the standard. Also, I would recommend Bridge on the River Kwai to anyone who needs reassurance that the human spirit can overcome even the darkest of evils.
The battle of will between two monolithic soldiers of war
Director David Lean's earlier war movie, this one taking place in the jungles of Burma. A group of British soldiers have been captured by the Japanese, but their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), instantly clashes with the camp commander, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), who he sees trying to undermine the rules of war by forcing the officers into manual labour alongside their men. Whereas Saito sees Nicholson as a traitor to the rules of war for having surrendered alive. Also, soon after the British have arrived, an American soldier named Shears (William Holden) manages to escape.

Lean takes us on a long journey in this film. The duality of war's conventions and rules being put against the sheer savagery of it is examined through the characters of Nicholson and Saito - and to a lesser degree Shears and the company he keeps. War is horrendous and oftentimes meaningless, but quite often men try to deal with this by forcing artificial rules onto it. Rules, which become so precious to them, that they cannot adapt them or operate outside of them. And in a way this is just as horrendous and meaningless.

This film lives by its grand scope and the talent of its actors. And luckily both of those work very well. Guinness is hands down the most memorable performance and the one that embodies the themes of the movie the best, but the rest of the cast is also very good. The film is also shot beautifully, with some great scenes and sets included.

The Bridge on the River Kwai doesn't quite live up to the grandeur of Lawrence of Arabia, but it is still a fine piece of war cinema and well worth a watch for all interested.
"Madness, Madness"
Let's face it - war is organized madness, and although the stakes in World War II were tremendous for whichever side lost, the individual effects of the war on the men and nations involved caused madness on several levels.

Pierre Boule's short novel brilliantly discusses the madness in the crazy situation that sweeps up Colonels Nicholson and Saito. Under normal circumstances, the two men might never had been friends but they might have had a degree of respect for each other. Both come from nations that have long histories and traditions, and whose officer corps prided themselves on leadership and withstanding privations. The Japanese formalized these traditions in the code of Bushido (which was twisted, unfortunately, in World War II). It included sharing privation with one's men and was similar to the concept of noblesse oblige that the aristocratic officers of Britain's army tried to maintain. Nicholson's stoicism when put into the isolation box was as much in his tradition as Saito's tradition would have included willingly reducing his own share of his rations for the benefit of his men in a siege.

The situation that develops is a racial rivalry. The Japanese, in 1943, have won so many of the campaigns, and witnessed the surrender of Allied (i.e. Western - American, British, French, Dutch troops) that they really have a contempt for them. As we now know was true, the Japanese soldiers frequently fought to the last man (think of Saipan and Okinawa in the last stages of the war, where flame throwers were frequently used to force Japanese soldiers and civilians out into the open). Westerners could do this too, but traditionally the western states saw no shame in surrendering after putting up a hard fight. Not so the Japanese military.

Saito is identifying with this tradition. In the novel, he is also disappointed that he is in charge of a prisoner of war camp - he'd prefer to be back in the fighting. But they need the prisoners to build the railroads throughout the new Japanese empire (as mentioned on another comment, the "Greater East Asiatic Co-Prosperity Sphere") that can have men and material race from one end of the empire to the other.

In reality this frequently ended up more like slave labor than what Boule arranges (or what Saito probably had in mind). Nicholson insists on treatment under the Geneva convention for P.O.W.s, but Saito thinks it's typically Western and wimpish. As punishment for his presumption he puts Nicholson in a hellish underground cell in solitary. But Nicholson's men refuse to cooperate until he's released, and when he is he sneers at the Japanese engineers and their mistakes, and insists on the English army engineers taking control of the building - and this works well for the Japanese Army but not for Saito, who seriously feels like he has lost face and should commit suicide.

Director David Lean wisely shot the film on location, capturing the heat and disorientation of a humid jungle war front. His wide screen film manages to make the locale of the prison camp and the Kwai River (and the bridge) look like it is the entire world, and that escape is impossible from it (indeed the one man who escapes - Holden - has to return eventually).

The novel does not include the character played by William Holden, one of his typically laconic Americans who retain a clear sightedness when compared to the British. Holden's "Shears" sees the prison camp as a massive graveyard (he's on the burial detail) and hates it to the point of escaping. He reaches safety in a recovery hospital in Ceylon, but he's forced by Jack Hawkins to return to the campsite to destroy the bridge.

Hawkins' too seems a realist - he is trying to destroy an enemy target that is nearly completed, and will make the enemy's war effort far easier. But his resolve to do this involves blackmailing Holden into assisting him, and forcing himself to continue on his mission after being seriously injured. At the end the mission kills hundreds of men. Hawkins has succeeded, but the local natives who assisted him look at him like he is a mass murderer.

Guinness' Nicholson is one of the most myopic soldiers in film (or fiction for that matter) totally forgetting the purpose of himself and his soldiers even in a P.O.W. situation but thinking solely in terms of oneupmanship and morale. It was a splendid performance. One might make a case that he behaved like a man who was hallucinating after an illness, and indeed he does (accidentally) get back to reality at the eleventh hour - too late to save himself, but in time to save his military honor.

Sessue Hayakawa had a film career in Hollywood that went back to the silent period (even appearing opposite Gloria Swanson in a Cecil B. DeMille movie), but the coming of sound and the deterioration of Japanese-American relations caused him to leave American movies. Like Swanson's sound comeback in Wilder's SUNSET BLVD., Hayakawa's appearance as Saito, a harsh foe but ultimately sympathetic given his code of behavior and how he is humiliated, brought him belated recognition and an Oscar nomination.

Finally there is James Douglas, a highly useful, plain looking British actor who frequently brought dollops of common sense to his films. His P.O.W. Major Clipton tries to rouse Nicholson's sense of reality, but fails (in fact he soon sees that Nicholson's unreality is far more catching with the rest of the British P.O.W.s than he imagined). He sees natural foes, British and Japanese, joining together building a bridge of friendship in a time of war. And the final result is just destruction, confusion and death from that war. Is it any wonder that at the end, he mutters the two words in the "Summary Line" as the story's conclusion.
Not as good as other can tell.
Even though a lot of people complain about the inaccuracy of the film's portrait of POW's conditions in Asia during WWII, this is not really what I dislike about this movie. Explaining the first part of my comment, I think that we all have to bear in mind that movie making is a form of art, and as so, does not have to be a letter-perfect rendition of reality. Some literary licenses are not only allowed but expected. That said, my real problem comes from the adaptation of the book. Even if the scriptwriter won an Academy Award, the ending in the book is a lot more emotional. Probably it clashes with Hollywood's idea of happy endings, probably it was changed to show the actual destruction of the bridge instead of Coronel Nicholson's discovery of the charges and his subsequent successful stopping of the sabotage. I would have loved to see the real ending on the silver screen (or rather on TV since I was born more than 10 years after the film's release), but the adaptation was not totally faithful.
Winner of 7 Academy Awards...
David Lean's "The Bridge on the River Kwai" like Jean Renoir's "Grand Illusion" is an anti-heroic war film, set in a prisoner of war camp environment... But there, the point of resemblance came to an end...

"The Bridge on the River Kwai" is an adventure film in which the nature of World War II is explored... And if in "Grand Illusion" the characters were described by a great artist who treasures their common humanity, in "The Bridge on the River Kwai" they are forced to carry out their destinies by an officer who cannot bear to see his bridge blown up...

Escape is almost impossible from the Japanese camp located near the Kwai River in Burma... The prisoners are badly treated by cruel guards... The camp commander is a rigid psychopath... Conditions are hard to bear... Psychological state of the war British prisoners in constant alteration...

Into the presumptuous situation comes Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness in a fascinating performance), a strict, serene, dedicated British Officer, deeply concerned for the welfare of his men...

Nicholson is under severe pressure from the stubborn Japanese Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) for insisting on his attachment to the Geneva convention and refusing to allow his officers to be used on the construction of the strategic bridge...

Nichilson survives the oppressive punishment imposed on him, but his obsession has risen to near-madness... He agrees to help the Japanese build their bridge, and in his determination to find victory in defeat, he ignores that the bridge, which he insists must be a 'proper bridge,' will serve the Japanese objectives against the British troops...

In addition to the powerful rules of a prison camp picture, captors against captives and an interesting moral respect to a military code, a third element, in the story, is introduced: a small commando team led by Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) and an American sailor (William Holden) whose mission is to destroy the strategic bridge..

The film leads swiftly to a suspenseful climax: a Japanese train and a Commando force directed to a same goal, the Brige of the River Kwai...

Each character, in the motion picture, has a valid reason for what he is doing, and each elaborates a relationship to the bridge revealed to be obsession and insane...

"The Bridge on the River Kwai" hits with 'war' in a compelling logic of events, the indulgence of self-destruction.

With a great visual beauty and terrific whistling tune March, "The Bridge on the River Kwai" is a great dramatic entertainment of the wills of men...
Award-winning rendition about famed novel with extraordinaries performances and scenarios
In the luxurious jungle of Thailand, British prisoners(Alec Guinnes, James Donald,Percy Herbert, among others) of WWII captured in the fall of Singapur are taken by Japanese wards for building a railway bridge on the trail since Bangcock until Rangun. With extraordinary appearance when the prisoners arrive in the POW war camp whistle the title song,the Colonel Bogey March. Central plot is the troublesome relationship between the obstinate Colonel Nicholson(Alec Guinnes) and cruel ruler, Colonel Saito(Sessue Hayakawa) and parallel efforts by escaped convict(William Holden), officer (Jack Hawkins) and soldier(Geoffrey Horne) to destroy it.

This excellent film , winner of numerous Oscars is magnificently directed by David Lean. However , first was slated Alexander Korda , but he withdrew due he deemed wrong the main roles. Also was originally considered Howard Hawks, but he abandoned, especially concern was the all male lead characters and because his previous film, Land of the pharaohs, failed at the Box office. Gary Grant was firstly hired , but declined due to other offers and was substituted by William Holden. Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson were uncredited , but were blacklisted as suspect communists and only appears credited Pierre Boulle who won Academy Award for best adapted script , though he didn't know English language. In 1984 when the movie was restored, they retrospectively won the prize, but sadly they had dead, however their names were justly added to writing credits. The famous march whistle by prisoners ,is original from 1916 titled ¨Bollocks and the same for you¨ by the Mayor Ricketts, a chief of musical band and the real words were obscene, later is re-titled the Colonel Bogey March. Deservedly won the Oscar for best musical score by Malcolm Arnold. The actual bridge was built by prisoners in two months and constructed for film was four months with help elephants and by hundred workers and length of 425 feet long and 50 foot above the water, in Ceylon location. But was demolished in a matter of seconds, as is reflected splendidly in the movie.
An Unforgettable Ending
So many great things about this movie that I've watched many times, so I will just limit my thoughts to the brilliant and thrilling climax, IMO the greatest ever in an action movie. So many things going on as Colonel Nicholson and Saito contemplate the completion of the bridge and what may lie ahead for both of them, while the commando group of Warden, Shears and Joyce have realized that the explosives they have set to blow up the bridge are likely to be discovered as the river depth has receded. Which will require them to set off the charges by hand, hopefully to as blow up as Japenese troop train as it crosses the bridge. It's a scene that lasts for about .15 suspenseful minutes Bill Holden becomes a reluctant hero and Alec Guinness realizes his obsession with building the bridge for the Japanese army is indeed treasonous.

Ageless and all but perfect
Of all war movies this is the one with the best idea behind it. Think how easy it is to make a bad war movie. A group of people must blow up a bridge, and this is the story of their quest ... Actually, that DID serve as the premise for a film: it was called `Force Ten from Navarone', and it was dire. Or how about this one: we see close up the brutalities of war. (Then we see them again. Then we see some more of the brutalities of war. Then we see the credits.) Or how about this: a humble American soldier, with the pragmatism native to his breed, rejects his superiors' highfalutin talk of honour and glory and asserts his basic humanity in trying to stay alive. Or this one: we see English prisoners of war maintain their dignity in the face of Japanese brutality.

They're all present, in a sort of a way: but ALSO present is a magnificent, long, suspenseful, tight story, around which these apparent clichés wrap naturally. If the clichés don't wrap naturally then they, not the story, are bent out of shape. Just when we think that the American pragmatist will turn out to be the hero, we see him cut a rather shabby figure, and it seems that there really WAS something to that highfalutin talk of honour and glory, after all. But then we discover that he has standards of his own, and they appear to be better ones. But THEN it seems that ... I could go on indefinitely, since there are many people here with something to be said for them, and it requires some thought to see who has the most to be said for him in the end.

There's almost no need to mention the excellent performances, photography and music. The only thing one might have qualms about is historical accuracy. Nothing like this ever happened. Still, that makes the movie much less dishonest than those that base themselves on historical events, and then proceed to get them all wrong. You can only be misled by `The Bridge on the River Kwai' if you don't know that it's pure fiction. Well - you know now.
Nice bridge,Colonel,but there is a war on you know.......
I saw this at the cinema as a 17 year - old and was most impressed by the sheer size and sweep of the film - a characteristic,I later learned of most David Lean productions.Mr A.Guiness represented the bulldog spirit and unquestionable integrity of the British officer - class and the various jolly cockney,witty scouses,dour northeners in the ranks were typical of the portrayals of rank and file soldiery we had come to expect in just over a decade of obsession with the role of the armed forces in the second world war. Mr S.Hayakawa was eminently hissable as the evil Oriental who was eventually outwitted by our brave and stubborn Col.Nicholson. Nearly sixty years and many viewings later I have come to realise that "Bridge on the River Kwai is still a hugely impressive film and Mr A.Guiness is even better than I first thought,but that my reading of the film was all wrong. Mr Lean has in fact borrowed deeply from Joseph Conrads"Heart of darkness"with a plot about a rogue officer with his own agenda running what is virtually his own private army in cahoots with the enemy to the extent that an assassin is sent on a mission to kill him. Col.Nicholson,in short,is as mad as a sack of weasels and his obsession with building the eponymous bridge,rather than giving his chaps something to do and improve their conditions,is considerably aiding the Japanese Imperial Forces and the movement of their troops. The last third of the film detailing the efforts of Mr J.Hawkins and Mr W.Holden to destroy the bridge is amongst Mr Leans's best work,taut, with beautifully conceived editing,and a wonderfully managed climax where Nicholson finally realises the blind alley his obsession has led him into. "What have I done?"he asks as the first train is about to cross the bridge and he stumbles around on the sand seeing the explosives set by Mr Hawkin's commandos exposed by low tide. In "Heart of darkness",Kurtz's last words are "The horror,the horror". As the bridge finally blows up, Mr J.Donald mutters "Madness,madness",which isn't too far removed from that. With the possible exception of "Lawrence of Arabia"(maybe just a little self - indulgent)Mr Lean never again made a film so near to perfection that was so ambiguous and no character that was so complex. Undoubtedly one of the best "British" movies ever made.
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