The Bridge on the River Kwai
Directed by David Lean
Written by Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson (both uncredited) from a novel by Pierre Boulle
Columbia Pictures Corporation/Horizon Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#340 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
David Lean makes the epic personal in this practically perfect classic.
A ragtag band of British POWs are marched to a Japanese camp deep in the Burmese jungle for the sole purpose of constructing the title railway bridge which is to provide a vital supply line. They join the starving prisoners already accustomed to the harsh ways of Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa). The cynical American Shears (William Holden) tries to explain conditions to British commanding officer Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guiness), a veteran of Indian colonial service, to no avail. Nicholson promptly engages in a battle of wills with his Japanese counterpart by refusing to allow officers to do manual labor on the bridge. He is gets thrown in the “oven” for his trouble and the rest of the officers go to a punishment stockade.
But the Japanese are getting nowhere with the British enlisted men and the bridge is badly behind schedule. Saito is under enormous pressure to complete the project. He eventually must give in. Nicholson decides that for the sake of morale and to show up Saito the British officers will supervise the project and build a magnificent bridge.
In the meantime, Shields does the impossible and escapes through the impenetrable jungle. But Major Warden (Jack Warden) blackmails him into escorting him and one other officer back through the jungle on a mission to blow up what the prisoners have worked so hard to construct.
I have nothing to add to the thousands of adulatory words written about this movie. Lean by this time had reached the peak of his craft and was ably aided by some outstanding actors and craftspeople. Guinness was never better. If you haven’t seen it, you must. If you have seen it, it bears innumerable repeat viewings.
The Bridge on the River Kwai won Academy Awards in the categories of Best Picture; Best Actor (Guinness); Best Director; Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium; Best Cinematography; Best Film Editing; and Best Music, Scoring. Sessue Hayakawa was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.