The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) from Tuna

Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) was released in a special edition DVD set Nov 21st of this year. Voted number 50 of all time by IMDB readers at 8.4, it is too important a film to ignore completely. The original story, written in French by Pierre "Planet of the Apes" Boulle, contained no women at all, but some were added at studio (Columbia Pictures) request to help box office. Columbia also demanded that an American be cast in a major role, so a part was written in for William Holden. The budget was $2.8m, which was very high by mid 50's standards, and Columbia thought women were essential to a successful box office. Also not in the original novel was the destruction of the bridge. This was added by blacklisted writers Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson (who were not originally credited due to the Hollywood blacklisting) to provide a suitable climax to the epic film. The original author later remarked that if he had thought of it, he would have blown up the bridge in the novel.
The original novel told the true story of the building of a railway across Thailand by the Japanese using mostly American POWs captured in the Philippines. Thousands died from malnutrition, disease and gunshots. The film is more about the characters, and the triumph of will of the British soldiers over their Japanese captors.


As the film starts, a brigade of British prisoners marches into a POW camp. While marching in, they are whistling "The Colonial Bogie March," which has very rude lyrics, and was meant as an insult to the Japanese. I recall this song being on every radio station, and in every juke box in 1957. The commander orders that they build a bridge across the River Kwai, and that everyone, officers and enlisted alike, work on it. He is unimpressed when Alec Guinness reminds him that the Geneva Accords clearly state that officers may not be required to take part in manual labor. Guinness refuses to allow the officers to work, and is locked in a small metal box called the oven for several days. The rest of the officers are also locked up. Eventually, due to the lack of progress on the bridge, the commander finds a way to give in and save face as well by lifting his officer work order to celebrate a Japanese holiday. Guinness decides that the best way to improve moral and turn the brigade back into a unit is to actually take over the building of the bridge, and to build a good one. William Holden, an American POW, has escaped. He is enlisted to return to the camp with British commandos to blow up the bridge.

Many aspects of this film are amazing. First and foremost, there is the struggle between Guiness and Hayakawa, where both end up with a respect for the other, but little understanding, and Guiness ends up more or less in charge. An interesting tidbit from the commentary was that zoom cameras did not exist at the time. The long shot at the end from overhead, where we recede from the bridge was done in a helicopter flying sideways away from the bridge. The bridge was not only built full-scale from trees near the river, but had to support the train. This film gained director David Lean international status.

DVD info from Amazon.

This is a wonderful two DVD release in a special keeper case, and has an interesting booklet. The first DVD contains the film in its original aspect ratio and a very good transfer, with the second DVD holding the special features, including a fascinating "making of" documentary, several featurettes, a gallery of advertising art and publicity photos, theatrical trailers and more.

Bridge on the River Kwai won 7 Oscars:

Best Actor - Alec Guiness
Best Cinematography - Jack Hildyard
Best Director - David Lean
Best Film Editing - Peter Taylor
Best Music, Scoring - Malcolm Arnold
Best Picture - Sam Spiegel
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, - Pierre
Boulle, Carl Foreman, Michael Wilson

Sessue Hayakawa was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: Four stars. It is considered a nearly flawless cinema classic. If any reviewer rates it below four stars, it is a fairly good indication they are in the wrong business. Maltin 4/4, Apollo 94/100..

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 8.4 (top 50 of all time), Apollo users 80/100.

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