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Movie Review

The Bridge on the River Kwai

Reviewed by: Brett Willis

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Older Child to Adult
War Drama
2 hr. 41 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Cover Graphic from “The Bridge on the River Kwai”
Featuring: William Holden, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Sessue Hayakawa
Director: David Lean
Producer: _____
Distributor: _____

Set in Burma (actually filmed in Ceylon), this fictional WWII story (by Pierre Boulle, author of Planet of the Apes) deals with the clash of two cultures as British prisoners are forced to build a railroad bridge for their Japanese captors. The film was a box office hit and an Oscar winner.

As the film opens, most of an earlier contingent of workers have died, and a group of prisoners under senior officer Col. Nicholson (Alec Guinness) is brought in to replace them. They march in, heads high, whistling the now-famous “Colonel Bogey March.” Nicholson sticks by the Geneva Convention and refuses to let the officers do manual labor, choosing to let himself and the other officers be tortured instead. During this battle of wills between Nicholson and the Japanese commander, Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), an American (William Holden) escapes from the camp, and is later commandeered to lead a strike force back to the camp in order to blow up the bridge.

The mood of the film is somewhat anti-war; both the British and the Japanese are portrayed as capable of fanaticism. There’s no profanity and no sexual content, although it’s implied that Holden’s character sleeps with a nurse while he’s recovering from his injuries and training for the commando mission. The combat scenes are done in the “old” style and are not gory by today’s standards. The film’s objective is not blood for blood’s sake, but relating a story of how commitments and priorities can get tangled in a POW setting. At the end of the film, Maj. Clipton (James Donald) sums it up as: “Madness!” The cinematography is excellent (especially in Widescreen format) and the story is thought-provoking. Followers of war films should see this one at least once.

Viewer Comments
The action is suspenseful. The characters are rich. The scenery is beautiful. The stark realities of the lives of POWs is portrayed in an accurate but non-gory, despairing manner. Without being overly frank, as in “Apocalypse Now” or “Deerhunter”, in depicting the difficulties and depravities of war life you still get the idea how it can be. Exciting finale! Highly recommended for WWII film fans. My Ratings: [4/5]
—Michael Stephens, age 39