The Bridge On The River Kwai
The Bridge on the River Kwai opens in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Burma in 1943, where a battle of wills rages between camp commander Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) and newly arrived British colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness). Saito insists that Nicholson order his men to build a bridge over the river Kwai, which will be used to transport Japanese munitions. Nicholson refuses, despite all the various “persuasive” devices at Saito’s disposal. Finally, Nicholson agrees, not so much to cooperate with his captor as to provide a morale-boosting project for the military engineers under his command. The colonel will prove that, by building a better bridge than Saito’s men could build, the British soldier is a superior being even when under the thumb of the enemy. As the bridge goes up, Nicholson becomes obsessed with completing it to perfection, eventually losing sight of the fact that it will benefit the Japanese. Meanwhile, American POW Shears (William Holden), having escaped from the camp, agrees to save himself from a court martial by leading a group of British soldiers back to the camp to destroy Nicholson’s bridge.
I recently viewed this film for the first time, and on the big screen at that. It was showcased at the Third Annual Traverse City Film Festival. I had always heard it was a classic. I can say that it deserves its reputation. Alec Guinness gives a superb performance as the dyed-in-the-wool British military commander, Col. Nicholson. He insists that Japanese commander Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) adhere to military guidelines and he refuses to allow British officers to work. His stubborn resolve results in a trip to the metal hot house, but also in some well deserved laughs as Colonel Nicholson stubbornly refuses to bend to Saito’s commands. When Nicholson is finally allowed to supervise a bridge for a Japanese train to travel across, he becomes determined to build it better than the Japanese ever could. However, a freed POW plans to lead an alliance to blow up the bridge, and the resulting climax proves to be dramatic in the best sense of the word. There is some violence in the film, with little corresponding blood on screen. Guinness won an Academy Award for this picture. We award five doves to this classic film.