The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
August 7, 2022 9:20 PM - Subscribe

The classic story of English POWs in Burma forced to build a bridge to aid the war effort of their Japanese captors. British and American intelligence officers conspire to blow up the structure, but Colonel Nicholson , the commander who supervised the bridge's construction, has acquired a sense of pride in his creation and tries to foil their plans.

Starring William Holden, Alec Guinness, Sessue Hayakawa, Jack Hawkins, James Donald, Ann Sears, Heihachirô Ôkawa, and Geoffrey Horne. Based on the 1952 novel by Pierre Boulle (Planet of the Apes). The film won seven Oscars overall, including one for composer Malcolm Arnold (who also won a Grammy for his score). Despite this, most people, when thinking of the film's music recall the repeated whistling of the march "Colonel Bogey."

Although the film uses the historical setting of the construction of the Burma Railway in 1942–1943, the plot and characters of Boulle's novel and the screenplay are almost entirely fictional. There are many historical inaccuracies in the film, as noted by eyewitnesses to the building of the real Burma Railway by historians. In reality, the conditions to which POW and civilian laborers were subjected were far worse than the film depicted. During its construction, approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died and were buried along the railway. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilians also died in the course of the project, chiefly forced labor brought from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, or conscripted in Siam (Thailand) and Burma. Two labor forces, one based in Siam and the other in Burma, worked from opposite ends of the line towards the center.

Rated 96% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently streaming in the US free with ads on YouTube, on DirecTV and Fubo TV, and for digital rental on the usual outlets. JustWatch listing.
posted by DirtyOldTown (8 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Fun fact about the "Colonel Bogey" bit -

The extras were having a real hard time marching in time and in sync, and David Lean was getting really frustrated. In desperation he told them to pick a song to whistle and march in time to that. One of the extras had an unusually piercing whistle, and another guy nominated him and suggested "Colonel Bogey" and it worked.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:47 AM on August 8, 2022 [5 favorites]

Let me just get this out of my system:
Comet - it makes your teeth turn green
Comet - it tastes like gasoline
Comet - it makes you vomit
So take some Comet, and vomit, today!
[filed under "stuff that I remember from childhood and was profoundly surprised at its origin"]
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:36 AM on August 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

Practically the first thing I learned in Thailand was that it's pronounced Kway, not Kwī rhyming with why.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:38 PM on August 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

TBOTRK is a movie where, for me, the sum is less than the parts. Lots of great performances. Lots of great lines. Lots of great action. The production is outstanding. But what does it add up to? "Madness" would seem to be the message of the movie. But is the business of war supposed to be madness? Or are the characters who fight wars supposed to be mad? TBOTRK's biggest weakness, for me again, is that its message is muddled. It asks questions that it doesn't answer and it answers questions that it doesn't ask.
posted by Stuka at 1:24 PM on August 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

The message is the story & the story is: watch this guy get beat up so bad that his head turns around and he can't tell which way is up. Because that's what happens to someone when you beat them up too much, most of the time. I find this movie unbearably stressful. As it feels like everything happening the Alec Guinness is happening to me. I would say that's pretty effective.
posted by bleep at 4:26 PM on August 8, 2022 [4 favorites]

The message is the story & the story is: watch this guy get beat up so bad that his head turns around and he can't tell which way is up.

I would agree with that if the film hadn't segued to Ceylon at 1:14:40. TBOTRK isn't wholly Nicholson's story after that point. Yes, he has the climactic realization that there /is/ a war on. But by then, the message has been muddled by the clash between Sheers and Warden, and ultimately by Clipton's declaration at the end of the movie. "Madness." Again, who or what exactly was Clipton describing? Nicholson? The bridge? The war? Those who fight wars?
posted by Stuka at 9:12 AM on August 9, 2022

It's a film about pride and fatalism. The Saito/Nicholson dynamic is the heart of the thing.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:22 AM on August 9, 2022

Again, who or what exactly was Clipton describing? Nicholson? The bridge? The war? Those who fight wars?
These are all six of one & half dozen of another. Movies don't have to explicitly tell you what it's talking about that's like the whole point.
posted by bleep at 4:37 PM on August 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

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