I love the Academy Awards and last year I realized how few of the “Best Picture” winners I’d actually seen. So I made it a goal to see all 83 winners and blog my thoughts about them along the way.

Why did it win? Should another movie have won instead? Has it become a beloved classic or do many of you not even recognize the title? I invite you, my friends and guests, to comment along with me. Do you agree/disagree? I should be fair and place a SPOLIER ALERT on this blog since I’ll be writing about various parts of the movie. So read at your own risk…

I have often told people that I have movie amnesia… I can see a movie and forget all about it years later. So for that reason, I am re-watching the 27 I’ve seen before. That said, if no one visits or reads my blog and I basically perform the online equivalent of talking to a brick wall, that’s fine; if for nothing else, it’ll be my own reminder. Enjoy!

And the Oscar goes to…

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957

Rated PG

“The Bridge on the River Kwai” is an epic British POW film set in the jungle during World War II. It is based on the best-selling novel The Bridge OVER the River Kwai. (Personally, I think the latter preposition is more appropriate…) The book is loosely based on true events and a real-life character, the British Lieutenant Colonel. In the story, British soldiers are captured and forced to build a bridge for the Japanese army. The bridge will allow the railway to connect major cities in order to bring in more troops and supplies.  I had never seen this film before and was interested in watching and learning about a different area involved in World War II.

As the captured troops are marching into the camp in the beginning, I immediately recognized the tune they whistled: “Colonel Boogey’s March”. I’m sure if someone whistled it to you, you’d recognize it too. (It is also whistled by the campers in the movie “The Parent Trap” with Haley Mills). The original march was actually written in 1914. The one whistled in this film is in fact a counter-march written by the composer. Supposedly, the British audiences fully understood the underlining humor in this whistle since popular lyrics had been circulating during WWII… Hitler Has Only Got One Ball. Let me move on…

After the British and Japanese Commanders settle their differences about codes of conduct and prisoner-of-war rules, the Colonel leads his men in constructing the bridge. With his men’s help, who seem a little all-too-eager, they work hard and fast to ensure the bridge is completed on time, which at first was deemed an impossible task. Meanwhile, back at the British camp, officers have set out to destroy the completed bridge and the passing train on its maiden voyage. They believe it is their duty to destroy something that is so obviously a benefit for the enemy’s army. It seems that the Colonel’s drive and determination to be a good leader and ‘play by the rules’ has clouded the reality of the situation. He even congratulates his men and what they have accomplished in the face of adversity. He thought this bridge was a symbol of British morale. It becomes clear to him, however, after he is wounded at the very end of the film. He asks himself, “What have I done?” right before he himself symbolically destroys his hard work.

The first half of the film seemed to drag on a bit. I couldn’t quite tell what to make of it or where it was going. But then, the second half picked up and I became very invested. I believe the film did a good job in keeping some ambiguity around its themes of war, pride, and heroism which allowed the viewers to have their own viewpoints and opinions. Each character had qualities you could relate to and understand.

After doing a little more research, I can confirm the film is truly loosely based on true events. The bridge was built over a different river in Thailand, not the Kwai. Later, however, that river was renamed Kwae Yai, in order for tourists to find the famous bridge (it’s the #1 tourist spot in Thailand). The bridge took eight months to build, not two. And the POWs had to build two bridges- a temporary one made of wood, and then a few months later a permanent one, made of concrete and steel. The bridge was destroyed in bombings in 1945, not a couple of days after it was completed. This railroad is called the “Death Railway” because of the number of workers/prisoners who perished while constructing it. Sadly, the treatment of these laborers was not accurately depicted in the film. In fact, the construction of the bridge has been considered a war crime.

The real bridge:

“The Bridge on the River Kwai” was the number one box office success of 1957. This movie was up against “Peyton Place”, “Sayonara”, “12 Angry Men”, and “Witness for the Prosecution” for Best Picture. I’m not familiar with the other movies; I have seen the play version of “12 Angry [Jurors]”.  The movie won seven of the eight awards it was nominated for including Best Director and Best Actor. The Award-winning Director went on to win again several years later for his other epic film and Best Picture winner, “Lawrence of Arabia”, which I will blog about at a later date. William Holden, the actor who played American POW Shears was snubbed a nomination in my opinion. I thought his performance was just as deserving of an award as the lead actor (who won).

The movie also won for Best Musical Score which I found a little surprising. Perhaps it was fabulous for that time period, which I need to keep in mind, but there were times I thought the score was laughable and definitely not appropriate in areas. The music played much too suspenseful in some parts and dragged on when nothing significant was happening. The worst was at the end which I noted below.


The last ten minutes of the film had me glued to the screen. The suspense pulled me in as I watched the different characters that I grew to understand react in their own ways. (After the deed is done though, watch the remaining few minutes on mute… In my opinion, the music kills it.)


Determination is a good value and character quality, but beware. Do not become too driven that you fail to see what is real or important.

Live like a human being. I’m stealing this quote from the American soldier in the movie. I’m paraphrasing, but his lesson to another commander was this: “You’re too concerned with dying like a gentleman or dying by the rules, when the only important thing is how to live like a human being”. Sometimes the rules need to fly out of the window so you can really live, show emotion, and respond with truth.

No comments:

Post a Comment