Ceylon. WWII. British army officers are held as prisoners of War by the Japanese in POW camps. But what is to happen to them? They are to build a bridge across the river Kwai, quickly and efficiently. The highest-ranking official of all the British POW’s (in this camp) is Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness). Nicholson, mad at the fact that the Japanese are making officers work (Nicholson states that the Geneva convention is being broken as officers in POW camps are not allowed to do manual labor), is defiant to his captors. His tortured to some degree, but he never waivers.
Forced to build the bridge for his captors, Nicholson makes a deal with the head Japanese captor Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) so that the officers don’t have to do any labour but are held responsible for the ones who do.
The Bridge on the River Kwai strays off course with the sub-plot about Major Shears (William Holden). It explains how he escapes the prison camp, and how he is blackmailed into going back to destroy the bridge. The sub-plot didn't need to be included at all. Although it does lead to the final blowing up of the bridge, it could have done been better or altogether differently. It does add confusion to the film, but does not take away from the final film.
In the end, Nicholson goes crazy, but with hilarious consequences, ‘Colonel Boogie March,’ destroyed bridge and all.
The Bridge on the River Kwai is very straightforward. It is often funny (like the marching scene), but does include the sub-plot about Shears, which may confuse you. Still, this sub-plot won't wreck the atmosphere of the film at all.
The bridge blowing up is the best effect in the film, but other than that, the cinematography was also well done.
The "Colonel Boogey March" is the best song (the only song) in this film, and it adds a lot to the soundtrack. The song does have lyrics, just not sung here in this film (they are a bit too vulgar).
Nicholson (Guinness) goes from normal to insane over a short period of time, and shows the most depth of all the characters.
Yes, it is another war movie. But, unlike war movies, there is not a lot of killing and death in this picture. You can really get into this movie and you often feel for the POW’s, and in the end you just have to wonder why they really blew up the bridge. In this one, you get right into the story and somehow, you just don’t want to leave.
Although these events really didn’t happen, the war sure did. There were many prisoner camps all over Asia, and Europe, and many were Just like this one. (The sad thing to note is that in half the camps prisoners were exterminated by the dozen; in some they weren’t released until a few years AFTER the war.)
Movies it beat out for Best Picture:
12 Angry Men; Peyton Place; Sayonara; Witness for the Prosecution
Is the movie worth your time to watch?
Age at win: 43
Nominated for: Best Actor in a Leading Role, Col. Nicholson, The Bridge on the River Kwai
Nomination: 2/4 (acting), 2/5 (total); Win: Only (presented with Honorary Oscar, 1980)
Alec Guinness, one of a select list of great actors, gave an outstanding performance in The Bridge on the River Kwai as the demented Colonel Nicholson. The British officer, forced to build a bridge with his men, claims that is against the Geneva convention to make officers in POW camps work.
Although his protests fall on deaf ears, he makes a deal with the devil himself: his Japanese captors. The deal: officers don't have to work, but the other men do. Nicholson even goes as far as to have his men stand at formation in the blazing sun until their demands are met, or until they all pass out from heat stroke. Nicholson doesn't win.
The irony in the film is the fact that Nicholson stands up to Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), but then takes on the building of the bridge as his own baby! Saito and Nicholson both go mad, and the tension builds almost to the bitter end of the film, when the bridge is finally destroyed.
If there is one thing from this film that really shows the brilliance of Guinness' performance, something that tells you just how mad Nicholson was, and one thing you can't afford to miss, it is the "Colonel Boogie march." An hilarious scene where Nicholson's men march into camp to a whistlin' tune that will have rolling in the isles with laughter. No kidding!
Guiness and Hayakawa both give great performances but it's Guinness that makes the film. You can enjoy this film for its great story, or for the performances of Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayakawa.