Friday, July 19, 2019

Classic Movie: The Bridge on the River Kwai


After settling his differences with a Japanese P.O.W. camp commander, a British colonel co-operates to oversee his men's construction of a railway bridge for their captors, while oblivious to a plan by the Allies to destroy it.


Photos and summary via IMDb

The Bridge on the River Kwai
1957/color
directed by David Lean
161 minutes

The same day my sister and I watched Picnic, we followed it with The Bridge on the River Kwai. It's an odd William Holden double feature, but we wanted to watch both movies, so we did. The Bridge on the River Kwai is really Alec Guinness's movie, rather than William Holden's. Both give superb performances, though, as does Sessue Hayakawa as Colonel Saito, the commanding officer of the Japanese POW camp. Both Saito and Guinness's Colonel Nicholson are principled, thorough men bordering on obsessive, in contrast to Holden's Shears, a somewhat brash American, similar to his character in Stalag 17 (which I'll talk about next week). Shears is a character without a consistent through-line, though, and it dims the impact of his story line, especially in contrast to the crackling scenes between Guinness and Hayakawa.



The film as a whole is sweeping yet contains detailed, nuanced character studies. I hadn't realized that David Lean also directed one of my favorite films, Brief Encounter--his range as a director is striking. The subtle commentaries in The Bridge on the River Kwai about war and colonialism are sharp. I found the ending slightly ambiguous, and sometimes, during the film, had a hard time separating irony from a sense of glorification; that may just be my own cluelessness, however, not a commentary on Lean's film making.



This is a film worth watching, but one I wouldn't return to with any frequency, as I prefer somewhat lighter fare a majority of the time. Being a William Holden fan, it left me wanting to watch another of his films, which I did. More on that next week. 
Have you seen The Bridge on the River Kwai? What did you think?

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