Asst Director: Ted Sturgis and Gus Agosti
Producer: Sam Spiegel
Script: Pierre Boulle, Carl Foreman, Michael Wilson and Calder Willingham.
From the novel ‘Le Pont de la Rivière Kwai’ by Pierre Boulle
Technical Supervisor: Major-Gen. L.E.M. Perowne
Cinematography: Jack Hildyard
Music Score: Malcolm Arnold
film is set in 1943, in a POW camp in
Nicholson and Saito, the commandant, are quickly involved in a faceoff. Saito wants all of the British to work on the bridge. Nicholson says the Geneva Convention states officers may not be forced to perform manual labor. He even produces a copy of the document, which Saito uses to whip him across the face, drawing blood. Nicholson is prepared to die rather than bend on principle, and eventually, in one of the film's best-known sequences, he's locked inside ‘the Oven’, a corrugated iron hut that stands in the sun.
story in the jungle moves ahead neatly, economically and powerfully. There
is a parallel story involving Shears, following his escape, is taken to a
hospital in British occupied
The film's central relationship is between Saito and Nicholson, a professional soldier approaching his 28th anniversary of army service ‘I don't suppose I've been at home more than 10 months in all that time’. The Japanese colonel is not a military pro; he learned English while studying in London. But he is a rigidly dutiful officer, and we see him weeping privately with humiliation because Nicholson is a stronger willed man – a great insult to a Japanese officer.
Most war movies are either for or against their wars. This film is one of the few that focuses not on rights and wrongs but on individuals. Like Robert Graves' World War I memoir, Goodbye to All That, it shows men grimly hanging onto military discipline and pride in their units as a way of clinging to sanity. By the end of the film we are less interested in who wins than in how individual characters will behave.
The scenes in the jungle are crisply told. We see the bridge being built, and we watch the standoff between the two colonels. Hayakawa and Guinness make a good match as they create two disciplined officers who never bend, but nevertheless quietly share the vision of completing the bridge.
The obsession is with building a better bridge, and finishing it on time. The story's great irony is that once Nicholson successfully stands up to Saito, he immediately devotes himself to Saito's project as if it is his own. He suggests a better site for the bridge, he offers blueprints and timetables, and he even enters Clipton's hospital hut in search of more workers, and marches out at the head of a column of the sick and the lame. On the night before the first train crossing, he hammers into place a plaque boasting that the bridge was ‘designed and built by soldiers of the British army’.
It is Clipton who asks him, if they might not be accused of aiding the enemy. Not at all, Guinness replies: ‘One day the war will be over, and I hope the people who use this bridge in years to come will remember how it was built, and who built it’. A pleasant sentiment, but in the meantime the bridge will be used to advance the war against the Allies. Nicholson is so proud of the bridge that he essentially forgets about the war.
Lean handles the climax with precision and suspense. There's a nice use of the boots of a sentry on the bridge, sending hollow reverberations down to the men wiring the bridge with plastic explosives. Meanwhile, the British celebrate completion of the bridge with an improbable musical revue that doesn't reflect what is known about the brutal conditions of the POW camps.
Although the film's two most important characters both begin to lose their grip on reality and perspective, the hero more than the villain, we're not quite certain what is intended by that final dialogue.