36 – The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)

Colonel Nicholson: Yes, I’m sure Jennings has a plan. But escape? Where, into this jungle? That fellow Saito was right: no need for barbed wire or fence, one chance in a hundred of survival. I’m sure a man of Commander Shears’ experience will attest to that.
Commander Shears: I’d say the odds against a successful escape are about 100 to one. But may I add another word, Colonel? The odds against survival in this camp are even worse.
Seen before?

F: No.

R: No.


F: I always like a surprise on this list. A 2 1/2 hour war epic doesn’t sound like my kind of film on paper but I actually really enjoyed this!

R: It’s probably the most effective and entertaining piece of propoganda I’ve ever seen. I almost felt patriotic. Alec Guinness inhabits the role of Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson just about perfectly, doesn’t he?

F: Yes he’s really great in this. Apparently not even the first choice for the role but I can’t imagine anyone else in that part! He brings a comedic element to it I think as well.

R: His stoicism and unquestioning faith in the British chain-of-command (from God to King to Commanding Officer) is I think even funnier now than it would have been in the 50s, because that attitude is now so totally alien – to the two of us at least. The other thing that impressed me was the pacing. There aren’t many epics from this era (or any other for that matter) that rattle along like this does. It feels lean.

F: Does it feel ‘David Lean’?

R: …

F: Sorry, the pun was there for the taking! I know what you mean though. I think it helps that both storylines are interesting and engaging. I didn’t mind leaving the building of the bridge for a while to go and see how Shears and the other guys in the jungle we’re getting on and vice versa.

R: Yeah, they’re both pretty enjoyable plotlines, and the way they come together at the end makes for a brilliantly tense showdown. But can we let the film off for its depiction of the Japanese? I think some of the things we were laughing at – like when the British engineers jolly well teach the foreigners that they’re know-nothing fools – we were finding funny in a different way to what was intended.

F: It’s clearly not pc in the modern world in some respects. And almost certainly not historically accurate. It’s good that the leader of the camp, Colonel Saito, is made to be a more 3-dimensional character though. And a great performance from Sessue Hayakawa in that role too.

R: Yeah, I think if it was historically accurate the conditions in the camp would be a lot worse than depicted here, and the British wouldn’t be such superheroes.

F: And William Holden wouldn’t look so buff. That doesn’t look like a man who’s been held in a PoW camp!

R: But despite some shameless cultural imperialism, I think the tone overall is highly effective. And in some ways it’s almost progressive: by the end all the characters feel fairly equally flawed.

F: Agreed. I wasn’t entirely sure who I was meant to be cheering for by the end. I like how the doctor seems to be Nicholson’s conscience which he chooses to ignore. What did you think about the final money shot with the train and the bridge?

R: It’s a proper pay off! In fact I might go so far as to say it’s one of the best endings to a film I’ve seen.

Is it worthy of the top 100?

F: Yes a real surprise!

R: Yes I think so.

Up Next:
35 – Annie Hall (1977)
37 – The Best Years of our Lives (1946)

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