“Time is short; all men work!”
When a staunch British colonel (Alec Guinness) and his men are brought to a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp run by no-nonsense Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), Guinness refuses to give into Saito’s demands that the men help build a bridge across the Kwai River, and is sent into solitary confinement before finally reaching a compromise and realizing that building the bridge will help his men’s morale. Meanwhile, an American soldier (William Holden) manages to escape, but ends up back near the camp supporting Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) and a young lieutenant (Geoffrey Horne) in an attempt to blow up the newly built bridge.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Alec Guinness Films
- David Lean Films
- Jack Hawkins Films
- Prisoners of War
- Ruthless Leaders
- William Holden Films
- World War Two
Response to Peary s Review:
Peary writes that this “epic war drama” by David Lean — which won no less than seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor, and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress in 1997 — is visually “still impressive” and “the lead actors… remain formidable” — but he argues that “the film’s weak structure and pointless ending” — which is “wild, confusing, [and] too heroic” — “betray its fascinating premise.” He specifically posits that it’s unfortunate we “leave behind the Guinness-Hayakawa relationship just when it gets interesting”:
… “and viewers are deprived of an awkward situation in which they’d have to decide whether to cheer or root against the British soldiers who are trying to build the bridge.”
I disagree with Peary’s complaints about this absorbing epic: the structure of the story — while lengthy — helps to weave together the original narrative from the camp:
… and the critical drama involving Holden’s back-story and redeployment into action.
Meanwhile, the ending is far from pointless; rather, it potently highlights the utter absurdity and waste of war — which none of us at this juncture in global history need any convincing of.
Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:
- Alec Guinness as Colonel Nicholson
- William Holden as Shears (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actors of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
- Jack Hawkins as Major Clipton
- Sessue Hayakawa as Colonel Saito
- Jack Hildyard’s cinematography
- Fine location shooting
Yes, as an Oscar-winning classic.
- Genuine Classic
- Oscar Winner or Nominee
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)