The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

There are some movies I saw as a kid, and at the time, I thought they were great. Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) for example. Watching  it now, I’m amazed the images are able to remain adhered to the film. Out of sheer embarrassment, the film should have rejected the images as foreign and incompatible objects long ago. Was I that stupid as a kid? My mom insists I was a perfect child.

The Bridge on the River Kwai is another movie I loved as a kid. At 2 ½ hours, I should’ve been bored. Maybe the thought of the bridge being blown up kept me glued to the screen. Either that or at an early age, I appreciated the complexities of the characters and craftsmanship the filmmakers  put into this project. Maybe my mom was right.

First of all, director David Lean sets up and composes each shot as if it were a painting. Each scene flows into the next. The eye is never jarred. This works perfectly with the script. This is not really an action movie. Lots and lots of dialogue, lots of discussions. But the script is so good, we’re never bored.

William Holden is the reluctant soldier blackmailed into the mission to blow up the bridge being built by prisoner of war Alec Guinness and his men. The Japanese in charge of the camp, Sessue Hayakawa, and the British Major in charge of the mission, Jack Hawkins, round out the quartet of superb performances of this tale of misguided duty and the madness of war.

Ironically, David Lean was the last choice for director. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing better. The final 15 minutes is as good a study of suspense as has ever been put on the screen.

By the way, when I was a kid, for a class assignment, I built a diorama of the bridge from this movie, using balsa wood, lichen, and segment of HO scale train tracks. I kept that bridge for a while, finally setting it on fire as it floated on a piece of ice in my family’s swimming pool one winter. What childhood memories!

And the most important points to remember? One, for a great suspense movie, pick a British director. And two, and don’t ever, ever doubt your mother.


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