Classic British war film based on the novel by Pierre Boulle in which a group of prisoners of war are forced to build a bridge in Burma for the Japanese. Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) is the appointed leader of the men interned in the camp and when the Japanese commander, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), orders his captives to build a bridge across the River Kwai, Nicholson agrees on the basis that the project will keep his men occupied and give them an opportunity to prove, through the quality of their work, the superiority of British engineering. However, as the bridge progresses and the prisoners strive to show their craftsmanship, Nicholson appears to lose sight of the fact that the ultimate object of the bridge is to help the Japanese win the war. The impending arrival of a British commando team, sent to destroy the bridge, looks set to provide a stern test of where the true loyalties of the increasingly obsessive Nicholson lie.
Based on the true story of the building of a bridge on the Burma railway by British prisoners-of-war held under a savage Japanese regime in World War II, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) is one of the greatest war films ever made. The film received seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Performance (Alex Guinness), for Sir Malcolm Arnold’s superb music, and for the screenplay from the novel by Pierre Boulle (who also wrote Monkey Planet, the inspiration for Planet of the Apes). The story does take considerable liberties with history, including the addition of an American saboteur played by William Holden, and an entirely fictitious but superbly constructed and thrilling finale. Made on a vast scale, the film reinvented the war movie as something truly epic, establishing the cinematic beachhead for The Longest Day (1962), Patton (1970) and A Bridge Too Far (1977). It also proved a turning-point in director David Lean’s career. Before he made such classic but conventionally scaled films as In Which We Serve (1942) and Hobson’s Choice (1953). Afterwards there would only be four more films, but their names are Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Dr Zhivago (1965), Ryan’s Daughter (1970) and A Passage to India (1984). On the DVD: Too often the best extras come attached to films that don’t really warrant them. Not so here, where a truly great film has been given the attention it deserves. The first disc presents the film in the original extra-wide CinemaScope ratio of 2.55:1, in an anamorphically enhanced transfer which does maximum justice to the film’s superb cinematography. The sound has been transferred from the original six-track magnetic elements into 5.1 Dolby Digital and far surpasses what many would expect from a 1950s’ feature. The main bonus on the first disc is an isolated presentation of Malcolm Arnold’s great Oscar-winning music score, in addition to which there is a trivia game, and maps and historical information linked to appropriate clips. The second disc contains a new, specially produced 53-minute “making of” documentary featuring many of those involved in the production of the movie. This gives a rich insight into the physical problems of making such a complex epic on location in Ceylon. Also included are the original trailer and two short promotional films from the time of release, one of which is narrated by star William Holden. Finally there is an “appreciation” by director John Milius, an extensive archive of movie posters and artwork, and a booklet that reproduces the text of the film’s original 1957 brochure. –Gary S Dalkin