Capsule Review: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
What begins as a fairly standard POW film in the Great Escape vein (parts of this are rather obviously an influence on that later film) morphs into something much more psychologically interesting in David Lean's adaptation of the novel The Bridge Over the River Kwai by French writer Pierre Boulle. Buoyed by a staggering performance from Alec Guinness - one that easily could have turned into caricature in the hands of a less gifted actor - the film splits into two sections: the first featuring Guinness' Colonel Nicholson and his captured British POWs building the titular bridge under the watch of the initially sadistic Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), while the second follows the wonderful William Holden as escaped prisoner Commander Shears and his being recruited for a return mission to destroy the bridge. Being a Lean film it almost goes without saying that the proceedings are epic in both scope and length, but what is most impressive is the director's restraint - this is a war film far away from actual combat, with the eventual explosive finale much different than that of traditional war films. The bridge's destruction is as much as mental release as a physical one, the eradication of a massive wooden crutch for an admirable but essentially broken man. There's plenty of gorgeous scenery and fine supporting performances - Jack Hawkins as the courageous but cold Major Warden is a stand-out - but the lasting image of this film is Colonel Nicholson's often maddeningly courageous attempts to maintain mental and physical order in his men amongst the insanity of his situation.