What I Learned From Watching: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

David Lean’s exotic 1957 Opus, Bridge on
the River Kwai is considered by many to be one of the greatest tales committed to film. Let’s set aside for a moment the seven Oscars
it took home at the 30th Academy Awards and its distinction of being one of only 12 Best
Picture winners to have been produced by a foreign studio—in this case, the United
Kingdom (Wiki). Instead, let’s consider what it is like
to see this film today—during the era of the epic— and see just what a movie like
this can teach us about filmmaking… Even though the story is about British, Japanese,
and American soldiers, the original novel was written by a French man named Pierre Boulle. The novel was published in France in 1952
and was later published in Britain where it piqued the interest of an American producer
and screenwriter named Carl Foreman. Foreman was living in England because he was
blacklisted in Hollywood under suspicion of being a communist sympathizer (Wiki). Foreman gave the project over to producer
Sam Spiegel and stayed on secretly as a screenwriter. However, David Lean didn’t like the draft
by Foreman. Lean said, “’I told Sam I would do The
Bridge on the River Kwai on the condition that he threw out this terrible script he
had by Carl Foreman… The whole thing started in an American submarine
that was being depth-charged. It had nothing to do with the story at all,
and I said, ‘Look, Sam, this is hopeless’” (Silverman 118). Spiegel had Foreman do a rewrite, but Lean
disliked the new version as well, so Lean decided to do it himself. Lean and Norman Spencer went to Ceylon to
write a new treatment. Lean liked to write in the location that the
film would be made so that he can use the surroundings as inspiration to write (Making). In a BBC Radio interview, Lean discussed his
writing process… David Lean: “What happens is that I sit
down at my typewriter and I start at the beginning and I make a complete blueprint and I try
to imagine what the finished movie is going to look like on the screen—with cuts and
everything in it. I do it as I hope I’ll see it. I know this is against a lot of the new school,
but I’m personally very weary of improvisation.” Lean said, “I wrote it all, start to finish…
the beginning, the entrance to the camp, the men whistling as they came in. I had trouble with the part of the American,
which wasn’t in the book, so I said to Sam, ‘Look, you must get me some help’” (Silverman
119). The job went to Michael Wilson—who, like
Foreman, was also blacklisted. Since both Foreman and Wilson were blacklisted
and their involvement in writing the film was kept secret, the sole writing credit went
to the original author of the novel—Pierre Boulle. Boulle went on to win the Academy Award for
screenwriting despite having nothing to do with writing the screenplay and not speaking
a word of English, which is probably why he didn’t accept the award in person (Wiki). Dorris Day: “Pierre Boulle: The Bridge on
the River Kwai.” In an interview, Lean recounts the Academy
Awards ceremony. He says: “Comes the Oscars… and the award
for Best Screenplay is being announced. The winner? Pierre Boulle! And who gets up to accept it? Sam Spiegel!’ Soon after, Lean would receive the award for
Best Director and when he was talking to the press afterwards, they asked him about the
screenwriting credit. He replied, “You tell me that… and you’ve
answered the sixty-four-million-dollar question.” Spiegel overheard and took offense to Lean’s
comment and the two apparently got into a physical altercation using their Oscars as
weapons (Silverman 119, 120). Lean had many issues with Spiegel who often
cheated Lean out of credit and compensation. They had originally agreed to do The Bridge
on the River Kwai with fifty-fifty credit on the project. On December 15th, 1957, Lean saw the ad in
The New York Times announcing the film and it was “presented by ‘Sam Spiegel Productions’”
when it should have read “Presented by Sam Spiegel and David Lean” (Silverman 119). The initial budget of the film was $2.8 million
and the studio wanted a big American actor to star in the film. So, while writing the new treatment, Lean
added the character of Shears, which ended up being played by William Holden who you
might recognize as the male lead in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. For his role as Shears, Holden was paid 1
million dollars and a percentage of the film, which was higher than any fee an actor had
been paid up to that point (Making). Lean originally wanted the role of Colonel
Nicholson to go to Lawrence Olivier who turned it down, then Carry Grant who also turned
it down, and then finally Alec Guinness whom Lean had previously worked with on adaptations
of two Charles Dickens novels: Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. Alec Guinness’ role as Colonel Nicholson
was fairly different than characters he had played in the past. Alec Guinness: “Well, most of the parts
I’ve played on film have been concerned with unethical men and, in this, I play a
man of great integrity.” Sessue Hayakawa came out of retirement for
his role as Colonel Saito. He had been a star of the silent film era
and he was in his late sixties when he took on the role. In a 1962 interview, Hayakawa had this to
say: “My relationship with Mr. Lean was particularly
good… Of necessity he is something of a solitary
traveler in his profession. In his role of director he sees not only the
fragments which, woven together, make the whole composition of a film, but the entirety
as well. We never found ourselves in opposition, but
he was less than slightly beloved by some of his associates being boiled by the hot
sun” (Silverman 123). One year after The Bridge on the River Kwai
was released, Sessue Hayakawa had a cameo in a Jerry Lewis film titled The Geisha Boy
where he does a parody of his role as Colonel Saito in The Bridge on the River Kwai. Jerry Lewis meets a young boy’s grandfather
who is having a small bridge built on his property in the same style as the Kwai Bridge
and then Lewis and Hayakawa have this exchange… Lewis: “Uh, you know, you kind of remind
me of, um…” Hayakawa: “Oh, that actor?” Lewis: “The actor, yes.” Hayakawa: “Ah, yes. Many people think so. But I was building bridges long before him.” The score to the film is based around the
melody of a famous old composition titled the Colonel Bogey March, which is what the
British prisoners were whistling as they first march into Saito’s camp. The march was written
in 1914 by Lieutenant F. J. Ricketts under the name Kenneth J. Alford, but at the beginning
of World War II, British soldiers added lyrics to the march that became quite popular (Wiki).
And, If you follow the bouncing ball, you can sing along with me… Hitler has only got one ball, Göring has two but very small, Himmler has something similar, But poor old Goebbels has no balls at all. I apologize for my singing, but apparently
it’s true—Hitler did only have one testicle. It was written as British propaganda and there
are several versions. Sometimes Göring is the one who has only got one ball after Göring
suffered an injury to his groin. Another version went, “Bollocks, and the same to you.”
David Lean originally wanted the British soldiers to be singing these lyrics as they entered
the camp, but it was deemed too vulgar and it was replaced with the whistling. Another
reason was that, to get the rights, they had to inform Ricketts’ widow how the song would
be used. So, in essence, the whistling in this scene is meant as a giant middle finger
to the Axis. So what can we learn? First: Story Within a Story. Let’s take a look at how the story is structured—the
story is driven by the desires of the four main characters. Shears wants to escape Saito’s
camp, Saito wants a bridge to be built on the river Kwai, Nicholson wants to maintain
control of his men and ultimately build the bridge as a monument to the ingenuity of himself
and the British military, and Warden wants to blow up the bridge. In retrospect, all
of these wants are fulfilled, but at what cost? By the end of the film, so many lives
will be lost (including the lives of most of these men) as a result of these goals.
And therein lies the theme—the futility of war and the wastefulness of stubborn heroes. Shears: “This is just a game, this war!
You and that Colonel Nicholson, you’re two of a kind—crazy with courage, for what!?” What I love most about the way this film is
structured is that Saito and Nicholson are set up in a story that is nearly independent
from the main story of the film. I say “nearly,” because this story still works to set up the
main story of the film, which centers on the construction and destruction of the bridge.
However, the first hour of the film revolves mainly around the clashing of Saito and Nicholson.
When Nicholson and his men arrive at Saito’s camp, Saito sees the manpower he needs to
complete the bridge on time. He feels the need to maintain full command and to use the
labor of every man (including the officers) to finish his task. And, if he does not complete
the bridge on time, he will be forced to kill himself as dictated by the Bushido code. Nicholson, on the other hand, follows the
code of the Geneva Convention, which states that officers are not required to work in
POW camps and he holds the integrity of the Convention above all else. He sees the rules
of war as keeping humans civil and believes in order even in a wartime setting. Shears: “You mean, you intend to uphold
the letter of the law no matter what it costs?” Nicholson: “Without law, Commander, there
is no civilization.” He refuses to accept the rules of Saito’s
camp as they go against the rules of the Convention and he is willing to put his life and the
lives of his men on the line to uphold his ideals. This story of Nicholson versus Saito within
the grander story of the Kwai Bridge has its own three-act structure where the two men
clash and slowly but surely, Nicholson begins to gain the upper hand and it culminates in
its own climax where Nicholson finally prevails and the Geneva Convention wins out over Saito’s
methods. Without this first story, there would be no
justification for Nicholson to become obsessed with the bridge project and that sense of
obsession and stubbornness is needed to transform Nicholson into antagonist for Shears. Even though the movie is nearly three hours
long, the story remains fresh throughout. We are introduced to Shears, Saito, and Nicholson
in the beginning, then the story focuses mainly on Nicholson versus Saito, and then the plot
is reinvigorated when Nicholson teams up with Saito and their actions stand in opposition
to Shears and Warden. So the story is made new at the end of the Nicholson versus Saito
plotline while still maintaining the over-arching narrative of the Kwai Bridge. Columbia Pictures nearly stopped production
after three weeks because there were no white women in the film. So they wrote in the scene
with Holden and the woman. Lean hated that scene because it has nothing to do with anything
and he wished he could cut it, but much later, Lean saw the film again and said that it “didn’t
detract too much” (Silverman 125). There is a funny story about the actress who
played the actress that Shears has a romance with. These scenes were shot at the very end
of production after all the other scenes were wrapped. She asked a friend if they knew anyone
who had been to Ceylon and could give her some tips that she could use while she is
there. Her friend said that he knew who could help her— a friend of his who had just finished
shooting a film in Ceylon. This man turned out to be Alec Guinness, who had just returned
to London after finishing his scenes (DVD Booklet). Lean interviewed “hundreds of ex-prisoners
of war who worked on the Death Railway” and used their stories to help write the script
(DVD Booklet). The character of Nicholson himself was originally based on a British
officer named Philip John Denton Toosey who, along with his men, was captured by the Japanese
in 1942 (Silverman 125). Lean also received advisement from the Japanese government on
the scenes in the war camp after the production convinced the Japanese that the film was not
meant to incite hate against the country, but rather to show the pointlessness of war
(DVD Booklet). You can see how this adds to the legitimacy
of the setting, but that doesn’t mean Lean was preoccupied with realism… Lean: “I realize more and more that reality
on the screen (which used to be the thing to aim at) is a sort of bore. I don’t mean
that audience should sit there and say, ‘oh that’s unreal,’ but movies are a kind
of dream, aren’t they? And I think they should have an unreal edge to them.” For instance, in the novel, the bridge isn’t
blown up, but Lean said that blowing up the bridge “was everyone’s idea from the start.”
He said, “In the novel, there’s only the idea of blowing up the bridge. You can’t
present that in a movie and then not do it” (Silverman 125). In fact, the original writer
of the novel liked the changes Lean had made to the story and said that he wished he had
thought of them (Making). It seems like the thing that makes this film
so riveting is that the promise of the bridge blowing up is apparent early on and what keeps
us engaged is making this inevitable end seem more and more impossible. Obviously seeing the bridge blow up is more
spectacular than reading about it, but Lean used this as an overall philosophy in his
films. It’s not about what people say as much as it’s about what you see, which brings
us to number two… Shooting an epic. On the surface, it would appear that the story
of The Bridge on the River Kwai is told in dialogue, but the dialogue only re-enforces
what we see. We see the harsh conditions of the camp. We see the construction of the bridge.
We see the commandos journey through the wilderness. And all of these operate as the broadest thread
of the story. David Lean: “Well, I must say, that I find
dialogue a bore, for the most part. I think that if you look back on any film you’ve
seen, you don’t remember lines of dialogue, you remember pictures.” In an era where the epic is the status quo,
it seems that so much is explained while removed from the story. There will be a contrived
action sequence and then we find the characters in a secluded place where they discuss what
is going on. Here, there is one wholly expositional scene—the scene with Shears and Warden in
Warden’s office—and it serves to set up the last hour of the film. We get so much
more information in this whole sequence than what is said—we see the comfort and peace
that Shears is forced to give up to ultimately sacrifice himself for a bridge. We also see
the kind of person Warden is—he and his men run a commando school and they are fired
up to “play” war. Lean also used sound to enhance the picture
without describing it. In an interview with Charles Reynolds in 1958, Lean said, “Sound
should give the film another dimension. It should be used as orchestration to give something
the picture isn’t giving. Anyone can take a shot of seagulls and put in their cries
on the soundtrack but this doesn’t really add anything. At the same time you can show
a shot of gulls and by adding the sound of waves with their cries you can suggest an
entire beach scene… In Bridge we used the screech of the bird to coincide with the cut
to the young Japanese soldier who is being pursued through the jungle. This is the first
time he is seen again since the beginning of the chase. The sound gives this important
shot an added jolt to emphasize it” (Organ 4). The Bridge on the River Kwai was the first
film that Lean shot in CinemaScope, which made the aspect ratio nearly twice as wide
as a normal film of that time. It was shot with anamorphic lenses, which films a stretched
out image and then the image is squashed back to normal later. This way the image isn’t
cropped to achieve the look of widescreen. Spiegel was worried about the change from
what Lean was used to, but Lean responded, “If you’ve an eye for composition, you
can fill out the corners” (Silverman 124). This film was really the start of Lean’s
style of bigness, so to speak. It’s those huge sweeping landscape shots and layered
composition that really make the story larger than life. Cinemascope is a great way to present
the setting. In the interview with Charles Reynolds, Lean
listed his techniques for achieving his trademark epic style. The first is making sure to use enough of
each shot. Every shot has information in it and the wider the shot is, the more information
there is within the frame. Lean says, “When I take a shot I try to
do a little running commentary to myself on what the audience is supposed to see. ‘Isn’t
that a beautiful road, look at the tall trees, look at that dog crossing the road.’ That
sort of thing. Each shot must be held long enough to tell its story and then make room
for the next” (Organ 4). The second is avoiding unmotivated camera
moves. Every pan or tilt must reveal something. And don’t be afraid to cut. Lean says, “Whenever
you decide to pan, a little red warning light should go on in your mind and you should ask,
“Can I do this better in a cut?” (Organ 4). Lean also maintains that it isn’t always
best to try and get everything in one shot. And if you separate what would be a pan into
two shots, you can use different lenses and framing to better emphasize the point of each
shot. Third is giving depth to the shots by making
use of what is in front of and what is behind your subject. Lean says, “Without these
planes the shot will look like a “picture postcard.” Often it is effective just to
have a black object of some kind in the foreground. Don’t light it. Keep it out of focus…
In Bridge, we tried constantly to give depth by including foreground objects” (Organ
4). The background is just as important. Just look at this shot from the beginning of the
film when Shears is burying a prisoner who has just died. In the background we can see
Nicholson’s men marching into the camp, which adds a nice detail to the scene. Which brings us to the fourth thing— that
every shot should be linked to a sequence of shots. For instance, look at the sequence
of the British soldiers entering the camp—each shot tells the small story of the men arriving
at the camp. We have shots that establish the men, shots that focus on key players,
shots of the spectators, as well as details, and reactions. Lean says, “Just using one
shot is rushing that climax… Any good movie that you will ever see is not built out of
isolated shots but of sequences which build to climaxes” (Organ 4). And a fun fact:
they weren’t able to afford bringing a bunch of British extras to Ceylon for these scenes,
so they positioned the British actors they had in the front and the rest were Singhalese
natives, “done up in whiteface” (Silverman 125). Lean is the master of showcasing beautiful
scenery, but he also knew when to disregard the beautiful scenery. Lean studied American
films in order to discover why some shots seemed to have a more intimate relationship
with the characters than films from other countries. He found that there is a danger
in becoming “greedy” and always using wide-angle lenses in order to capture the
scenery. So, to achieve the intimacy, he would use a long lens positioned further away that
would lessen the depth of focus. He said, “The more concentration I want in a scene
the longer lens I use. These lenses have a wonderful quality about them which is better
on the screen than through the viewfinder” (Organ 4). After producer Sam Spiegel thought that enough
footage was filmed to complete the story, he took the cameras away from Lean, who wanted
to continue shooting. Lean ended up using a small hand-held Arriflex camera to shoot
all of the B-roll of the landscapes and so forth to fill out the film (Film 88). The shots had to be blown up to CinemaScope,
but it was these shots that gave the film a much larger feel than it would have had
without them (Film 88). Lean had to suffer through some pretty harsh conditions to get
some of these shots, which brings us to number three… When it comes to setting… Do it for real. How different would Jaws have been if it had
been shot in a soundstage instead of on the ocean? The same goes for The Bridge on the
River Kwai—Lean could have shot a couple of landscape shots on location and the rest
in Hollywood, but he didn’t and it gives the film a certain authenticity that we can
still appreciate almost sixty years later. Spiegel had produced The African Queen on
location in Africa in 1951, but when it came to difficult scenes, special effects were
used. These scenes really date the movie and the film doesn’t nearly stand the test of
time as well as The Bridge on the River Kwai. There is no doubt the movies today that rely
on special effects to present the setting will end up suffering the same fate in the
future. Lean would do whatever it took to get the
shot, no matter how difficult or how long it took. It was reported that he had traveled
150 miles to capture a sunset and this gave him a reputation that might not be entirely
accurate (DVD Booklet). David Lean: “Some terrible journalist came
to me and said rather earnestly, ‘Mr. Lean, is it true you wait five weeks for a wave?’
And I said, ‘Look, I’d be out of a job if I did!’” However, it is easy to see the lengths that
Lean went to to achieve even the briefest of shots. It’s all right there on the screen.
Look at this shot: Aside from trekking out into the wilderness
with camera gear, this shot required finding the proper framing, communicating with another
group that had to travel much further away, waiting for the light to both silhouette the
people in the background and cast light on the subject in the foreground, not to mention
the time it would take to reset and try again. And look at this shot: All of these extras
had to be present for the background of this shot and here there is a full scene that required
the British officers to stand out in the sun to appear in the background. It would have
been much easier to shoot from a different angle, but not nearly as interesting— and
it should be noted that many of the extras experienced sunstroke because of the intense
heat (DVD Booklet). When the production scouted locations, they
saw that the actual Kwai River was not very substantial or interesting, so they decided
to shoot in a small village in Ceylon named Kitulagala. After enduring the rough conditions on location
in Uganda and the Congo for The African Queen (where most of the cast and crew took ill
after drinking the water, that is, except for Humphrey Bogart who drank mostly Gin),
Spiegel wanted the conditions on Kwai to be more comfortable. He had a small production
village constructed, complete with “bungalows, plumbing facilities (including a water-filtration
system), and [a] catering service,” although the catering’s “quality degenerated as
Spiegel made weekly budgetary cut-backs” (Silverman 121). Spiegel also hosted film
screenings for the native children who had never seen a movie before (DVD Booklet). Still, no one was fond of the location shooting,
except David Lean. Spiegel’s wife said, “I think David is at his happiest living
in an adverse environment, and he flourished like an orchid in Ceylon. It was hot, it was
humid, people were dropping like flies, and he was happy” (Silverman 121). They filmed the prison camp scenes in an abandoned
stone quarry and, though it appears the bridge location is nearby, it was actually several
miles away from the camp (DVD Booklet). Everything was shot for real using a camera
they had built themselves. Aside from the landscape shots Lean filmed with the Arrieflex,
they had to lug the particularly large camera, lights, and generators to every location they
filmed in (Making). Occasionally problems with shooting on location
would arise, but despite his penchant for meticulously planning each shot in advance,
Lean remained flexible when it was necessary. David Lean: “But there’s always room for
spontaneity, always room. There are so many facets of it. I mean, for instance, you waited
for one day when it’s pouring with rain, now what do you do, wait for a second day?
No, you don’t—you think, ‘how can we change the scene so we can play it in rain?’
That sort of thing and you’re all the time having to change things in the making of the
movie.” Lean wanted everything done for real, sometimes
forcing the actors to perform in very uncomfortable conditions. For instance, the hotbox that
Alec Guinness was in was actually hot, but they heated it even more so it would shimmer
on camera (Making). For the scene where the doctor comes to look at Nicholson, Lean wouldn’t
let the actor kneel on a cushion because he wanted him to use the uncomfortable position
in his performance. There were a couple of reasons they decided
to shoot the film on location in Ceylon—aside from Lean’s perfectionism, a Hollywood backlot
couldn’t house the massive set. Steve Allen: “Well Bill, isn’t it sort
of unusual to be making a picture in Ceylon? I mean, why aren’t you shooting this in
Hollywood on one of the enormous soundstages out there?” William Holden: “Well, here’s one of the
reasons, Steve. Our bridge on the river Kwai is too big for a soundstage. On either side
of the river, roads had to be cut around the mountain tea plantation. This train had to
be hauled over-land to the location.” That’s true—they were filming in such
a remote location that the bridge had to be built the old-fashioned way. The eight-month
project involved “cutting down 1,500 giant trees in the jungle, shaping them into pillars,
loading them onto the backs of forty-eight elephants to be dragged to the building site,
[and] pile-driving them into the ground to create a structure larger than any in Ceylon
(425 feet long and 90 feet high) at a cost of over $250,000 (DVD Booklet). The production received assistance from the
Ceylonese government who offered the help of soldiers to act as extras and work for
the production providing transportation as well as helping construct the bridge itself
(DVD Booklet). The fact that the bridge was built without the aid of large construction
vehicles gave finished bridge a look of authenticity—it really looked like it was built by prisoners
of war. The design for the bridge came during the
two years of pre-production for the film. The production was given a scrap of rice paper
that had been smuggled out of Burma containing a drawing of a bridge for the Death Railway.
The drawing was to help commandos identify the bridge they were ordered to blow up and
this design was used for the bridge we see in the film (DVD Booklet). A funny story is that the “villagers insisted
on performing a ritualistic ceremony in order to ward off evil spirits and ensure that the
good spirits will “preserve [the] bridge for all time,” despite the fact that the
production was going to blow up the bridge at the end of the shoot (DVD Booklet). Because it took so long to build and under
such difficult conditions, they really only had one shot to film the bridge blowing up.
They built a dam in the river to make the water low enough to shoot the scene, but it
had rained really hard and the water level ended up rising over eight feet, so they had
to postpone the shot for eleven days (DVD Booklet). They set up five cameras to film the explosion.
They had each of the camera locations switch on a light to signal that the film was rolling
without an issue. There was also a switch for the man driving the train to switch on
after he jumped from the train to signal that he wasn’t still on it and they could blow
the bridge. The first time they attempted the shot, all of the lights went on for each
camera position except for one, but the train was already moving and there was nowhere for
the train to go after it went across the bridge. The only thing that kept it from falling into
the water was that it crashed into the truck generating power for the lights. So what happened?
One of the cameramen just forgot to switch his light on. The second try worked. Although, the problem here was that the sound
man printed the sound for the first take and not the second— all they had was the sound
of the train going over the bridge without any explosion. So what we hear is not, in
fact, the actual sound of the bridge blowing up, but rather a sound effect (Making). The difficulty that went into creating The
Bridge on the River Kwai really shows on screen and had they used cutting edge special effects
at the time to avoid doing it for real, the film would be dated today, which it isn’t.
It holds up incredibly sixty years later and you believe everything that you are seeing.
Filmmaking is a struggle and it is the job of the filmmaker to create something called
“verisimilitude,” which is defined, more or less, by creating something that appears
real. I cannot think of a film that better exemplifies this concept. One last thing… The Bridge on the River Kwai was actually
one of the reasons movies started becoming prime-time television programming. The film
originally made thirty million dollars over its three million dollar budget and was rereleased
in theaters just after Lean and Spiegel’s Lawrence of Arabia came out. But in 1966,
the film aired on American television to a “record sixty million viewers” (Silverman
125). Before that, networks would break up films “into two parts and shown over two
evenings.” It was presented as an “ABC Movie Special” and ran for over three hours
because of the commercial breaks (Wiki). Thanks for watching! This is one of my favorite
films. I saw it for the first time only a few years ago and ended up watching it again
as soon as it was over. My next big video will be Part 6 of How Kubrick Made 2001: A
Space Odyssey and I have a couple of shorter videos in the works as well, so if you’re
new here, please hit that subscribe button now because there are plenty more videos on
the way for cinephiles like you! Thanks again for watching!

100 thoughts on “What I Learned From Watching: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

  1. Superb work Mr Tyler. Thoroughly enjoyed this, and starting to see how wonderfully composed all your uploads are.

  2. I learned that Japanese leader didnt know much about bridge building. But his prisoners did

  3. Pierre Boule also wrote the original Planet of the Apes novel that the movie was based on.

  4. The first time I saw the men marching into the camp while whistling, I did something I'd never done before: I burst into tears. That's what staying with the scene until all of the information has been imparted.

  5. I went rafting in Sri Lanka on "the river". The guides point out the remains of the bridge foundations. Pretty cool.

  6. It wasn't that great a movie: I fell asleep the first time I saw it. Of course, I was 4 years old, and it was late a night in a drive-in, but still …

  7. it's interesting that Lean received advisement from the Japanese Government on the film, after demonstrating to them that his production aimed to show the pointlessness of war

    this was mentioned around 10:25 almost as a throwaway line, but i think it speaks volumes to the intent of what Lean wanted to portray, yet it does raise the question of whether he really understood what it was the Allied powers were fighting against, namely; totalitarian supremacist ideologies which brutally suppressed every nation they conquered in their expansionism, until halted in their tracks — did he truly think a war against such evil was futile ?

  8. A friend of mine took a tour in Burma and saw the real bridge and it is actually made of steel

  9. You could usefully spend another video talking about the music score by Malcolm Arnold, which earned an Oscar. In fact, the BBC made a 1-hour programme on this subject which was aired on BBC4 in 2019 in its "Discovering…" series.

  10. This movie has such a fantastic build up to a perfect ending. Love William Holden in this and how it humanizes the Japanese which I did not expect

  11. William Holden is one of my favorite actor's & always will be. I will watch a black & white or color movie with him in it!

  12. One of my all-time favourite movies, too. You did a good job in this exposition.

  13. So is it “On” or “Over”? I’ve known this as over my entire life and you’ve called that several time. As they used to say back then: “what gives”?

  14. You cant beat that old school British thinking. The writers the directors the politicians. Nothing like the shits today.

  15. There never was a bridge over the river Kwai the one that was built by POW's was across the Mae Klong and there was actually 2 bridges one of wood and the other of steel the latter still exists today although this has been repaired post war 2 spans have a square section and denote the later additions.
    The river was later renamed Khwae Yai as a result of the film and unlike the film the POW's did not build the bridges as a matter of pride.

  16. I did see the film on TV broken up into many parts, over the course of an entire week. WABC-TV showed it on The 4:30 movie in February 1975. That's a total of 7.5 hours including commercials. They must have shown a lot of commercials.

  17. Without Alec Guiness the movie would have been unremarkable….he made the movie.

  18. This has been my favorite movie since I was about 10, 40 yrs ago. I've seen it about 10 times. This video about the movie taught me things I never knew. Some I kinda wish I didnt learn. But the most important point is how it was so realistic. WW2 has nearly limitless stories to share and lessons to teach humanity. This movie is one of the most important. Oh by the way, I went on to become a US military officer. Not totally because of this movie, but it was part of it.

    Good show o chap.


  20. I remember when it aired on TV in 1966. It was a real event, everyone in school excitedly talked about it. I was not aware that it was an experiment in TV presentation. But then, Tyler's commentaries are uniquely excellent. Thanks.

  21. Loved by film buffs. Despised by the men who actually worked on this railway.

  22. Alex Guiness could easily play Dr. QUEST, and William Holden (Shears) could be Race Bannon. There you go.

  23. The unamerican activities committee would be welcomed by me today

  24. I remember the1966 special show on TV – it was a big deal and one of the few times my parents allowed us to stay up and watch it until the end. I was always impressed by the movie and now am really impressed by what it took to make it.

  25. One of my wife's uncles worked on the real bridge on the River Khwai in Siam. He survived. He was Malay. At one point he was given 30 days leave to recover his health back home. The family were held hostage to his return. He was a track laying foreman. The real bridge was built by Aussie survivors from the light cruiser HMAS Perth, and American survivors from the USS Houston. There were no Brits in on the construction. The movie misspelled the name of the river. If you want to know the truth about the bridge read "The Naked Island," written by Brandon Russell, an Australian infantry man who was a Jap prisoner who worked on the railway to hell, aka, the Siam-Burma Railroad. Three commando raids failed to destroy the bridge. All were wiped out. Numerous air raids failed to wreck the bridge, too, as it was defended by air fields nearby with many Jap aces, and a great many AA guns. The bridge is still intact and a tourist attraction. Two friends of my mother and uncles are buried in the Australian Naval Cemetery at River Khwai Bridge. Some years ago one of my uncles visited the bridge and cemetery to pay his repects to his buddies that didn't come home. The railroad and bridge did not require any white men to design. It was considered one of the railway engineering feats of the world. The film attempts to show the White Man's Burden, not surprising as the writers were communists. Every survivor of the building of the railroad who saw the film hated its profound dishonesty and lies. Not one exception. To Australians! Long Live Australia! a pint of Tiger lager.

  26. The funny part – the truly hilarious thing about the film is that the men that started the project had been 'black listed' out of Hollywood for supposedly being Communists. Today – an Artist or Technician is 'black listed' and banned from Hollywood if they ARE NOT a Liberal, Leftist Communist!!!

  27. I saw it in the summer of 1958, it was burned into my head and has many parts still popping up now and then ….

  28. Great Video on a great film. Yeh widescreen… except when it’s not widescreen…
    Wish all movies were available in their original exact aspect ratio…

  29. Great video! Classic movie!

    Suggestions for future video dissertations:
    – Where Eagles Dare
    – Kelley's Heroes
    – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

  30. I saw this movie when it first hit the theaters. Thought it was great then and still do. Did not know the stories of actual POWs were used when writing the script or the primitive manner in which the bridge was built. For all the attention to detail in the film I still don't know why the Japanese were armed with British weapons (Enfield rifles, Vickers machine guns).

  31. That was a really nice video made with a lovely delivery an evident passion for the subject matter. Well done indeed 👍.

    Many of these older films do truly stand up in a way much of the films coming out now don't really. A Bridge Too Far, Waterloo or Zulu are all classics of truly epic proportions!

    (Might you be doing a long form video on any of those perhaps *hint hint*)

  32. Film is great, but historically not at all, read the book "The Forgotten Highlander" about a pow who worked on it, once I read this book, I was at a loss of words what these men went through, love the movie but can't watch it the same anymore.

  33. POWs who worked on the actual railroad/bridge absolutely despised this film because it was nothing like the hell they had to go through. The death rate was 30-40% and even higher among non-British/Americans.

  34. That jungle ..man.. I'm in bed watching this and checking for leeches, look to my left..yup, one off me. What a great movie, like all of david leans gems. I know this film was not based on fact, a DOCUMENTARY would better suite that purpose. The british soldiers suffered and died there, under the unforgiving rising sun.

  35. This movie has probably set up the only situation in movie history which has a moment where a you don't want a protagonist to go through with his demolition plan. At least for me, I really didn't want them to blow up the bridge.

  36. You should do a video comparing and contrasting John Frankenheimer's GRAND PRIX & Ron Howard's RUSH. I think GRAND PRIX is the greatest racing movie ever made – for many of the same reasons you talk about re David Lean's Bridge on the River Kwai. What John Frankenheimer did & how he did it, will NEVER be done again for reason's that ought to be obvious – thank God Frankenheimer did what he did because this is a movie that is too often dismissed because of it's paper thin [sic] storyline. Frankly, the storyline is fine, primarily because this movie is so visually compelling!

  37. there is absolutely nothing futile about fighting imperial Japan. I stopped at time stamp 7:26 because I found this juvenile.
    You can't see your self as 'above both sides, and superior to them. Grow up.

  38. plenty of communists sympathizers in hellywood this days 🙄 anyway good job

  39. Lose the soundtrack or make it relevant. Distracting. Otherwise fine essay. thank you.

  40. The only thing I know, it was filmed in Sri Lanka, a great film, especially the whistling part (Colonel boogie)

  41. Sorry to break the news to you, but the film story has nothing to do with real events. In Burma, the bridges were built by Japanese. The idea that the Japanese did not know how to build bridges is ridiculous. The PoW's essentially did nothing. They were too sick to work anyway, and obviously lacked motivation. But Hollywood is Hollywood. Reality is optional. Nice movie otherwise.

  42. Those are Bats … not seagulls ! …. and it was a accident that was captured on film and used in the movie.

  43. As someone who has been to Kanchanaburi, where the Bridge on the River Kwai is located, and having read a history of that part of the war while I was at the bridge, I would agree that the guy who penned the story was probably a communist. Aside from the names of some of the officers, the movie is pure fiction. Nothing else is correct – from the terrain of the land, to the building materials used in its construction, to the method used to knock it out in 1945, to the people who actually designed it, to the slave labor used to build it, nothing of historical value is correct in the film. This was a propaganda film, not an historical representation. You may as well watch Night of the Living Dead.

  44. 5:34 OMG! I have known the colonel bogey march all my life, but never heard the soldiers lyrics in all that time. Thats just something my dad felt he couldn't pass on to me about his service in WW2 I guess. a piece of history that's really worth remembering! Thanks! LOL

  45. Hayakawa was in his late 60s when he took on the role??

    He surely DID NOT look that old to me….

  46. How many people hear Alec Guinness' voice and momentarily have a mental flash of Obi Wan Kenobi?

  47. Wait; even in 1957 Columbia Pictures nearly shut down an expensive production because there weren't any Caucasian women featured in it?? How obtuse! I never knew that about this movie, and it's one of my personal favorites. Guess you learn something new every day, after all. Sometimes you learn things you realize you didn't want to know. 😒

  48. Great film, but little connection to "reality": over 100,000 Asians died making bridge and railway. 7 have marked graves. Had to film in Sri Lanka because Thailand was on side of Japanese & probably a bit hostile to that getting out. US planes took out bridge with early "smart bomb". I live in Thailand, been over to actual site. Bridge there now came from Java, FWIW. I suppose the "realism" helps cover the fantasy of the story.

  49. Gosh. I'm a bit breathless after that. What a wonderfully open, enlightening, brilliantly narrated and beautifully produced treatment of a film I love and revisit over and over again.

    Now I know why 🙂

    I'm just sorry I've only discovered your superb, life-enhancing work three years after its conception.

  50. It is interesting how you mentioned Steven Spielberg and Jaws in this analysis. Just before I saw this, I watched an interview with Spielberg where he said how much David Lean influenced him when he was a kid and he specifically mentioned Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai and Doctor Zhivago.

  51. I cant say anything other than that good old saying—THEY DONT MAKE THEM LIKE THAT ANYMORE.—————-x

  52. One of my favorite movies. Saw it when it first was released. For all the attention to realism and detail, I always wondered why the Japanese were armed with British weapons (Enfield rifles, Vickers machine guns).

  53. Fantastic video with great insights on production of Bridge on River Kwai… one of my all time favorite films by one of the truly legendary directors — David Lean. Been to the River Kwai many times but never to the shooting location in Sri Lanka. On the bucket list

  54. Note on African Queen. Re-shoots and additional outside river scenes where actually done on an old disused stretch of canal near Elstree studios after Uganda location filming had been completed.

  55. You did a great job! I didn't know all the concepts until you presented it. EXCELLENT!

  56. In my opinion this is Lean's greatest film…I know I am in the minority.

  57. "Most of the cast and crew took ill after drinking the water – that is except for Humphrey Bogart who drank mostly gin."
    Classic Bogart.

  58. David Lean is such a great filmmaker, he is also a big influence on Sergio Leone another great filmmaker

  59. Excellent analysis..However those were not birds.. They were flying foxes (Large fruit eating bats)

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