David Lean is among those directors who won two Oscar for directing two Best-Picture-winners. In 1962, he triumphed with Lawrence of Arabia and five years earlier, his famous war-movie The Bridge on the River Kwai dominated the ceremony.
The movie tells two intervened stories. One is that of the English Colonel Nicholson who, together with his soldiers, is caught by the Japanese and sent to a prison camp. There, he tries to uphold his own standards against the enemies – like insisting that officers are exempt from manual labour. When his soldiers are forced to build a bridge across the river Kwai, Nicholson orders them with the most serious determination to do the best they can as a symbol for British workmanship – until he becomes basically obsessed with the project. The second story concerns an American Navy Commander who managed to escape from the camp but is sent back to destroy the bridge.
Alec Guiness won an Oscar for playing the stern, bureaucratic and determined Colonel and there is no reason why he shouldn’t have. His portrayal is authentic and understandable and he turns his character into the movie’s most interesting aspect. Sessue Hayakawa is also extremely memorable as his opponent Colonel Saito while William Holden plays the kind of character he was born to play – cynical, egoistical and hard-edged.
Of course, a movie by David Lean does not only feature magnificent performances but is also a feast for the eyes and ears. Even in the terror of war, David Lean finds images of unparalleled beauty and the cinematography captures the moments of tension and horror just as well as those of a more quiet nature. The ‘Colonel Bogey March’ is used very well and also the original score underlines the movie’s story with great effect.
Overall, it’s a thrilling and highly entertaining movie which constantly finds new angles, themes and storylines to keep the viewer fascinated until the unforgettable ending.