Excuse me?

In a recent email I sent to my sister-in-law (you may know her as Raree in the blog comments section), I happened to mention that if she thought of a subject for my blog, to please let me know. Later, my brother-in-law sent me the link to a web page http://blog.sfgate.com/mlasalle/2012/01/05/oscar-mistakes-best-picture/.  In short, this article lists all the movies the author believes were not really the best pictures of the year, even though they won that coveted award. I have never done a movie review blog and don’t intend to get in the habit now. It’s just that one of their choices really rankled me. “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, made in 1957.

Image via IMBd.com

Yes, there were some other very good movies made that year. In fact there were several other war movies, the most notable of which was “The Paths of Glory” a WWI epic about cowardice under fire and scapegoating. But the closest competitor, in my view, was “12 Angry Men”, probably the definitive movie about jury deliberations. Still, nothing holds a candle to “Bridge on the River Kwai.”

This great movie was deserving of best picture on many levels. Suspense, action, spectacular scenery (filmed in the lush tropics of Sri Lanka), morality, a can’t-get-it-out-of-your-mind music theme, and in a sense, historical value. Though this particular event is fictional, the movie is based on the actual forced labor of captured British soldiers to build the Burma rail line for the Japanese during 1942-3.

To begin with, my hero in life, my grandfather, took me to see it. Any memory with him is going to exert a positive influence on my take on any event, whatever it is. (Think a Saturday afternoon at Ebbets field in Brooklyn watching the Dodgers play the New York Giants before they both became turncoats).  Anyway, as an impressionable young teenager, this was my first experience watching a war film that wasn’t just a cookie-cutter style, blood and guts, rah-rah for the good guys type of movie. This one made me think.

It had something for everyone. For the guys; action of course, but revealed in the main character, Colonel Nicholson, a subtle machismo that sets the standard for what real heroism is. For the ladies; a buff  William Holden. I don’t mean this to suggest any shallowness, but c’mon, he was the most handsome actor of his time. For the intellectual purists; an Oscar winning performance by England’s Alec Guinness. Played to a tee by Guinness, this was a thinking man’s officer, who rose above the circumstances to instill a sense of moral pride in his men. By convincing them not to malinger or sabotage the building of the bridge, he gave them back their sense of dignity, long ago lost at the hands of the obsessed concentration camp commandant.

The clever plot revolves around two schools of thought. Whether building this bridge is a monument to British morale and pride amidst the chaos of internment or an outright collaboration with the enemy. The surprise ending answers that question for you.

But probably the most memorable part of this extraordinary movie is the theme song, “The Colonel Bogey March”, written in 1914, during the era of another world war. It was composed by Lt. F. J. Ricketts a British army bandmaster. But you will swear it could only have been written for this remarkable movie. At the beginning, it’s catchy martial rhythm serves to depict the seemingly unbreakable spirit of the prisoners. Then, almost mystically at the end, it morphs into a haunting, solemn reminder of what has just taken place. Click here to hear it played on YouTube. I defy you to go the rest of the day without whistling this to yourself. Do yourself a favor and rent this movie sometime. If you haven’t seen it, forsooth! If you have, it’s about time to treat yourself all over again.

Now, for those of you who always expect a little humor in my posts I won’t leave you totally disappointed. Following, is a joke that surfaced right after the movie and has persisted right along with the movie itself:

“Why did the moron throw a sack of onions in the river? Because he wanted to see the bridge on the river kwai.” Sorry.

24 thoughts on “Excuse me?

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  2. I have watched this film more than once (I was a sickly child) and I loved it! They don’t put films like this on the TV in the daytime anymore 😦 It was a great film & guess what? One of my dad’s favourites 😉

  3. I still think this is a great movie and deserving of an academy award. And just the mention of this film makes that tune pop into my head, I won’t be able to sleep tonight. Thanks, Big Al.

  4. I tend not to watch war movies or westerns. But, because you’re my Pal Al, I’ll take your word for it and that tune is very catchy.

    The joke at the end was school yard lame and I loved it!

    • It was a myth only in the sense that there was no Colonel Nicholson and no group sent to blow up a bridge. At no point in the introduction or end of the movie do they say it is a true depiction, only “based on actual events.”

      Was is fact is that there were thousands of British troops used to forcefully build the Burma rail line including a famous bridge that was eventually blown up by allied bombers. In addition there were captured soldiers from India, Australia, New Zealand and America used. The American troops (around 400) were sailors picked up by the Japanese after they sank the USS Houston in the Java Sea.

      Another myth is that college professors actually teach without bias.

  5. Okay, I will be the one to disagree. I hated this film. I don’t know if it was Oscar-worthy or not, but i absolutely hated the film when I saw it way back when. To add insult to injury, one of my history professors says it is a myth or what some call “spin” these days. I don’t know if that is true or not either.

    I looked at the list of films in the link in your blog and have these comments:

    I was bitterly disappointed when the English Patient did not will best everything. I read the book so I understood the film, which seemed to be the complaint of many who saw the film and did not understand it. I have watched this film over and over.

    Another film I have watched a dozen times or more (no kidding) and never found a single flaw in i t is….Shakespeare in Love. Top notch and if your know your Shakespeare you probably get more of the jokes than not. Loved it.
    Otherwise, I have no opinion on many of the other films, althoug I also disliked Gigi which won best picture one year. Dianne

  6. What a great way to start the New Year…with that “Kwai” music in my head! Thanks Big Al! One of the great “Best Picture” rip-offs was when “Shakespeare in Love” won over “Saving Private Ryan” !
    A pacifist turn that gave us another Sahkespeare lie

    • Thanks, Mike. The website I linked to speaks to that injustice. Like in the Olympics, the events that are decided by “a panel of judges” is always suspect. Give me hard facts every time to decide who a winner is. Fastest time, longest or highest jump, most points or in “Ryan’s” case the highest grossing film of the year.

    • My understanding is that there is no actual event similar to this although a famous bridge on the Burma line was destroyed, but by allied bombs not saboteurs. It’s not hard for me to imagine a character like this stepping up in the real life of WWII concentration camps.

  7. I’m not much for war movies, so I will take your word for this, but if I find it available in B&W I may watch it someday.

    Nice review, very professional….except for the joke. 😉

  8. I agree it was a great movie because of its depth and levels. As you said, it had something for everyone, even those of us who are more inclined toward the chick flick genre 🙂

    • Thanks Bella. Nothing wrong with chick flicks. We’re suckers for them, too. We just rented “Midnight in Paris” the other night. A delightful movie and a visual feast of Paris.

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