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.
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.