In this attempt to fill as many of the gaps in my cinematic knowledge as possible, I’ve started with David Lean’s 1957 classic The Bridge on the River Kwai, starring Alec Guinness, William Holden and Sessue Hayakawa. I couldn’t tell you why I decided to start here, of all places. I don’t have a particular order in mind when it comes to going through these lists, but rather simply intend to get through them. This simply seemed like a very good place to start.
I found it to be a compelling piece of cinema, however I wasn’t quite as profoundly touched by it as I had expected to be. That being said, I’m not all together certain what I had expected. This is one of those films you hear so much about, or at least I had from a very young age, so much so that the name has become iconic. I don’t think it ever could have lived up to the idyllic expectations in my head.
Besides Star Wars, I’m sorry to say, I know very little of Alec Guinness’ work (though I hope through this self-assigned project this shall change). However, I found his performance and his character to be the most compelling. He portrayed Colonel Nicholson as a man of inscrutable conviction, who believes in the necessity of law and order. “Without law, there is no civilization” he states boldly, standing his ground from the very start of the film.
Unfortunately, I found Holden to be rather wooden in his portrayal of Shears, with some shining moments. For the most part I wasn’t overly thrilled with his performance, but he got the job done well enough.
The Bridge on the River Kwai has some interesting little factoids that emerged from behind the scenes, which tends to be an aspect of film I’m personally fascinated with. This, perhaps, may become more the focus of watching these movies for me: more of a “did you know?” mentality than anything else.
In his weakened state after leaving “the oven”, Col. Nicholson (Alec Guinness) stumbled across the ground to make his way to General Saito’s cabin. It is said that Guinness created this struggling walk based on that of his son Matthew who was recovering from Polio. Guinness regarded this minute portion of his performance as some of the best work of his career, and was immensely proud of it.
Though it won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 1958, the award was only given to the French author of the original novel, Pierre Boulle. The man couldn’t speak a word of English, and thus was clearly not responsible for the adaptation in any way. Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson were deliberately snubbed that year as they had been blacklisted, suspected of communist ties. As a result, they were taken out of the film credits, and were not awarded their deserved Oscar. It wasn’t until 1984 that they were retrospectively awarded the Oscar. Wilson had already passed away by this time, and sadly Foreman passed away the day after the award was announced. When Bridge was restored years later, their names were added back into the credits.
This post was originally published on my tumblr on May 12, 2011.