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"The Bridge on The River Kwai" {Blu-ray}
Wayne Klein
Studio: Sony Home Video
Release Date:
Special Features:

"The Making of 'The Bridge on The River Kwai'", Picture-in-picture comparison between the novel and film, 36 page booklet, reproduction of lobby cards, DVD of the movie, "An Appreciation by John Milius", photo gallery, trailers, "USC Short Film Produced by William Holden", "The Rise and Fall of A Jungle Giant", "The Bridge on The River Kwai" Premeire narrated by William Holden, "The Steve Allen Show with William Holden and Alec Guinness", previews


Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle, who had been a prisoner of war in Thailand, "The Bridge on the River Kwai" combined Boulle's war time experience as a POW with the true story about the bhilding of the Burma Railway in 1942-3 by POW slave labor working under the harshest conditions. Boulle's novel captured the interest of producer Sam Spiegel ("Lawrence of Arabia", "On the Waterfront") and Spiegel, in turn, pulled in director David Lean. Although the core of the story survives in the film Lean came up with the clever subplot involving the character of Shear played by William Holden as a means to appease Columbia Pictures who wanted an American actor in a leading role. The contrast between the two stories--that of Nicholson and his men still in the POW camp building the bridge while Shear has escaped only to be reluctantly be drawn back as part of a plan to have commandos destroy the bridge--play brilliantly off each other. The screenplay by Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson who were both blacklisted at the time remains one of their best (the duo didn't write it together--Foreman wrote the original drafts while Wilson was brought in to rewrite the material and add the subplot involving Shear). Ironically the duo won an Oscar for their script but because they were blacklisted were POWs in a way of the Communist witch hunt; Spiegel was afraid to credit them at the time so novelist Pierre Boulle who spoke little to no English and had never written a screenplay ended up accepting the Oscar and taking credit for the script. ***

Although William Holden isn't as celebrated as he was when he was alive, his cynical, wry performance continues to make "Bridge" a delight. The late Alec Guinness shines in the role as the methodical, prideful Col. Nicholson who doesn't realize until the very end that he has slipped from the role of POW to collaborator because he wants to prove that his men can build the bridge better than their enemies as part of his own small victory. Guinness deservedly won an Oscar but to suggest that his was the only Oscar caliber performance would do a disservice to Holden, Jack Hawkins and James Donald who all give strong performances in the film. ---

Image & Sound:

Sony has done a terrific upgrade for "Bridge"; we get a restored 4k transfer of the film. Colors have always been somewhat muted for the film so the presentation here is in keeping with how it looked in 1958. The detail is remarkably sharp and vivid with nice fine grain visible throughout. "Bridge" looks remarkably vivid for a 52 year old film. ***

The only negative is in the area of the soundtrack. While I did enjoy the 5.1 lossless mix presented here, it isn't very active and I would have preferred the original mono soundtrack be included as well. It isn't here. Nevertheless, the film sounds quite good in its presentation for BRD.

Special Features:

We get the bulk of the special features ported over from the two disc version from a couple of years back presented in SD. There is some new material mixed in with the old including a picture-in-picture that allows you to compare the film to Boulle's source novel as well as a recently discovered premiere newsreel narrated by William Holden for the premiere of the film. We also get the following special features: 36 page booklet, reproduction of lobby cards; DVD of the movie; "An Appreciation by John Milius" (from the previous DVD incarnation); photo gallery; trailers; "USC Short Film Produced by William Holden"; "The Rise and Fall of A Jungle Giant" and "The Steve Allen Show with William Holden and Alec Guinness". The only thing missing that might have improved this set is a commentary track. I would also like to have seen a featurette focusing on the mixed reception from many veterans who felt that the film misrepresented (and the novel as well) the conditions of the POWs and the leadership of Lt. Col. Phillip Toosey. Many vets at the time felt that the film implied that Toosey collaborated with the enemy in the form of the character of Col. Nicholson. The character of Nicholson was a mixture of a variety of French military personnel that Boulle met while a POW himself in Thailand during the war. Toosey unlike Nicholson refused to collaborate and fought his captors every step of the way while a prisoner of war and was later knighted. The novel faced much of the same criticism as the film with many veterans failing to recognize that Boulle and Lean both used the backdrop to tell their own story. ---

Final Words:

"The Bridge on the River Kwai" holds up amazingly well as both an thrilling WWII adventure film but also one that touches on a variety of important themes that tended to dominate Lean's later work. It's a marvelous movie and although it may be factually inaccurate still manages to say quite a lot about humanity AND be entertaining as well.


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