Based on the true story of the building of a bridge on the Burma railway by British prisoners-of-war held under a savage Japanese regime in World War II, The Bridge on the River Kwai
(1957) is one of the greatest war films ever made. The film received seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Performance (Alex Guinness), for Sir Malcolm Arnold's superb music, and for the screenplay from the novel by Pierre Boulle (who also wrote Monkey Planet
, the inspiration for Planet of the Apes
). The story does take considerable liberties with history, including the addition of an American saboteur played by William Holden, and an entirely fictitious but superbly constructed and thrilling finale. Made on a vast scale, the film reinvented the war movie as something truly epic, establishing the cinematic beachhead for The Longest Day
(1970) and A Bridge Too Far
(1977). It also proved a turning-point in director David Lean's career. Before he made such classic but conventionally scaled films as In Which We Serve
(1942) and Hobson's Choice
(1953). Afterwards there would only be four more films, but their names are Lawrence of Arabia
(1962), Dr Zhivago
(1965), Ryan's Daughter
(1970) and A Passage to India
On the DVD: Too often the best extras come attached to films that don't really warrant them. Not so here, where a truly great film has been given the attention it deserves. The first disc presents the film in the original extra-wide CinemaScope ratio of 2.55:1, in an anamorphically enhanced transfer which does maximum justice to the film's superb cinematography. The sound has been transferred from the original six-track magnetic elements into 5.1 Dolby Digital and far surpasses what many would expect from a 1950s' feature. The main bonus on the first disc is an isolated presentation of Malcolm Arnold's great Oscar-winning music score, in addition to which there is a trivia game, and maps and historical information linked to appropriate clips.
The second disc contains a new, specially produced 53-minute "making of" documentary featuring many of those involved in the production of the movie. This gives a rich insight into the physical problems of making such a complex epic on location in Ceylon. Also included are the original trailer and two short promotional films from the time of release, one of which is narrated by star William Holden. Finally there is an "appreciation" by director John Milius, an extensive archive of movie posters and artwork, and a booklet that reproduces the text of the film's original 1957 brochure. --Gary S Dalkin
A triple bill of classic war films. In 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' (1957) a group of British POWs are forced to build a bridge in Burma for the Japanese. Led by Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) they not only build the bridge but organise the whole building programme and are proud of the final result. However, unbeknownst to the POWs, a British commando team has been given a mission to destroy it. In 'The Guns of Navarone' (1961) it is 1943 and a group of mismatched Allied soldiers are sent to sabotage two powerful Nazi guns situated on a Greek island. If their mission fails, the guns will wipe out the 2,000 British soldiers who are attempting to evacuate civilians further down the coast. The mission is led by the dispassionate Captain Mallory (Gregory Peck), whose clinical approach does not find favour with explosives expert Corporal Miller (David Niven). Meanwhile, the group's Greek patriot guide Andrea Stavros (Anthony Quinn) is nursing a grudge against Mallory for an old injustice. Finally, 'From Here to Eternity' (1953) is Fred Zinnemann's classic drama about Pearl Harbor on the eve of the fateful Japanese attack. Private Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) is newly arrived at the military base, and has already fallen foul of his superiors due to his refusal to box on the company team. Given the worst duties as a result, Prewitt is befriended by Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra), a young soldier who is himself persecuted by the Italian-hating Sergeant Fatso (Ernest Borgnine). Meanwhile, Sergeant Warden (Burt Lancaster), Prewitt's superior, treads on dangerous ground when he allows himself to get caught up in affair with an officer's wife (Deborah Kerr).