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"Madness... Madness" and Yet,
This review is from: The Bridge On The River Kwai [DVD] (DVD)
Directed by David Lean, this film focuses on an attempt by a team led by Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) to destroy a strategically important bridge over the Kwai river in Burma in 1943, a bridge built by British prisoners during World War II. An epic in every possible sense, the inhumanities of the Japanese are probably underplayed somewhat so that we can focus on two essential conflicts of will, one between Japanese Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) and British Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) and the other between Warden and Shears (William Holden) who is forced to join Warden's team and thereby avoid a court martial for impersonating a U.S. naval officer. It should also be noted that Nicholson struggles with a conflict between his obligations as a British officer (i.e. to resist his enemy in any and every possible way) and his determination to demonstrate British superiority over the Japanese captors. Colonel Saito has his own conflicts, notably between imposing his will on Nicholson and the British troops and getting the bridge built. At the heart of this magnificent film are several moral dilemmas which help to explain why we become so emotionally involved with its narrative.
One of the many pleasures of seeing this film (especially in its DVD format) is the juxtaposition of lush tropical settings with the raw emotions of those who are building the bridge and those who are determined to destroy it. I am also struck by how carefully Lean develops the semi-adversarial relationships between Nicholson and Saito and between Warden and Shears. Although "Madness... Madness" is frequently quoted as an evaluation of those relationships, I disagree. Saito has been ordered to built the bridge, Nicholson agrees to accomplish that task but on his terms, Warden has been assigned to destroy it, and Shears (who considers all this "madness" but plays a key role in achieving that objective) lacks the circumspection which Lean enables us to have. Of course, war itself is madness...and yet there is (or at least can be) a redeeming if misguided integrity in how adversaries conduct themselves amidst that madness.
The excellence of this film was acknowledged by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, receiving in 1957 seven Oscars for Best Actor (Guinness). Best Adapted Screenplay (Pierre Boulle), Best Cinematography (Jack Hildyard), Best Director (Lean), Best Editing (Peter Taylor), and Best Score (Malcolm Arnold). Years later, it was ranked #13 among "America's Greatest Movies" by the American Film Institute. I consider it ludicrous that Gone With the Wind (#4) is ranked higher than The Bridge on the River Kwai by the AFI. For those with a sensitive palate, the former is junk food whereas the latter is gourmet cuisine.