We are back to World War II (told you the WWII movies never really stop), and very much not back to “ra ra military.” More like all the ways war can warp a man. And it seems everyone was on board for this one, Academy and audience alike.
The Joint Champion
Well… it’s shorter than Ten Commandments. Not by as wide a margin as you might want but it is shorter. However, you feel the two hour forty seven minute runtime much less than the hour-longer runtime of Ten Commandments, and even less than the shorter Around the World in 80 Days, because it makes better use of its time.
For anyone who doesn’t know, The Bridge on the River Kwai is centered around a Japanese POW camp tasked with building that thing in the title, but splits into two entwined stories. Col. Nicholson (a brilliantly soft spoken Alec Guinness) was ordered to surrender and feels escape is dereliction of duty, but gets in a battle of wills with the camp’s commander, Col. Saito, over treatment of his men… and specifically whether officers should have to do manual labour, which… you know what let’s not unpack that. However, once his conditions are met, he also wants to get this bridge built according to British standards, feeling that this task will give his men dignity, honour, and purpose instead of simply the shame and despair of having surrendered (which Saito is stunned they aren’t wallowing in at all times, as his culture would demand). And he begins to see the bridge as a kind of legacy. Meanwhile, an American named Shears manages a miraculous escape, but gets dragged back when British commandos decide they want his help blowing Nicholson’s bridge up. And when the two plots collide in the climax, it’s masterfully suspenseful, even if you have seen the iconic endpoint.
And then there’s this weird end shot of the camp doctor saying “madness” over and over then panning way back to the sound of marching drills. So… is that our message? Military life/warfare and madness are so close they share a post office? I guess I see it as a theme, given all three leads (Nicholson, Saito, Shears) call at least one of the other leads mad at some point, and Nicholson goes a little nutty for his bridge. Weird to play it so subtly the whole time and then hammer it home with the marching sounds and a character nearly delivering the moral right to camera.
This one’s a banger. A legit classic that holds up in all the ways Ten Commandments mostly doesn’t.
And Rotten Tomatoes Says: It’s at #28, right under… right under Marty? For real? Marty? I don’t… huh.
But Why Not: Um… I’ve looked over the other releases from ’57, and you know what, this is fine, no notes.
Other Events in Film
- Eddie Cantor won an honourary Oscar “for distinguished service to the film industry.” I might vomit.
- Marlon Brando does a movie on the Korean War called Sayonara (look you know that’s not Korean and I know that’s not Korean, no sense complaining to me) that won a bunch of acting awards for Red Buttons.
- Disney re-releases Cinderella and Bambi, which clearly works for them, because “periodically re-release the classics” was a key part of their strategy even after VHS took hold in the mid-80s.
- Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr did a romance called An Affair to Remember which is much beloved by film history but was almost entirely ignored at the time.
- 12 Angry Men might not have won Oscar or box office gold, but it surely found its place in history.
- Hammer Horror icons and future Star Wars villains Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing teamed up for The Curse of Frankenstein. It has no place in Oscar history and Hammer didn’t have huge hits but I still want you to know about it because Lee and Cushing’s work with Hammer should be better known.
- Humphrey Bogart passed away, so I guess we’re done with Humphrey Bogart Films I Don’t Get to Cover.