Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Bridge on the River Kwai
Le Pont de la Rivière Kwai (The Bridge over the River Kwai) is a novel by Pierre Boulle, published in 1954, that won France's "Prix Ste Beuve." It dramatizes the plight of Allied prisoners of war during World War II forced to build the 258-mile Death Railway by Japanese forces.
An Anglo-American film in English based on the book appeared in 1957 and the name was changed slightly, to The Bridge on the River Kwai. The film portrays a group of British captives in a Japanese POW camp forced to build a railway bridge spanning the River Kwai in Thailand. It was filmed in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and England.
The story is based on a real event, the building in 1942 of a railway bridge over the Mae Klong (not the Kwai) in the Thai town of Kanchanaburi. This was part of a project to link existing Thai and Burmese railway lines to create a route from Bangkok, Thailand to Rangoon, Burma (now Myanmar) to support the Japanese occupation of Burma. About a hundred thousand conscripted Asian labourers and 16,000 prisoners of war died on the whole project, which was nicknamed the Death Railway.
- Alec Guinness : Colonel Nicholson
- Sessue Hayakawa : Col. Saito
- William Holden : Shears
- Jack Hawkins : Maj. Warden
- James Donald : Maj. Clipton
- Geoffrey Horne : Lt. Joyce
- Peter Williams : Capt. Reeves
- André Morell : Col. Green
- John Boxer : Maj. Hughes
- Percy Herbert : Pvt. Grogan
- Harold Goodwin : Pvt. Baker
- Ann Sears : Nurse at Ceylon hospital
- Heihachiro Okawa : Capt. Kanematsu
- Keiichiro Katsumoto : Lt. Miura
- M.R.B. Chakrabandhu : Yai
The plot of the film is built around a fictional destruction of the wooden bridge by prisoner sabotage. In reality, a parallel steel bridge was added a few months after the wooden bridge was completed, and both were destroyed by Allied aerial bombing, the steel bridge first. The steel bridge has been repaired and is still in use.
The destruction of the bridge in the film was accomplished by blowing up a full-sized bridge as a real train drove over it. This may have been the first time such a scene had been attempted without model shots since the silent film era. (Buster Keaton's The General includes an almost identical scene.)
One memorable feature of the movie is the tune that is whistled by the POW's—the "Colonel Bogey March"—and is now widely associated with the movie, and even sometimes referred to as the "River Kwai March". Besides serving as an example of British fortitude and dignity in the face of privation, it suggested (whether or not intended by the screenwriters) a specific symbol of defiance to many movie-goers of the period: WW II veterans (and many of their baby-boom sons) thought of the tune as that of a mockery of Japan's principal ally.
- Academy Award for Best Picture
- BAFTA Award for Best Picture
- Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Drama
- New York Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Film
- Academy Award for Directing (David Lean)
- Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures (David Lean, Assistants: Gus Agosti & Ted Sturgis )
- Golden Globe Award for Best Director - Motion Picture (David Lean)
- New York Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Director (David Lean)
- Academy Award for Best Actor (Alec Guinness)
- Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama (Alec Guinness)
- New York Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Actor (Alec Guinness)
- Academy Award for Best Cinematography - Jack Hildyard
- Academy Award for Film Editing - Peter Taylor
- Academy Award for Original Music Score - Malcolm Arnold
- Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay - Pierre Boulle - Carl Foreman - Michael Wilson
- Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Sessue Hayakawa)
- Golden Globe Award Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Sessue Hayakawa)
- Grammy Award for Best Soundtrack Album, Dramatic Picture Score or Original Cast (Malcolm Arnold)
The screenwriters, Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson , were on the Hollywood blacklist and could only work secretly. Pierre Boulle, who did not speak English, was given screen credit for adapting his own novel, and the Oscar was awarded to him. Only in 1984 did the Academy rectify the situation by awarding the Oscar to Foreman and Wilson retrospectively (and posthumously in both cases, although Foreman did live long enough to know that it was going to happen). At about the same time a new release of the film finally gave them proper screen credit.
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