The Bridge on the River Kwai (1958)

Alec Guinness plays a WWII British colonel whose perverse sense of duty leads him to help his Japanese captors build a bridge.

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“An excellent work, populated with complex characters driven by inner and personal conflicts… In my judgment, David Lean’s finest film.”
Robert McKee, Story (1997)

David Lean was a director of British literary adaptations until producer Sam Spiegel hired him to direct this epic adaptation of Pierre Boulle’s bestseller about British POWs forced to build a bridge on the Burma-Siam railway during World War II.

While Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) takes perverse pride in his work for his Japanese captor Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), American escapee Shears (William Holden) is reluctantly conscripted into leading the commando mission to cross the jungle and destroy the bridge.

Boulle won the Oscar for a screenplay in fact written by blacklisted Americans Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson. The pair received posthumous Oscars in 1984 after their credits had been restored.

William Holden had earlier played a similarly cynical POW in a more downbeat WWII movie, Billy Wilder’s comedy-drama Stalag 17 (1953).

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