I was very thinly aware of the plot of the movie based on some long ago viewing or discussion (basically, I knew what happened to the bridge at the end, but not how and why), but for the most part, this movie was ‘fresh’ for me.
Overall, I’d call it disappointing.
It wasn’t a bad movie, but considering that it won 7 Academy Awards, including “Best Picture”, I was a little underwhelmed.
It’s about 160 minutes long, and feels like it could have easily been trimmed by 30+ minutes. It was directed by David Lean, as was Lawrence of Arabia. It’s been a while since I saw LoA, and I remember the latter being long, with lots of panning shots and the like, but I remember them working better for LoA. Perhaps the novelty of seeing so much of a movie shot in authentic jungle conditions has worn off. (Kwai was largely shot in Ceylon/Sri Lanka).
Also, while the central characters are interesting, they don’t strike me as terribly believable, especially the British senior officer, played by Alec Guinness.
Edit: I should add that I didn’t watch the whole thing in conventional fashion. I probably skimmed through ~10 minutes of stuff (with Tivo) towards the end when the pace seemed rather slow.
I have exactly the opposite response than Phil, to that film. It’s my favourite of David Lean’s films, mostly because it’s actually a criticism of Col. Nicholson and that "We’ll show, Jerry! Chin-up! Best foot forward!" bullshit, which is directly in opposition to many of the WWII movies that were being made in that era. It’s an anti-war film that focuses on an aspect of the British persona and national identity that I don’t think should be celebrated. But perhaps one needs to have grown-up in the U.K. to get that.
It’s also interesting to see how much Coppola ripped off, er, was influenced by, this movie when he made Apocalypse Now.
For what it’s worth (not very much, I assume) I liked this movie much more than Lawrence of Arabia. It might be my man-crush on William Holden. Also: Who cares if Col. Nicholson is believable or not; he’s an awesome character.
Not only that, it has one of the greatest ambiguous endings in the history of movies. Did Alec Guiness fall on the detonator because he was shot and that’s just how he happened to fall, or was falling on the detonator the last conscious act of a man who knows he’s about to die?
This is one of my favorite movies, largely because of Guinness, whom I find very believable. He’s an officer who starts by insisting on the importance of law, and sees this insistence as what separates civilized men from uncivilized men. He comes to see the bridge project as a way to keep his men organized and busy, but then as a project in and of itself - a monument to how British soldiers could build a monument under harsh conditions. Completing the bridge becomes another way to assert his superiority over his captors.
The movie comes apart a bit in the commando raid subplot. Holden in the hospital, the march through the jungle, etc. But there are enough good moments here to keep you watching up to the grand payoff.
I love how in the final scene that train just keeps a coming and you are on the edge of your seat yelling at the screen going “Oh Christ just blow the bridge! Blow it! Go! Go! Go!”. At least I was. Every time a guard looked into the water it made me nervous and when Guinness starts following the det cord I about lost it.
I hadn’t seen it in 20 or so years and then watched it again recently. I wasn’t sure what to expect–would it live up to its reputation and my memory of it? And I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was better than I remembered. I think I’m more patient about more deliberate pacing than I used to be.
As I think I said in my original post, the pacing felt too slow, and also, while the characters (especially Guinness) seemed to be the central point of the movie, those characters (especially Guinness) struck me as unrealistic.
Perhaps it’s one of those things like watching a sci-fi movie where the technology is unrealistic - if you ignore the unreality of it all, you may appreciate the movie more, but if you take the technology itself to be a central component of the movie’s appeal, and you don’t really buy into the technology, then it’s hard to buy into the movie itself.
FWIW, I did like the portrayal of the Japanese commander.
I’ve known lots of men like Col. Nicholson. England was infested with them when I was a kid. We used to live next to a guy who (claimed) he was the only soldier to return from Dieppe (Operation Jubilee) with all his kit, shaved and ready to present arms. I believe it. He was an officious prick.