Colonel Saito: Do you know what will happen to me if the bridge is not built on time?
Colonel Nicholson: I haven't the foggiest.
Colonel Saito: I'll have to kill myself. What would you do if you were me?
Colonel Nicholson: I suppose if I were you... I'd have to kill myself.
Colonel Nicholson: [raising the glass of scotch he previously declined] Cheers!
There is a reason why this film is regarded as one of, if not the best war film of all time - it's because it is. Its a great movie that has an excellent story full of wonderful characters and memorable scenes. And really, its not much of a standard war film involving large scale battles, but more of a character focused story, with various moments of thrills.
Alec Guiness, who is simply awesome throughout, plays Colonel Nicholson a British officer. He and a large squad of his men have just been captured and sent to a Japanese PoW camp in Burma.
There, under the orders of Colonel Saito, also played wonderfully by Sessue Hayakawa, all of the men are being ordered to build a bridge over the river. While Nicholson understands his position and is willing to allow his men to go forth and build the bridge, while under British officer's orders, Saito and Nicholson clash at first due to their own principles. However, this lets up and Nicholson is soon under control of making the best possible bridge, despite being under enemy control.
Colonel Nicholson: One day the war will be over. And I hope that the people that use this bridge in years to come will remember how it was built and who built it. Not a gang of slaves, but soldiers, British soldiers, Clipton, even in captivity.
At the same time, a previous American prisoner, Major Shears, played by William Holden, escapes after Nicholson's arrival and makes his way to a hospital and army base.
Despite his best efforts however, Shears is soon put in a position to be sent back to the PoW camp with a special team in an effort to blow up the bridge that is under construction.
Maj. Warden: [to Col. Green] Sir, it's most annoying. They say, in view of the time element, they don't think a few practice jumps would be worthwhile.
Major Shears: No?
Maj. Warden: No, they say if you make one jump, you've only got 50% chance of injury, two jumps, 80%, and three jumps, you're bound to catch a backache. The consensus of opinion is that the most sensible thing for Major Shears to do is to go ahead and jump, and hope for the best.
Major Shears: With or without a parachute?
What is very interesting is how the grand scheme of the actual war is of little issue. The movie is not about putting sides against each other, but putting the views and principles of these main characters at odds with each other. Its wonderful to see Guiness' Nicholson always want to stand by how he perceives a situation and fight for it, while Holden goes in between being for himself and working to achieve a goal. It's very well done.
Commander Shears: You mean, you intend to uphold the letter of the law, no matter what it costs?
Colonel Nicholson: Without law, Commander, there is no civilization.
Commander Shears: That's just my point; here, there is no civilization.
Colonel Nicholson: Then we have the opportunity to introduce it.
At two hours and forty-five minutes, there is a not a lot of wasted time. The movie flows wonderfully and looks great. The look of the jungle is perfect, wonderful cinematography. The score also adds to how effective this movie is.
Director David Lean, who is no stranger to epics with films like Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, has made an incredible film that works on all levels. Great.
Major Shears: You make me sick with your heroics! There's a stench of death about you. You carry it in your pack like the plague. Explosives and L-pills - they go well together, don't they? And with you it's just one thing or the other: destroy a bridge or destroy yourself. This is just a game, this war! You and Colonel Nicholson, you're two of a kind, crazy with courage. For what? How to die like a gentleman... how to die by the rules - when the only important thing is how to live like a human being.