#153 The Bridge on the River Kwai

Watched: December 27 2017

Director: David Lean

Starring: William Holden, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Sessue Hayakawa, Geoffrey Horne

Year: 1957

Runtime: 2h 41min

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Happy New Year, gentle reader! After a Christmas hiatus (and a ridiculously popular New Year’s tweet), we are finally back in business and continuing our journey through 1000+ films. And where better to start than David Lean’s classic WWII drama The Bridge on the River Kwai.

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Oh boy. Here we go again!

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During World War II, a British company led by Colonel Nicholson (Guinness) joins several other prisoners of war in a Japanese prison camp. The camp commander, Colonel Saito (Hayakawa), tasks the newly arrived company, including its officers, with building a railway bridge over the nearby river. Hence the title of the movie.

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“It’ll be fun! Like building legos! Also, you can get nekkid and swim. It’s by far the most fun you can have in a prison camp consisting entirely of men.”

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Nicholson refuses to build the bridge, citing the Geneva Convention which forbids officers from being used for manual labour while prisoners. Saito, unable to kill him outright due to witnesses, instead settles for prolonged torture of all British officers.

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Torture: the best diet! Tried and tested by prisoners of war everywhere.

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When Nicholson is finally released from the iron box in which he’s been enclosed, the two colonels make a strange deal that the captured officers will oversee the work and construct the best damned bridge Burma has ever seen, dammit!

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“There’s no way I’m building a bridge for the enemy to facilitate their warfare. Unless that bridge is gonna be the best one ever constructed. Yeah, that’ll show’em!”

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Meanwhile, (fake) U.S. Navy Commander Shears (Holden), who originally warned the British officers about Saito, has joined an escape party and actually managed to get away! Hurray! Once he reaches safety, he is recruited to return with a small special forces party to destroy the eponymous bridge, joined by Major Warden (Hawkins), Lieutenant Joyce (Horne) and a very unlucky soldier who dies en route.

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Manly men to the rescue, betches!

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The Bridge on the River Kwai is a true classic, and despite lasting for almost three hours, it’s engaging throughout. You’re sort of rooting for both Shears and Nicholson, even though the latter goes bat shit crazy with bridge-building pride. So, really, one roots for Shears. Though Nicholson is admirable as well. Even Saito, the natural antagonist, is humanized in the course of the film. It’s all very emotionally confusing.

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Yep. Sums it up.

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A great, if tragic, way to start the new year. Here’s to 2018!

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“So, you got any new year’s resolutions?” “Well, I’m gonna build a great bridge and not back down under threat of torture and death. Oh, and I’m considering quitting smoking. You?”

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What we learned: Live like a human being.

Next time: Bonus: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

#85 Oliver Twist

Watched: February 22 2017

Director: David Lean

Starring: John Howard Davies, Alec Guinness, Robert Newton, Kay Walsh, Henry Stephenson

Year: 1948

Runtime: 1h 50min

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We assume (perhaps mistakenly, but still) that most people have some idea of the plot of Dickens’ 1838 novel Oliver Twist, and so we’ll keep our plot summary to a minimum. Suffice to say, Oliver Twist (Davies) is a poor orphan who is brought up in an abusive workhouse and who, through a series of unfortunate events, ends up alone on the streets of London. He takes up with a band of thieving boys, led by Fagin (Guinness), and the inexperienced Oliver is promptly arrested on his first outing.

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Fagin cannot accept responsibility though – he did after all spend upwards of five minutes training the boy before sending him out with Dodger

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Oliver is acquitted, falls ill, and ends up in the care of Mr Brownlow who takes him in as his own. But what is their connection? It turns out they are more connected than they originally assumed…

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Or perhaps Oliver is just like us, took one look at that library and decided to stay forever

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Meanwhile, Fagin and Bill Sikes (Newton), a brutal man who runs the show, are freaking out, worried that Oliver will blow their whole operation. They therefore kidnap him to keep him quiet, but Nancy (Walsh) feels bad for both Oliver and Brownlow and decides to snitch. How will this all end?

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Ultimately, Nancy forgot that snitches get stitches…

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From the ominous beginning – storm, thorns and torrential rain – to the suspenseful ending, David Lean’s Oliver Twist is a great watch. Lean’s version is a fairly faithful adaptation of the novel although, as with all adaptations, there are fewer details and some parts of the book are only alluded to, changed, or left out completely.

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We love the way to Fagin’s lair

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The film is beautiful and atmospheric with gorgeous sets, a great score, wonderful performances and (naturally) Dickensian characters (including the somewhat racially offensive Fagin). We recommend it both to lovers of the novel as well as those who cannot be bothered reading it but still want to pretend they have.

What we learned: The things some people will do for financial gain… Also, lynch mobs are terrifying, whether in the flesh as in 19th century London, or online as in now.

Next time: Rope (1948)

#68 Brief Encounter

Watched: January 1 2017

Director: David Lean

Starring: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Cyril Raymond

Year: 1945

Runtime: 1h 26min

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Brief Encounter is David Lean’s film version of a Noël Coward play, and it is beautiful.

Laura Jesson (Johnson) and Dr Alec Harvey (Howard) are sitting in a station café when they are steamrolled by a whirlwind known as Dolly. She blabbers on, completely oblivious to the fact that she has clearly interrupted something very special and important.

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“I can’t believe you let her hijack us like this!”

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Dr Harvey leaves and Laura goes home to her husband (Raymond) and tries to process what has happened through internal dialogue and flashbacks, as a story told, but not told, to her husband.

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She probably could have just told him the whole story for all the attention he pays

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Alec and Laura met by chance in the station café some weeks prior to the opening scene. They then keep running into each other until they start to plan their meetings and eventually admit to falling in love with each other. They start a (unfulfilled) romance which changes at least her perception of her life and identity.

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Shared ridicule of unfortunate musicians is always a turn-on

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Their relationship is doomed from the start as they both have families (who they seem to love as well) and are too proper and middle class to divorce or even “properly” cheat on their partners. The story is told from her perspective, and parts of it reminds us of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (though that may be because we’re Norwegian and prone to finding Ibsen-parallels in everything). She is stuck in a too small life and Alec is as much the catalyst for her “awakening” as anything else. When she imagines their life together, she does not see him as a replacement for her husband – their life will be one filled with travel and adventure, not the mundane and routine based life she’s currently leading.

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There will be no sitting around while Dr Harvey reads the paper! No sirree!

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Of course, therein lies the appeal of “brief encounters” – the routine of day to day life never has a chance to ruin the perfect romance. Laura and Alec’s dalliance does not go on far enough for us, or the characters, to know whether their relationship would be better in the long run than the ones they are too “proper” to escape. In fact, in the end it seems Laura’s husband understands her better than she thinks, and there may be some hope there after all. However, she is still stuck in the same routine, with only the memory of romance to keep her going.

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Despite the inherent betrayal of their actions, it really is a rather sweet and innocent romance between two somewhat alienated people

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We loved this film. The story is well told from Laura’s perspective, and the need for something “real” to happen in her life is very clear. It is also beautifully shot, especially everything involving trains, from the first shot of the speeding train scored by Rachmaninoff to the gorgeous shot of Laura reflected in the train window while dreaming of an alternate life. The last moments of her “vertigo” and suicidal impulse upon Alec leaving for the last time are both disturbing and wonderful.

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What we learned: a romance doesn’t have to be epic and earth shattering to be life changing for those involved.

Next time: Dead of Night (1945)