#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)

#102 Sunset Boulevard

Watched: April 30 2017

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 50min

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Thematically linked to All About Eve, though centred on Hollywood rather than Broadway, Sunset Boulevard tells the story of broke screenwriter Joe Gillis (Holden) and former silent movie star Norma Desmond (Swanson), who embark on a strange and ill-fated relationship when he accidentally seeks refuge in her decrepit Hollywood mansion on the day of her chimp’s funeral.

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No, we did not make that up.

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When Norma learns that Joe is a writer, she asks him to read through and rewrite her script for her epic comeback Salome and, being down on his luck and about to return home to take an office job, Joe agrees and moves into the faded star’s equally faded mansion.

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Despite the state of the mansion, the floors are waxed to perfection and the quartet has been polished for the occasion

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Joe soon gets used to the lifestyle offered to him by the delusional Norma. Even though he understands that her aspirations to return to the screen are completely unrealistic and he knows that to the outside world she’s a has-been, he, like Norma’s creepy butler Max (von Stroheim), plays along and feeds into her false sense of relevance.

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That’s not all he feeds into if you get our drift… He’s a kept man, is what we’re saying.

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As Norma’s delusion of grandeur increases, Joe’s satisfaction with his life of leisure decreases, and he starts working on the side with Betty Schaefer (Olson) with whom he collaborates on an original screenplay. Norma starts to suspect that her boytoy is getting some on the side, and she is not happy…

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“I let him watch my movies with me and this is how he repays me?!?”

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Now, this film is a classic for a reason. It’s endlessly quotable with a Gothic setting and extremely memorable characters, in particular the unstable, possessive, explosive, toxic and fabulous Norma Desmond. Even our old favourite Buster Keaton makes an appearance, as do old-timey stars Hedda Hopper, H.B. Warner, Anna Q. Nilsson and, famously, Cecil B. DeMille.

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Guess who’s ready for her close-up…

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Sunset Boulevard is a sort of Gothic Film Noir and we loved it completely. It’s one of those films you’ve seen parodied, referenced and referred to, and heard quoted, so many times that you start thinking you’ve actually seen it, but in our case that turned out to be false (for some reason, although this is right up our alley). There’s madness, love, satire and men who (once again) feel they need to make hard decisions for women who love them, without giving them the unbiased facts and letting them choose for themselves. Loved, loved, loved it.

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Ah – Buster. We still love you dearly.

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What we learned: Great stars have great pride.

Next time: The Asphalt Jungle (1950)