July 1, 2013 by Craig Sutherland
After settling his differences with a Japanese PoW camp commander, a British colonel co-operates to oversee his men’s construction of a railway bridge for their captors – while oblivious to a plan by the Allies to destroy it. Here’s some things you might not know about the 1957 classic…
- The film’s story was loosely based on a true World War II incident, and the real-life character of Lieutenant Colonel Philip Toosey. One of a number of Allied POW’s, Toosey was in charge of his men from late 1942 through May 1943 when they were ordered to build two Kwai River bridges in Burma (one of steel, one of wood), to help move Japanese supplies and troops from Bangkok to Rangoon. In reality, the actual bridge took 8 months to build (rather than two months), and they were actually used for two years, and were only destroyed two years after their construction – in late June 1945. The memoirs of the ‘real’ Colonel Nicholson were compiled into a 1991 book by Peter Davies entitled The Man Behind the Bridge.
- Alec Guinness initially turned down the role of Colonel Nicholson, saying, “I can’t imagine anyone wanting to watch a stiff-upper-lip British colonel for two and a half hours.” He had also clashed with David Lean when they made Oliver Twist.
- The bridge cost $250,000 to build; construction began before anyone had been cast.
- After the final scene was shot, producer Sam Spiegel shipped the film footage on five different planes to minimize the risk of loss.
- The real life construction of the bridge over the River Kwai used about 100,000 conscripted Asian laborers. 12,000 prisoners of war died on the project.
- For the scene when Colonel Nicholson emerges from the oven after several days confined there, Alec Guinness based his faltering walk on that of his son Matthew Guinness when he was recovering from polio. Guinness regarded this one tiny scene as some of the finest work he did throughout his entire career.
- At one point during filming, David Lean nearly drowned when he was swept away by a river current. Geoffrey Horne saved his life.
- Producer Sam Spiegel wanted to release the movie by the December 31, 1957 deadline for the movie to be eligible for Academy Award consideration for that year, but by early-December 1957, the movie had yet no music score and no composer. Spiegel hired Malcolm Arnold to compose the score, which Arnold completed in a mere ten days. The movie was released prior to the 1957 Academy Award consideration deadline, and Arnold was rewarded with the 1957 Academy Award for Best Music Score for his speedy effort.
- Alec Guinness never saw the bridge blow. He had completed all his scenes and returned to England when the explosion was filmed.
Facts & Write-Up taken from IMDB
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