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Film / The Bridge on the River Kwai

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"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!"
Colonel Nicholson

The Bridge on the River Kwai is a 1957 World War II POW film directed by David Lean, about the construction of the bridges over the River Kwai, although it's heavily fictionalised. It's based on the French novel The Bridge over the River Kwai by Pierre Boulle, of Planet of the Apes fame; Boulle, who could neither read nor write English, was also credited for the screenplay adaptation due to actual screenwriters Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson being blacklisted.

The story: a British battalion is captured in Thailand and sent to a Japanese prison camp run by Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa). Notable among the prisoners are Lt. Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), the battalion's commander, and Major Clipton (James Donald), a medical officer.

The prisoners of war are being forced to build the bridge over the River Kwai, which when finished is supposed to help Japanese expansion. Saito tries to demoralize the British troops, but fails because of Values Dissonance. Nicholson decides to keep everyone's morale up by making sure everyone does as good a job on the bridge as possible, making it the best bridge they can.

Meanwhile, the British government is planning a covert mission to blow that bridge up, since its existence will help the Japanese. They draft an American, Shears (William Holden), into their effort (he has two valid excuses which, together, the Brits had already used to get him transferred to them). Shears, along with Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) and Lieutenant Joyce (Geoffrey Horne), parachute into the jungle and find their way to the bridge. They secure plastic explosives, but things go wrong quickly.

It's best known for its theme tune, the pre-existing "Colonel Bogey March" (which is far better known to nearly every Brit—including those at the time—for a set of lyrics to the tune about the lack of genitalia of certain senior Nazis).note  But the film itself is a classic; it earned its seven Academy Awards, including Best Actor (Guinness), Best Director (Lean), and Best Picture.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Nationality: Shears is British in the book, doesn't escape from the prison camp, and isn't especially distinct from Warden or the other commandos. He was changed to American to accommodate William Holden's casting, and given a larger role to boot. A great example of Tropes Are Not Bad.
  • Agony of the Feet: Warden is shot in the ankle. The wound isn't serious, but it does slow him down.
  • The Alcatraz: The prison camp was allegedly inescapable due to its remote location deep in the Burmese jungle. Naturally, this was proved incorrect.
    Colonel Saito: "A word to you about escape. There is no barbed wire. No stockade. No watchtower. They are not necessary. We are an island in the jungle. Escape is impossible. You would die."
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • The calendar on Colonel Saito's office is correct for February 1943. However the pinup on that calendar was not drawn until 1955 by Gil Elvgren entitled "Waiting for You".
    • When a Burmese woman spreads a masking paint on Major Shears' legs, before they are to set charges onto the bridge, it's clearly seen that William Holden is wearing 50's style loafers, that not only do not fit the time, but don't fit the situation at all.
    • The film is set in 1943, yet a 1946 Chrysler is shown as a military staff car.
    • The roofs of some of the buildings in the hospital scene have television aerials on them. Since the film was set during WWII, the only countries which had television in any significant capacity were either in North America or Europe. There shouldn't have been any television aerials as there was no need for them.
    • The Japanese soldiers are never seen using anything except British weapons throughout the movie. The Japanese soldier on the train in the opening sequence has a variant of the Vickers machine gun, as do the soldiers in the back of the truck. All infantry are carrying either Lee Enfield (Mk III or IV) rifles or Thompson submachine guns. There is no Japanese weapon at all in the film except for the officer's personal katana.note 
  • And Starring: And introducing Geoffrey Horne.
  • Anyone Can Die: Warden and Clipton are the only main characters who survives the incident.
  • Artistic License – Law: Yes, the Geneva Convention does permit that enlisted POWs can be compelled to work, but only work in specific industries that do not help the enemy's war effort, otherwise they are exempted. Such exemptions include public works projects that are military in nature, which the bridge definitely fits. Colonel Nicholson should really have realized that.
  • As You Know: Used twice - once by Warden when briefing Shears and once during Nicholson's final speech to his men.
  • Badass Crew: The demolition team.
  • Bawdy Song: The famous whistling scene is an attempt to get "Hitler Has Only Got One Ball" past the censors. The song is called the ""Colonel Bogey March" and has been a favorite for adding smutty lyrics to since 1914. It was supposedly inspired by an officer who whistled the first two notes instead of shouting "fore" on the golf course, so the song was insulting even when given its original title. Or not, considering that a "bogey" then, was what we today call a "par". Being called a scratch-player is probably NOT an insult anywhere.
  • Behind the Black:
    • When the native girls are frolicking at the waterfall, one of them backs into a Japanese soldier. Even if she was unaware of him, the other girls, facing her, should certainly have seen him.
    • When Shears is attacked by a kite, he is actually in eyeshot of the village but he doesn't seem to notice until the camera pans down to reveal his surroundings.
  • Big Bad: Saito is an unusually sympathetic one considering who and what he represents. By the end, it's Nicholson.
  • Binocular Shot: The team of saboteurs use field glasses to check out details at the bridge. Interestingly, the shot uses only one hole instead of the typical two-hole matte to emulate binocular vision.
  • Bookends: A shot of a buzzard soaring in the air opens and closes the film. The first one is circling over the camp's graveyard, the other over the now "dead" bridge.
  • Break the Haughty: Colonel Nicholson, and it takes more than the Punishment Hut to do it.
  • Broken Tears: Colonel Saito, after giving in to Nicholson's demands that officers do not do hard labour.
  • Captain Morgan Pose: Colonel Nicholson casually rests his right leg on his chair during the project meeting with Saito, signaling the power switch between the two leaders.
  • The Casanova: Shears, it seems.
  • Cassandra Truth: Clipton tells Nicholson that no one will know/care about the prisoners being ill-treated, and later on that working on the bridge can be seen as treasonous activity. Nicholson doesn't listen, both times.
  • Circling Vultures: During his escape through the jungle, Shears notices a couple of vultures waiting for him to die.
  • Clothing Damage: Shears' clothes are almost undone when he reaches the friendly villagers after his escape.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Col. Nicholson does not realize that he has become this until the end of the film. Maj. Clipton, on the other hand, knows that Nicholson could be perceived as aiding the enemy, but cannot persuade Nicholson of this.
  • Colonel Bogey March: The film made at least one post-war generation familiar with this.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Nicholson takes a moment when the bridge is complete to reflect on his career as a military man.
  • Cool Guns:
    • The Japanese soldiers use Lee-Enfield rifles when they should have Arisaka rifles. The movie was filmed in Sri Lanka; being a former British colony, they had easy access to British weaponry (as the Japanese troops also used Thompsons and Vickers Machine Guns too.)
    • Meanwhile, the commandos use Sten Guns, namely the Canadian model.
    • The Japanese guards use Lewis Guns, often when guarding trains or watching over the British prisoners. Like the Lee-Enfields and Thompsons in the film, the guards could have been issued British weapons so more Japanese equipment could go to the front-line troops.
  • Cultural Translation: In the book, Major Shears is British. In the movie, he was made into an American.
  • Cunning Linguist: The translator, who is said to have taught South-East Asian languages in Oxford(?) before the war seems at ease in the jungle, and seems to be more at home there than the other commandos.
  • Cyanide Pill: Col. Green equips Shears with an L (lethal pill) to be used in the event of capture.
    Green: By the way, here's something that will interest you: the new L pill.
    Shears: L pill?
    Green: L for lethal; instantaneous, painless. Much better than the old ones. For capture of course.
    Shears: In other words, you're telling me not to be taken alive.
    Green: I wouldn't recommend it.
  • Day Hurts Dark-Adjusted Eyes: Nicholson is visibly irritated by the sunlight when Clipton comes to visit him in his Punishment Box.
  • Deadly Environment Prison: The film is set at a POW Camp deep into the Burmese jungle. The camp has no fence to prevent escape because, as the Japanese commander puts it: "If the wardens don't kill you, the jungle will." Of course, he is proven wrong.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Shears is actually an enlisted seaman who switched uniforms with a dead officer to get better treatment. It doesn't work, as Saito treats all prisoners the same. Then, the British Army checks into "Commander Shears" after finding him and bringing him to Ceylon, and use this to blackmail him into "volunteering" for the commando raid.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Shears. Warden also has a rather dry wit.
  • Determinator: The demolition team really wants to blow up the bridge, and Nicholson really wants the bridge to be a success. See Know When to Fold 'Em.
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Col. Green smokes one.
  • Disturbed Doves: When the Japanese discover the British commandos bathing, the first shot is followed by a cut to the bats woken up by the shot flying around above the canopy.
  • Downer Ending: Though it does have a certain amount of irony to it. Joyce and Shears are intentionally killed by friendly fire so they won't be captured, while Nicholson is fatally wounded by Warden's mortar fire seconds after his My God, What Have I Done? moment and falls onto the detonator, blowing up the bridge he worked so hard to build.
  • Dying Declaration of Hate: Right before Shears dies, he addresses Nicholson:
    Nicholson: [shocked] You!?
    Shears: [murderously] You... [slumps to the ground, dead]
  • Even Evil Has Standards: In the build up to Col. Saito giving the order to have Col. Nicholson and his officers executed you can see a visibly-worried look on Lt Miura's face.
  • Fascist, but Inefficient: Saito and his soldiers are good at punishment, but are awful at structural engineering. Even if they could have pushed the POWs into completing the bridge, their original design was doomed from the start because it was sinking into soft soil. Nicholson and his fellow officers are able to build a much sturdier bridge, with knowledge as much with inspiring their soldiers.
  • Flyaway Shot: The movie ends with a zoom-out shot, providing a birds-eye view of the river with the destroyed bridge.
  • Gambit Pileup: The bridge construction plan versus the demolition plan.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: This happens when the Thai lady porters are caught by some Japanese soldiers. It does not end well for the soldiers.
  • Got Volunteered: Shears is roped into the mission to destroy the bridge on account of him impersonating a dead man.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: A variation with Col. Nicholson. One of the main sources of conflict between Nicholson and Saito at the start of the film is Saito's insistence that the officers do hard labour. He also threatens to put the patients in the sick bay to work, neither of which Nicholson will agree to. Once Nicholson's pride in the bridge takes over, he makes both these demands himself.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: Played Straight with the blond nurse who befriends Shears at the hospital. When she walks across the campus, all of the soldiers interrupt their combat training to follow her with their eyes.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Nicholson has a Heel Realization after recognizing a dying Shears, but Warden fatally wounds him with the mortar literally seconds after this. It's not clear whether or not Nicholson blows up the bridge with his dying breath entirely on purpose.
  • Heel Realization: Nicholson right at the end.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade:
    • Colonel Saito was inspired by Major Risaburo Saito, who, unlike the character portrayed in this movie, was said by some to be one of the most reasonable and humane of all of the Japanese officers, usually willing to negotiate with the P.O.W.s in return for their labor. Such was the respect between Saito and Lieutenant Colonel Toosey (upon whom Colonel Nicholson was based), that Toosey spoke up on Saito's behalf at the war crimes tribunal after the war, saving him from the gallows. Ten years after Toosey's 1975 death, Saito made a pilgrimage to England to visit his grave.
    • Speaking of Col. Toosey, it was claimed that he encouraged his men to collect termites in order to sabotage the bridge. He did his best to protect them while not helping the enemy. A former prisoner at the camp stated that it is unlikely that a man like the fictional Nicholson could have risen to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and if he had, due to his collaboration, he would have been "quietly eliminated" by the other prisoners.
  • Hollywood Darkness: The nightly scenes were clearly shot during day hours.
  • Hollywood History:
    • Among survivors of the construction of the Burma-Siam railway, there is often a lot of bitterness directed towards this film, as Real Life conditions were much worse, with 13,000 POWs and 100,000 civilians dying in its construction. The filmmakers felt depicting conditions as harsh as they actually were would be too depressing for filmgoers.
    • Also, there was really no way that the cast and walk-on soldiers could be expected to become as emaciated as the real Burma-Siam railworkers.
    • The whole notion that any Japanese POW commandant wouldn't just execute Nicholson and his officers if they didn't obey. Granted, one of the officers points out that there were too many witnesses to execute them, but realistically, this could have just prompted Saito to execute the officers and the witnesses. The Japanese were not really big on the Geneva Conventions at the time, as stated below.
    • Japan was not a signatory of the Geneva Conventions until 1953, therefore there was no expectation by Allied prisoners of being treated in accordance with them. In fact, the Japanese treatment of prisoners led to the review and update of the conventions in 1949.
    • The actual bridge is a steel truss bridge on concrete pillars, and was destroyed by a bombing run, not a commando raid. The round trusses are original; the angular trusses were constructed by the Japanese as war reparations.
    • In fairness, Boulle himself had served as a POW in Southeast Asia and based Nicholson on several French officers he'd served with. He was reportedly quite upset to find that many British audiences found the book and film to be "anti-British" which wasn't his intent. This doesn't explain, of course, why he made the book's characters British in the first place.
  • Honor Before Reason: Nicholson and the officers almost let the Japanese kill them rather than violate their ethics by working on the bridge. Clipton intervenes and manages to spare them from committing a rather Senseless Sacrifice.
    • This trope is essentially the driving force behind the film; while Nicholson does say that it is to maintain morale, it becomes rather clear that to him it is more about showing up the Japanese officer overseeing him by building a superior bridge, nevermind the fact that the bridge in construction would only help the enemy's war effort.
  • Hourglass Plot: Saito and Nicholson switch their power position during the film.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Warden after shooting his comrades.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: By the end, Saito has essentially been reduced to this.
  • Informed Ability: Joyce is said to be the best swimmer in his class. He doesn't get a chance to display this.
  • Inscrutable Oriental: Subverted with Saito. He gives the impression of being taciturn, but in private, he has moments of vulnerability.
  • Instant Death Bullet: The first prisoner who gets shot during his escape attempt falls down and is dead on the spot.
  • In the Back: Joyce kills Saito by stabbing him in the back.
  • I Will Only Slow You Down: Said by Warden to Shears after he is wounded, but Shears is having none of it.
  • Jungle Warfare: This film is set in the vast China-Burma-India Theater, one of the biggest examples of this kind of fighting. As shown here, aside from the Japanese, the jungle itself is as much of a hazard for the Allied troops assigned to fighting here.
  • Just a Flesh Wound: Warden gets shot in the ankle, but he brushes it off as nothing serious.
    It's superficial, nothing broken.
  • Just Following Orders: Nicholson believes that since he was ordered to surrender his battalion instead of being forced to, the general principle that a captured soldier should still do whatever he can to impede the enemy war effort doesn't apply to him. This causes him to nix the formation of an escape committee, and, once he is convinced to participate in the bridge construction, to do whatever it takes to create a first-rate bridge by the expected completion date rather than a poor bridge as slowly as he could get away with.
  • Knight Templar: Saito and Warden are too concerned with doing their job to the point of hurting their comrades, though Saito at least has the excuse that he would have to commit ritual suicide if he failed.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Averted. Nicholson refuses to compromise his obedience to the letter of the Geneva Conventions (the Hague Convention also applies) and this results in two negative outcomes. First, the rations are reduced for all the prisoners. Second, he insists on building a superior bridge because of his pride and the requirement that prisoners can be forced to work.
  • Last-Name Basis: To the extent that none of the characters' first names are ever even mentioned.
  • Majored in Western Hypocrisy: Saito studied at London Polytechnic before the war. He notes that he originally wanted to be an artist, but after finding his artistic skills lacking switched to engineering instead while also hoping to help Japan's military endeavors with the latter in the future. He brings up this bit of his personal history while preparing a meal of corned beef and scotch (the latter of which he claims to prefer to sake), implying that he developed his taste for these staples of British cuisine there.
  • The Medic: Clipton.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: All three members of The Squad exchange Longing Looks with the attractive women bearers from the village.
  • Mission Briefing: Several, especially Shears' initial encounters with Major Warden.
  • Multinational Team: The demolition team is composed of one British, one Canadian, and one American officer, plus some help from the locals. Meanwhile the bridge-building team is made up of British and Japanese officers, commanding British and Australian soldiers (Shears specifically mentions the Aussies in his first conversation with Nicholson).
  • My God, What Have I Done?. In the climactic scene, Colonel Nicholson realizes that he has been collaborating with the enemy to build a bridge out of sheer egotism. His final words as he dies and the bridge blows up are "What have I done?" The fact that he says it in a shell-shocked murmur only makes it all the more poignant. The last line of the film, by the only surviving major character, answers the question: "Madness!!! Madness!!!"
  • Native Guide: Yai, the friendly villager, becomes a scout for the commando team.
  • No Full Name Given: None of the major characters has a first name. They're simply Colonel Nicholson, Major Warden, Colonel Saito, Major Clipton, and Lieutenant Joyce. Shears also only has one name, on top of it not being his real one.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: After Nicholson is released from the sweatbox, Saito invites him to dinner to try and reason with him.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Shears does not leave Warden behind when the latter gets injured, which Warden would not do if their roles were reversed.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Nicholson and Saito come to realize that they are both similar in regards to being obsessed with following the rules of their respective codes regardless of the consequences they might have for others. During their standoff with each other, both state that the other is responsible for the stalemate and any damage arising from it is the fault of the other. And both ultimately resort to completing the bridge at all costs: Saito out of a sense of duty, Nicholson out of a misplaced sense of pride.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: When the medic brings some meat to Nicholson in his Punishment Box, he explains that if the Colonel wouldn't give in to Saito, the prisoners from sickbay would be forced to work and probably die in the process. Nicholson stays stubborn but thanks those contributing for the food. The medic reveals that it came from patients from sickbay. Nicholson is visibly shaken by that thought.
  • Only Sane Man: Clipton, in the end. And Shears, who is more interested in staying alive, and mocks Nicholson and others for looking to die in glory.
  • Parachute in a Tree: A fatal example occurs when Chapman lands in a forest where he hangs himself.
  • Parenthetical Swearing: This movie manages to do this with just the word "You" spoken by itself as a complete sentence.
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: Shears delivers one of these to Warden when he insists on being left behind.
    "This is just a game, this war. You and that 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. I'm not going to leave you here to die, Warden, because I don't care about your bridge and I don't care about your rules. If we go on, we go on together."
  • Percussive Maintenance: Frustrated that the radio won't work, Shears kicks it ... and then it does.
  • Personal Effects Reveal: The Japanese soldier that Warden kills with his knife is shown lying dead on the ground with a photo of a young woman beside him.
  • Pet the Dog: Saito has his moments.
    • One example being when Jennings, Weaver, and Shears (supposedly in Shears' case) are killed by the guards while attempting to escape the camp. Saito tells Nicholson of his admiration of them, giving them credit for their courage and saying with pride that "for a few brief moments, they were soldiers again."
    • Similarly, Grogan and Baker (who spend most of the movie mocking Saito and the Japanese) seem sincerely sad at the implication of Lt. Miura committing suicide.
  • Plunger Detonator: The detonator used by the demo squad has a plunger, onto which Nicholson falls as he dies.
  • POW Camp: Captured British soldiers are forced to build a railroad bridge by a Japanese officer.
  • Pride: For Nicholson, it is both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness.
  • Principles Zealot: Col. Nicholson is so proud of the prowess and buildmanship of the British soldiers that he misses the view on the collaborating with the enemy picture.
  • Prisoner Performance: After the British POWs have finished building the bridge, that night, they put on a burlesque show for each other and for the officers, which Col. Nicholson is entertained by.
  • Prisoner's Work: Captured British soldiers are forced to build a railroad bridge.
  • Punch-Clock Hero: Shears gets roped unwillingly by Warden into the mission to destroy the bridge. All he wants to do is stay alive. He doesn't.
  • The Punishment: More than one, notably the Punishment Box.
  • Punishment Box: The camp has a metal punishment box, or rather "punishment hut" as it's referred to in the film, that stands outside in the sun.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The bridge is destroyed, but almost everybody dies to make it happen and, in the end, simply nobody cares anymore. It's in fitting with the film's themes. While militarily a victory, the audience and the surviving characters are all quite aware of how little the bridge's destruction actually matters, to the point of being an unambiguous Downer Ending.
  • Rated M for Manly: The cruelty of the prisoner camp, the harshness of trekking through the jungle and the madness of war, all present and accounted for in a tale about trying to find a way to continue to feel like a man in war... even if it is a stupid decision.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: As has been noted, in Real Life conditions on the Burma railway were actually even worse than depicted in the film. Which isn't that hard to believe since the audience is only told that conditions are bad through exposition without actually being shown anything too graphic.
  • Redemption Equals Death: After completing the titular bridge Col. Nicholson sees that a group of Allied troops has come to destroy it. Because of all the work put into it and what he thought the bridge represented he initially intervenes to stop them. Leading to the death of Joyce. After exclaiming in shock, "What have I done" Nicholson is injured by mortar fire but uses his last moments to try and reach the detonator that was planted and falls on top of it. Thus completing the mission.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: The film features this clash, although it is thoroughly subverted: Colonel Nicholson of Team Enlightenment believes so passionately in law and order that he ends up turning to Honor Before Reason, and collaborating with his Japanese captors in order to stay in command of his men. The wild, defiant Warden, representing Romanticism, ultimately behaves more rationally. At least compared to the Colonel. But the other contrast in the movie is between Nicholson and Shears. In this contrast, Shears represents the Enlightenment as he pursues his goals of survival and defeating the enemy by whatever rational means are effective. Nicholson, on the other hand, is the Romantic who puts the concept of honor ahead of those other goals.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Chapman, who dies shortly after his introduction.
  • Seppuku: Saito nearly does this after losing face to Nicholson. He changes his mind—but he might just be waiting until after the completion of the bridge, and he seems to be preparing to commit seppuku the night before the bridge is destroyed.
  • Shoot the Dog: Nicholson insists on having his men build a better bridge than the Japanese would have built themselves as a way of preserving a sense of order and discipline among the troops, even though it amounts to collaborating with the enemy. In the film's climax, Warden kills Nicholson, a fellow Allied soldier, with mortar fire as he tries to save the mission to blow up the bridge... a mission which Nicholson then completes for him as he dies.
  • Shoot the Medic First: Inverted - Clipton the medic is the only named character to make it out of the film in one piece (all except one other person is killed, and the only other survivor already has a serious wound in the foot).
  • Smug Snake: Colonel Saito, at first; he proudly tells the prisoners that the camp has no fence to prevent escape because, if the soldiers don't kill them, the jungle will. When Nicholson wins their initial war of nerves, Saito becomes much more subdued, and it is Nicholson who takes up this role instead.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The Downer Ending is contrasted by a cheerful military march tune during the Flyaway Shot at the end.
  • Spanner in the Works: A few hours after the charges are planted on the bridge, the water level of the river drops considerably, causing the detonation wire to become visible instead of hidden underwater. This causes the commando team to be spotted and would have ruined the mission were it not for Nicholson's dying Heel Realization.
  • The Squad: The commando team planning to blow up the bridge, consisting of Major Warden (The Leader and Demolitions Expert), "Major" Shears (The Smart Guy and The Heart), and Lieutenant Joyce (New Meat).
  • Staff of Authority: Colonel Nicholson is shown carrying a swagger stick in the early scene in the movie when he informs the Japanese commandant that according to the Geneva Conventions, officers cannot be required to perform manual labor. Colonel Saito snaps the stick in half in a fury, while informing him that he is not in command. After the scene where Colonel Saito gives the Colonel permission to assume command of the prisoners and get the bridge built his way, he replaces the original with a regular tree branch of about the same length. After the bridge is completed, he drops it into the river while talking to Colonel Saito. Saito also carries a staff in a few scenes; another notable similarity he has with Nicholson.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: A major theme of the film. Lampshaded by Saito, who goes on a rant about how much he hates the British for their stubborn resolve.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: The bridge.
  • Those Two Guys: Grogan and Baker, the two snarky enlisted men.
  • Throwing the Distraction: Warden throws a hand grenade past the Japanese soldiers to disorientate them before opening fire. Apparently it worked.
  • Title Confusion: The film is based on the book Le Pont de la Rivière Kwai, translated into English as The Bridge Over The River Kwai. Many people refer to the film by the English title of the book.
  • Tokyo Rose: After Shears performs Percussive Maintenance on the radio and get it working, this kind of personality is heard on it, broadcasting from Radio Tokyo, urging the soldiers to give up the war and go home. The team promptly turns the radio off.
  • Track Trouble: The bridge is destroyed by demolition charges, causing the Japanese military train trying to cross it to fall to its doom.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The DVD cover shows the bridge getting blown up.
  • Trash the Set: The filmmakers spent months and hundreds of man-hours engineering and building the eponymous bridge. Needless to say, the final scene required perfect acting and camera work.note 
  • The Trickster: Initially the British provoke all sorts of accidents to hinder the progress of the construction.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: British POWs were forced to build a bridge over the River Kwai, but that's just about the only thing in the film that wasn't made up. The real bridge was in service for two years, until it was wrecked by an Allied bomber shortly before the end of the war.
  • Villain's Dying Grace: Collaborator Nicholson manages one by default. As an English POW in a Japanese camp by Kwai River, Nicholson, having ultimately succeeded in breaking his captor's will, subsequently causes both he and his men to improve their enemy's situation by building the eponymous bridge across the river. After the Allies learn of the bridge's construction and successfully transports a former POW of said camp to that bridge to destroy it, Nicholson naively ensures the bridge's safety and consequentially kills the man sent to destroy it. It is at this moment that Nicholson sees the fallacy in his endeavour. He decides to destroy the bridge himself a moment before the shelling from an Allied mortar knocks him over and fatally wounds him. He stands up (clearly dying), dusts off his hat, takes a few steps forward - wobbling, teetering all the way - and, as he can not take another step forward, falls on the detonator, successfully destroying the bridge before he dies.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Nicholson becomes a hero in the camp for his successfully making Saito back down on making officers perform manual labor, and maintains that reputation throughout his active collaboration with the Japanese to build the bridge - to the point where he can get men on the sick list to volunteer to handle light duties to free more workers for the heavier tasks.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Warden and his squad.
    • Also Col. Nicholson. His goal is ultimately merely to ensure his men don't just give up now that they've been captured, and to give them all a sense of pride in what they can achieve even in captivity. It's just a shame he ultimately goes about it in the worst way possible given the circumstances.
  • Wham Line: In-Universe. Saito makes a serious blunder when he reveals to Nicholson that, if the bridge is not finished on time, "I will have to kill myself." The instant he says that, Saito has lost the fight. For the rest of the film, Nicholson is in charge of building the bridge.
  • What a Senseless Waste of Human Life: Major Clipton embodies this trope when looking out over the dead soldiers from both sides in the end, exclaiming: "Madness... Madness!"
  • Where's the Kaboom?: Subverted in the ending; the detonator works just fine, the problem is that Colonel Nicholson betrays the Allied troops trying to blow up the bridge, causing them to be killed before they can activate it. After he finally realizes his treason he sets it off as he dies... although it's deliberately ambiguous as to whether Nicholson is trying to reach the detonator or just falls on it accidentally. Played perfectly straight in the novel, however.
  • The Workaholic: Nicholson spent twenty-eight years in the army, and ten months of that time was on home leave.
  • Worthy Opponent: Saito and Nicholson come to see each other as this.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Once he starts working on the bridge, Nicholson convinces himself that he's working an infrastructure project so that the Mighty Whitey Brits can uplift the poor, underprivileged locals, a routine assignment his battalion had performed at least half a dozen times in India before the war. He does such a good job convincing himself and all the other prisoners of this that Clipton is the only one who remembers that the poor, underprivileged locals in question are the enemy.
  • You, Get Me Coffee: Nicholson has Saito order tea, and later a full meal, for him and his officers during the bridge planning meeting as a successful power play.
  • "You!" Squared: As the climactic firefight breaks out between Warden's commandos and the Japanese soldiers guarding the bridge, Shears swims to the bank to confront Nicholson over revealing the explosive charges to the Japanese. However, he is mortally wounded before he gets there, and the exchange consists of just two words:
    Nicholson: [stunned] You!?
    Shears: [venomously] YOU. [falls dead]


Video Example(s):


Colonel Bogey March

The famous scene that most examples are referencing

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / ColonelBogeyMarch

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