“The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957) starring William Holden, Alec Guiness, Jack Hawkins, & Sessue Hayakawa

The towering triumph of adventure from the makers of “Lawrence of Arabia.” -A tagline for the film

…it takes its time in a way that is almost unbelievable. […] I timed it- and it’s an hour before the plot happens. It could never be made today, not w/ the computer generation, not w/ the generation that’s used to things happening fast. It’s a true narrative movie. -Sydney Pollack

I also will see before I direct a picture… When I made my Indiana Jones films- anything that has a lot of scope- and is somewhat of an adventure. […] That’s one of the most perfect movies ever made. -Steven Spielberg

This is one of those epic/classic films that your parents watched (and liked); you can see it on HBO Max. During WWII, allied POWs in a Japanese internment camp are ordered to build a bridge to accommodate the Burma-Siam railway. Their instinct is to sabotage the bridge, but under the leadership of Col. Nicholson (Sir Alec Guinness- best kwon for Star Wars), they’re persuaded the bridge should be built to help morale. Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa- a star of Hollywood’s silent era) was inspired by Maj. Risaburo Saito, who (unlike in this film) was said by some to be one of the most humane of all of the Japanese officers, willing to negotiate with P.O.W.s in return for their labor. Such was the respect btwn Saito and Lt. Col. Toosey (upon whom Col. Nicholson was based), that Toosey spoke on Saito’s behalf at the war-crimes tribunal after the war, saving him from the death. Ten years after Toosey’s death, Saito went to England to visit his grave.

Col. Saito [to Col. Nicholson]: Do not speak to me of rules. This is war! This is not a game of cricket!

There is a LOT of interesting trivia re: this movie (which won 7 Oscars). Screenwriters Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman had been blacklisted after being accused of having Communist ties, so went uncredited. The only writing credit, and Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, went to Pierre Boulle (who spoke no English), the author of the French novel. In 1984, the Academy retroactively awarded the Oscar to Wilson and Foreman; when this movie was restored, their names were added to the credits. Guinness had doubts about playing the role of Col. Nicholson; he’d become popular from roles in comedies. He tried to add some humor into his portrayal; Sir David Lean (director) was opposed to this idea, insisting that it be played seriously. The role of the American Navy officer (played by William Holden- V popular at this time) was NOT in the source novel; Cmdr. Shears was added into the screenplay to appeal to a wider audience. At one point, Lean nearly drowned when he was swept away by a river current (on location in Sri Lanka); actor Geoffrey Horne (in his 1st role as Lt. Joyce) saved his life! Many of the extras in the POW camp are South Asians, as I noticed.

Cmdr. Shears [to Maj. Warden]: 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!… 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.

Why are there SO many war movies/shows out there!? Well, the stakes are V high, so there is potential for a LOT of drama. This is actually an anti-war movie focused on 4 different men (NOT all gung-ho about fighting); we see this even from the early scenes btwn Shears and the doctor, Maj. Clipton (James Donald). Now, if this were made today, Shears (being a POW for some time) would NOT be looking so healthy/buff (as some viewers commented)- LOL! The reluctant warriors are thrown together b/c of circumstances; Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) doesn’t come in until almost half-way through the movie. Warden is a former prof who trains spies that on the gorgeous estate in Sri Lanka; there is a sequence that reminded me of a Bond movie. The (brief) romance btwn Shears and an (unnamed/blonde) nurse (Norma Sears) was put in by the studio at the end. Lean was strongly opposed to it, but producers insisted the movie have at least one white woman character. Even in modern times, it’s V rare for a director to get “final cut,” so have to make compromises. Some viewers have commented that this feels like 2 separate movies which come together in the 3rd (last) act.

Col. Nicholson: [looks at the completed bridge] I’ve been thinking. Tomorrow it will be 28 years to the day that I’ve been in the service. 28 years in peace and war. I don’t suppose I’ve been at home more than 10 months in all that time. Still, it’s been a good life. I loved India. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. But there are times… when suddenly you realize you’re nearer the end than the beginning. And you wonder, you ask yourself, what the sum total of your life represents. What difference your being there at any time made to anything – or if it made any difference at all, really. Particularly in comparison with other men’s careers. I don’t know whether that kind of thinking’s very healthy, but I must admit I’ve had some thoughts on those lines from time to time. But tonight… tonight!

As Shears. Holden is given a LOT of darkly funny/irreverent lines; he’s NOT out to be a hero, he just wants to get out. Of course, the audience can relate! Col. Saito was the most interesting characters IMO; I was surprised that he got some development (rare for Asians even today in mainstream Hollywood). Hayakawa and Guinness have this uneasy tension in their scenes together. Building the bridge (on schedule and well) becomes an obsession for Col. Nicholson, who wants to prove that the British are superior to the Japanese. I was surprised by some of the directorial choices Lean made, incl. the monologue (above) by Col. Nicholson after the bridge is completed. Instead of doing the obvious close-up on Guinness, we see a shot from behind his shoulder. The finale of the movie is terrific, as it feels fresh, exciting, and dangerous!

Quick Reviews of Three Noir Films

Impact (1949) starring Brian Donlevy, Ella Raines, Charles Coburn, & Helen Walker

A unfaithful wife plots with her lover to kill her husband, but the lover is accidentally killed instead. The husband stays in hiding and lets his wife be charged with conspiracy.

This is a B-movie w/ a lead actor (Donlevy) who usually plays the 2nd lead. Walker is the cold-hearted femme fatale in the big city; Raines is the charming small-town widow/businesswoman (good girl). Raines is esp. lovely, even wearing overalls! As usual, Coburn does a fine job; here he plays a wise (yet also kindly) cop. There are a LOT of twists and turns that keep it interesting. I was reminded of Out of the Past in the country life scenes. If you want to take a deeper dive into noir, then check this out.

Niagara (1953) starring Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, & Jean Peters

As two couples are visiting Niagara Falls, tensions between one wife and her husband reach the level of murder.

This is a rare (technicolor) noir which highlights Niagara Falls and Monroe- two gorgeous sights (no doubt)! Two V different types of marrieds staying at a mobile lodge in Canada get to know each other… and vacay drama ensues! There are many close-ups on Monroe’s face (always w/ glam makeup), her figure, and signature walk- the typical “male gaze” comes to mind. Monroe does a good job, as does Cotten as her troubled/PTSD-affected war vet husband. Peters is beautiful also, BUT she gets the “girl next door” role and some action scenes. Unfortunately, Casey Adams (more known for his light/TV roles) acts like he’s in a totally different movie! If you’re a fan of Monroe and like suspense/psychological dramas (such as Hitchcock), then I esp. recommend this movie.

Elevator to the Gallows (1958) starring Jeanne Moreau & Maurice Ronet

A self-assured businessman murders his employer, the husband of his mistress, which unintentionally provokes an ill-fated chain of events.

This film ushered in the French new wave; it was directed by Louis Malle (who was ONLY 24 y.o.) I’m a fan of his 1992 erotic thriller- Damage (starring Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche). The music was composed by an American jazz great- Miles Davis. Malle shot Moreau (before fame) in close-up and natural light (often w/o make-up). The scene of Moreau walking down the Champs Elysees at night was shot using fast film in a camera mounted on a baby carriage; it used ONLY natural light from the street and store windows. Check it out if you’re in the mood for something different.

Brief Reviews of Recent Views (DEC 2022)

Dead End (1937) starring Sylvia Sydney, Joel McCrea, Humphrey Bogart, Wendy Barrie, & Claire Trevor

The Dead End Kids (a teen ensemble of actors who’d also appeared on Broadway) are introduced in their Midtown East (NYC) slum, overlooked by the new apts of the ultra-rich. Their antics, some funny, some vicious, alternate w/ subplots: jobless architect Dave (Joel McCrea- one of Hollywood’s “Everyman” actors) is torn btwn Drina (Sylvia Sydney- a big star of the ’30s), his hard-working/childhood friend and Kay (Wendy Barrie), the glam mistress of a rich man; gangster “Baby Face” Martin (Humphrey Bogart- before his leading man days) returns to his old neighborhood and finds that nobody is glad to see him. Then violent crime, BOTH juvenile and adult, impacts the neighborhood and its inhabitants.

Samuel Goldwyn acquired the rights to Sidney Kingsley’s play for $165,000 – a V large amount at the time (equivalent to nearly $3M today). The play had been a huge success on Broadway; its content had to be altered b/c of censorship in film. As some of my fellow classic movie fans know, producers had a LOT more power than directors in the Hollywood studio system. William Wyler (director) wanted to film on location on the streets of NYC, but Goldwyn insisted that the movie be made in the studio. Richard Day (art director) was assigned to design the sets, which were the some of the MOST elaborate sets in film history. Bogart (who was borrowed from Warner Bros.) got his role after George Raft turned it down; James Cagney was Goldwyn’s 1st choice. In order to get past the censors, references to Francey (a young Claire Trevor) being a prostitute were veiled (though mentioned in the original play).

The Mark of Zorro (1940) starring Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, & Basil Rathbone

The Jagged Mark of His Sword Struck Terror to Every Heart – But One! -A tagline for the movie

I’m a big fan of The Mask of Zorro (1995) starring Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Anthony Hopkins. Many of you will know re: the premise of this movie: a young Spanish aristocrat, Don Diego Vega (Tyrone Power- 26 y.o.), pretends to be a “fop,” BUT protects the poor/powerless folks of Los Angeles (then a part of Mexico) as the masked vigilante- Zorro (“fox” in Spanish). Many viewers have commented that Zorro (who hails from the early 1820s) is a precursor to the superheroes we know/love today. Lolita Quintero (Linda Darnell- just 16 y.o.) is the love interest; she meets Zorro (in disguise) and is impressed by his words. Lolita’s greedy/corrupt uncle, Don Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg), has taken over Diego’s father’s job; his elegant/shrewd wife, Inez (Gale Sondegaard), dreams of being presented in the royal court of Spain. However, the main threat to Zorro is Don Luis’ right-hand man- Capt. Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone- a trained fencer). The swordfight btwn Power and Rathbone will amaze you- WOW!

Blood and Sand (1941) starring Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Rita Hayworth, & Anthony Quinn

Love flamed in the shadow of death! -A tagline for the movie

Illiterate Spanish peasant Juan Gallardo (Tyrone Power) rises meteorically to fame and fortune as a bullfighter, ONLY to sow the seeds of his own downfall. This movie didn’t impress me as much as the previous one; Power and Darnell are paired up again, BUT then Hayworth comes into the mix. The costumes looked great (IMO), esp. the ones worn by the bullfighters. There is a steamy (for that time) dance btwn (real) Latin hotties- Hayworth and Anthony Quinn (who plays Power’s friend/competitor). Power was Irish-American, though this dark hair/eyes and gorgeous looks got him cast in “exotic” roles.

The Racket (1951) starring Robert Mitchum, Lizabeth Scott, & Robert Ryan

The big national crime syndicate has moved into town, partnering up with local crime boss Nick Scanlon (Robert Ryan). There are ONLY two probs: First, Nick is the violent type, preferring to do things the old-fashioned way instead of using the syndicate’s more business-like methods. The 2nd prob is Capt. McQuigg (Robert Mitchum), an honest cop and the loyal Officer Johnson (William Tallman). They take on the Nick and try to foil the syndicate’s plans to elect Welch, the crooked prosecutor running for judge. I wanted to see it b/c of Mitchum and Ryan; Eddie Muller (TCM) commented that they should’ve switched roles. Muller also noted that it had 3 different writers and 5 directors over its (V troubled) production! Mitchum later said there were many reshoots.

Back from Eternity (1956) starring Robert Ryan, Anita Ekberg, & Rod Steiger

A South American plane loaded with an assortment of characters crash-lands in a remote jungle area in the middle of a storm. The passengers then discover they are in an area inhabited by cannibals, so MUST escape before they are found. Ryan is giving it his 100% (as he does in every role), BUT he doesn’t come in until 15 mins. into the movie. He speaks a BIT of Spanish- V cool! Swedish model Ekberg (sadly) can’t act and is NOT confident w/ her English. That doesn’t matter to the director/producers, as she’s there mainly for her looks (tall, blonde, and curvy). Later on, there is an (unneeded) catfight btwn Ekberg and another actress- ugh! The standout here is Steiger (looking youngish w/ dark/curly hair); he gets the best lines and is the most interesting (yet potentially volatile) character. Beulah Bondi (mom/grandma in MANY classic films) finally gets out of the house- LOL!

“Run for the Sun” (1956) starring Richard Widmark, Trevor Howard, & Jane Greer

A raging animal of a man…more savage than any jungle killer! -A tagline for the movie

Mike Latimer (Richard Widmark) is a Hemingway-like novelist who has been living in (self-imposed) exile for 5 yrs. A reporter for Sight Magazine, Katie Conners (Jane Greer), tracks him down in a small town in Mexico; she says some friends will be meeting w/ her soon. Mike enjoys having Katie around for company; she’s beautiful, intelligent, and challenging. They spend a week together, sharing meals and fishing on his boat. Mike lets his guard down, assuming that Katie is a tourist who likes his writing. Katie doesn’t reveal that he is her assignment; she feels badly about this (even telling her editor back in NYC). On a flight to Mexico City, Mike’s small plane goes off course and crashes in the forest! Katie has a few scratches, BUT Mike suffers more serious injuries. They’re near an estate owned by an Englishman, Mr. Browne (Trevor Howard), who is ready to help out. Browne is well-mannered/cultured, saying he’s also a fan of Mike’s books. Dr. Van Anders (Peter van Eyck) is another European living there; he is studying ancient civilizations. Only the local Indians (Native Americans) are nearby; the work on the estate. There are no phones to contact the outside world. After a few days resting/recuperating, Mike begins to realize that these men may NOT be as harmless as they seem!

Are you fan of the Indiana Jones movies? If yes, then you may also like this drama/adventure. The plot (partly) comes from The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell; this is a short story that kids often read in JHS here in the US. This movie is a remake of RKO’S 1932 hit The Most Dangerous Game (1932). While the earlier version was filmed entirely on the studio back-lot, this version was shot mostly on location. It’s implied that Howard’s character here is a former Nazi, NOT merely a madman like in the older version. The location of Browne’s estate was a former sugar plantation and refinery est. in the 16th C. In the ’80s, the main house and several buildings were turned into a hotel. The set for the inside of the house was the largest built at a Mexican studio up until that time.

In the 1st 40 mins of the movie, we get to see the easy/playful chemistry btwn Widmark and Greer; they seem to respect and like each other. Widmark is BOTH cynical and boyish; he smiles (and NOT in an evil way like in his noir films). There are a few moments when he speaks Spanish- V cool! Widmark gets to wear casual outfits, though Greer is more dressy and wearing glam makeup (until the 3rd act when practicality is needed). As a fan on YT commented, these actors should’ve made more movies together. Widmark and Greer appeared together in Against All Odds (1984), a remake of the noir classic Out of the Past (1947) starring Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, and Greer. Mitchum and Eva Marie Saint were considered for the leads of this film. Sadly, Greer contracted a tropical virus during the location shooting; this eventually required her to have a heart operation! The actress also fractured her tailbone on a rock while filming the scenes in the swamp. Widmark thought this was one of his worst films; he’d tell his kids that if they didn’t behave, they’d have to watch it (LOL)! Perhaps the acting wasn’t challenging, BUT the physical work looked tough.

[1] This film, though a little too long, is very exciting, particularly the last section, and will really hold the viewer’s attention. Both Widmark and Greer are excellent. Greer is in her early thirties here and finally in a color movie, and she’s beautiful despite a couple of frumpy hairdos and outfits. Trevor Howard underplays as the villain and is an introverted menace.

[2] Nice direction, very effective photography in sharp color. Greer was never lovelier and, except in the incomparable Robert Mitchum, never found a better leading man. …this lady had real talent.

[3] Jane Greer appeared in so many B&W film noirs of the ’40s that it’s surprising to see her in technicolor. She looks great and has good chemistry with Richard Widmark’s adventurous writer.

Gripping suspense yarn will keep you glued to your seat as you wonder how it all turns out. Give it a chance, as it starts slowly before the plot thickens.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“Warlock” (1959) starring Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, Dorothy Malone, & Dolores Michaels

In the frontier mining community of Warlock, rancher Abe McQuown’s (Tom Drake) San Pablo gang terrorizes the inhabitants, humiliating the town’s Deputy Sheriff and running him out of town. One of the cowboys in the gang is Curley Burne (DeForest Kelley); the actor would find fame as Dr. McCoy on the original Star Trek TV series. In desperate need of protection, the town’s leaders hire an (unofficial) Marshall, Clay Blaisedell (Henry Fonda), to bring law and order. Clay arrives w/ his close friend, Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn), who is a businessman. These two men stand up to the gang and the town gets quieter (for a time). Johnny Gannon (Richard Widmark), a former member of the gang, reforms and decides to become the (official) Deputy Sheriff. Frank Gorshin (uncredited) plays Billy, Johnny’s brother; he later appeared in the famous TOS ep- Let that Be Your Last Battlefield. IMDb notes that this was the 1st movie for Gary Lockwood (the main guest star on the TOS ep- Where No Man Has Gone Before). I didn’t notice him as one of the gang; look for the tall man w/ a black hat, blue bandana, and dark mustache. Lockwood started his Hollywood career as a stuntman; he’d go on to star in 20001: A Space Odyssey.

Jessie: The men you posted are coming into town.

Clay: I thank you for warning me, but I’ve already heard.

Jessie: Why does it have to happen? Why do these things always have to end in bloodshed?

Clay: Ah, that’s how things are, Miss Jessie. That’s why I was hired… why you hired me.

Jessie: And so they’ll come into town, and you’ll shoot them all down dog-dead in the street, is that it?

Clay: Or them me.

Jessie: Or them you…

Someone once said, there are ONLY 2 types of movies: the hero goes looking for adventure or a stranger comes to town. In this case, we find 2 strangers (w/ money, shiny guns, and fancy clothes) primarily concerned w/ making more money, then moving on to another town. This is a complex/mature Western, as it subverts some of the tropes of the genre. Some viewers thought Clay and Tom are a BIT too close (more than pals), though director Edward Dmytryk (known for his work in film noir) said the homoerotic undercurrents were unintentional. There are 2 supporting roles for women; BOTH are blonde, pretty (of course), yet also independent-minded. Lily Dollar (Dorothy Malone- tall/curvy/glam) tracks Clay and Tom down, looking to get revenge. Lily invites Johnny over for a home-cooked meal at her house. Jessie Marlow (Dolores Michaels) is one of Warlock’s leaders; her father left her a successful mine. Jessie does NOT approve of violence, though she feels drawn to Clay.

The acting is strong here, as we’d expect from the main cast. Widmark can play the angst and action well; he still looks youthful. Fonda (in a rare “shady” role) conveys depth to a gunslinger. Quinn (using a slight limp) is playing against type; he was often cast as a “macho” man. The running time is a BIT long (and feels like it); there is much going on w/ backstories of several characters. The action takes place mostly in the town (20th C. Studios in Culver City, CA); I wanted to see more of the (Moab, Utah) locations. There is the use of matte paintings for some backdrops (commonplace long into the 1990s).

[1] Complex psychological western. I like another reviewer’s point about the conflict between law and order in the film. Only Widmark’s Gannon appears concerned with enforcing law in addition to order, while the rest of the town is more concerned with simply order. Fonda’s Clay Blaisdell stands as the pivotal character, a morally ambiguous gunslinger with a dubious past. The mutual attachment between him and sidekick Morgan (Quinn) is highly unusual for a macho western. As hired gunslingers, they’re a formidable team.

[2] Here all central characters are multi-layered, there is a plenty going on that begs the utmost attention, where tragedy hangs heavy with its looming presence, and Dmytryk threads all the story strands together with thoughtfully potent results.

Adapted by Robert Alan Aurthur from Oakley Hall’s novel, Warlock boasts three excellent male lead performances and a firing on all cylinders supporting cast.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews