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|William Holden||Cmdr. Shears|
|Alec Guinness||Colonel Nicholson|
|Jack Hawkins||Maj. Warden|
|Sessue Hayakawa||Col. Saito|
|James Donald||Maj. Clipton|
|Geoffrey Horne||Lt, Joyce|
|André Morell||Col. Green|
|Peter Williams||Capt. Reeves|
|John Boxer||Major Hughes|
|Heihachirô Ôkawa||Captain Kanematsu|
|Keiichirô Katsumoto||Lieutenant Miura (also as K. Katsumoto) (as Keiichiro Katsumoto)|
|Heihachirô Ôkawa||Capt. Kanematsu|
|Michael J. Wilson||Screenplay|
|Stuart Freeborn||Makeup Artist|
|Malcolm Arnold||Original Music Composer|
|Jack Hildyard||Director of Photography|
|Donald M. Ashton||Art Direction|
|John Cox||Sound Designer|
|John W. Mitchell||Sound Designer|
|Pierre Boulle||Story Contributor|
"Be Happy in Your Work..."
"It spans a whole new world of entertainment!"
In World War II, British prisoners are marched to a Japanese prison camp in western Burma. The commandant, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), informs them that all prisoners, regardless of rank, are to work on the construction of a railroad bridge over the River Kwai. The senior British officer, Lt. Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), reminds Saito that the Geneva Conventions exempt officers from manual labor.
At the following morning’s parade, Nicholson orders his officers to remain behind when the enlisted men are sent off to work. Saito slaps him across the face with his copy of the conventions and threatens to have them shot, but Nicholson refuses to back down. When Major Clipton (James Donald), the British medical officer, intervenes, Saito leaves the officers standing all day in the intense tropical heat. That evening, the officers are placed in a punishment hut, while Nicholson is locked in "the oven," an iron box, without food or water.
Nicholson refuses to compromise. Meanwhile, the prisoners are working as little as possible and sabotaging whatever they can. Should Saito fail to meet his deadline, he would be obliged to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). Using the anniversary of Japan's great victory in the 1905 Russo-Japanese War as an excuse to save face, Saito announces a general amnesty and releases Nicholson and his officers.
Nicholson conducts an inspection and is shocked by the sloppy construction job being done on the bridge, some of it purposely sloppy so as to irritate the Japanese. Over the protests of some of his officers, he orders Captain Reeves (Peter Williams) and Major Hughes (John Boxer) to design and build a proper bridge, despite its military value to the Japanese, for the sake of maintaining his men's morale. The Japanese engineers had chosen a poor site, so the original construction is abandoned and a new bridge is begun downstream.
Meanwhile, three prisoners attempt to escape. Two are shot dead, but United States Navy Commander Shears (William Holden), gets away, although badly wounded. Shears eventually stumbles into a village. The residents help him escape by boat.
Shears is enjoying his recovery at the Mount Lavinia Hospital at Ceylon, when British Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) asks him to volunteer for a commando mission to destroy the bridge before it's completed and placed into service. Shears is appalled at the idea of returning to the bridge site and reveals that he is not an officer at all. He is an enlisted man who switched uniforms with the dead Commander Shears after the sinking of their cruiser as a ploy to get better treatment by the Japanese. Warden already knows this. Faced with the prospect of being charged with impersonating an officer, Shears volunteers; Warden gives him the "simulated rank of major".
Meanwhile, Nicholson drives his men hard to complete the bridge on time. For him, its completion will exemplify the ingenuity and hard work of the British Army for generations. When he asks that their Japanese counterparts join in as well, a resigned Saito replies that he has already given the order.
The commandos parachute in, but one member of the squad is killed in the landing. Later, on the march to the bridge site, Warden is wounded in an encounter with a Japanese patrol, and has to be carried on a litter. He, Shears, and Canadian Lieutenant Joyce (Geoffrey Horne) reach the river in time with the assistance of Siamese women bearers and their village chief, Khun Yai. Under cover of darkness, Shears and Joyce plant explosives on the bridge towers below the water line.
A train carrying soldiers and important dignitaries is scheduled to be the first to cross the bridge the following day, so Warden plans to wait and destroy both the bridge and train simultaneously. However, at daybreak the commandos are horrified to see that the water level has dropped, exposing the wire connecting the explosives to the detonator. Making a final inspection, Nicholson spots the wire and brings it to Saito's attention. As the train is heard approaching, they hurry down to the riverbank to investigate.
Joyce, manning the detonator, breaks cover and stabs Saito to death. Aghast, Nicholson yells for help, while attempting to stop Joyce from reaching the detonator. Joyce reveals that he's part of a commando unit sent to destroy the bridge. When Joyce is shot dead by Japanese fire, Shears swims across the river, but is fatally wounded as he reaches Nicholson. Recognising the dying Shears, Nicholson suddenly understands the situation and exclaims, "What have I done?" At that moment, Warden fires his mortar, mortally wounding Nicholson. The dazed colonel stumbles towards the detonator and falls on the plunger as he dies, just in time to blow up the bridge and send the train hurtling into the river below. Witnessing the carnage from a bluff above the river, Clipton shakes his head uttering: "Madness!... Madness!"
Theatrical : 1957-12-14 : United States of America
DVD : 2000-11-21