Pierre Boulle’s “Bridge Over the River Kwai”

By | Feb 20, 2008

During the 2nd World War Pierre Boulle, who later would write the original novels from which The Bridge Over the River Kwai and Planet of the Apes were based, served as a secret agent helping the French Resistance in China, Burma and French Indochina.

In 1943 he was captured and stationed at a force labor camp that helped build the real Bridge over the River Kwai. While his novel was a work of fiction, it was based on experiences he saw and heard. Conditions were actually worst. During the construction project about 100,000 Asian laborers and 16,000 prisoners of war died.

David Lean directed the Oscar winning movie in 1957. It won all but one of the 8 nomination, including Best Picture and an award to Boulle for adapted screenplay even though Boulle could not read or write English. The screen play was actually written by Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, two men who had been blacklisted by the entertainment industry in the 1950’s. In 1984 these two men were awarded an Oscar by the Motion Picture Academy.

Sessue Hayakawa, a Japanese actor who first appeared in American Silent Movies in 1915, was the only one of the nominees not to win. He was nominated for best Supporting Male Actor for his role of the Japanese prison camp commander, Colonel Saito. The Best Supporting Male Actor was awarded that year to Red Buttons for his role of an enlisted man Joe Kelly who falls in love with a Japanese woman in Sayonara.

Alec Guinness, who played the rigid Colonel Nicholson. Pierre Boulle created the fictional Nicholson character as an amalgam of his memories of collaborating French officers. The real Allied commanding officer was Lieutenant Colonel Philip Toosey, who bore no resemblance to Nicholson.

The tune Colonel Bogey March is used throughout the picture. The March was written in 1914 by Lieutenant F. J. Ricketts (1881-1945), a British military bandmaster. It was a popular march and even during the war was used as the tune for a vulgar parody on Hitler in a song called Hitler Has Only Got One Ball. Even though music was not widely used in the background, it still won an Oscar for composer Malcolm Arnold.


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