Thursday, April 18, 2019

Bridges of Destiny

This is my entry in the William Holden Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema, Love Letters to Old Hollywood and the Flapper Dame

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957):

Com. Shears (William Holden) has been a prisoner of the Japanese Army for quite some time.  As a result he has some small ability to manipulate the lesser officers of the internment camp.  After a burial detail  (there is a very high death rate in the camp, although not always due to the rigors of disease), Shears manages to get he and his companion put on the sick list.  It is from here that he witness the arrival of a cadre of British prisoners.

Led by Lt. Col. Nicholson (Alec Guinness), the cadre of Brits arrive marching smartly in step while whistling "Colonel Bogey's March".  (Once you hear this, I feel certain it will stick with you forever...  I heard it once about 40 years ago, long before I ever saw the movie and still remembered it when I finally watched the movie.)

Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), the commander of the internment camp, informs the prisoners that they will be required to build a railroad  bridge to cross the River Kwai.  He insists that there will be no idleness, that even the officers will be required to work.  Nicholson informs Saito that the rules of the Geneva Convention specifically state that officers cannot be forced to do manual labor.  Thus begins a battle of wills.

Nicholson and his officers are punished and his men react with appropriate British tact and finesse by screwing up the building of the bridge  at every opportunity.  Eventually Saito has to break down and give in, because he is on a schedule from his higher-ups for a certain completion date, but he does it with typical Japanese "saving-face" style, by claiming he is doing it as a part of a celebration of an historical Japanese victory in a previous war.

Meanwhile, Shears and two others attempt to escape.  The two others are killed and Shears is assumed to have drowned.  He doesn't.  He gets away and eventually lands in Ceylon, where he is living a life of luxury.  Until the local British command virtually draft him into helping a squad of men go back into the jungle with the goal of blowing up the bridge Nicholson and his men are building.  Shears, as you might expect, is not too happy about it, and tries to get out of it, going so far as to reveal that he is not Com. Shears, but someone else, who had assumed the role of his dead commander to get better treatment by the Japanese.  But it turns out he wasn't fooling anyone.  The Americans had turned him over to the British to avoid any complications by having him court-martialed.

The film then swaps back and forth between Shears and his squad's attempts to reach and complete their objective and Nicholson and his men trying to do a good job on the bridge.  Nicholson becomes adamant that, despite the intent of the Japanese for use of the bridge, that he and his men will complete the bridge in good order and that it will be something that the British men working on it can be proud of.

What transpires towards the end is surprising,  Guinness won an Oscar for his role.  In fact The Bridge on the River Kwai won every award for which it was nominated except for Best Supporting Actor.  (Sessue Hayakawa lost to Red Buttons for his role in Sayonara)

Flash forward 10 years or so.  In yet another war, this time in Korea.

The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1951):

Fighting the Koreans in the conflict as a jet fighter, Lt. Harry Brubaker (William Holden) runs out of fuel and is forced to ditch his plane in the sea.  He is rescued by a helicopter crew consisting of Mike Forney (Mickey Rooney) and Nestor Gamidge (Earl Holliman).

Forney is a bit of a problem with his superiors.  For one thing, when flying, he wears a non-regulation green top hat and scarf.  And for another he is a (stereo)typical Irishnan and gets in a lot of fights.  But he is a damn good pilot, and Brubaker develops a relationship with him as a result.

Brubaker's wife, Nancy (Grace Kelly) shows up in Japan and Brubaker is given a leave to visit with her and his two daughters.  He reluctantly tells her about the upcoming dangerous mission that he and his fellow pilots will be attempting, that of taking out the crucial bridges located at Toko-Ri.  While in Japan, he also has to bail out his new found friend, Forney, because the latter got in a fight over a Japanese woman whom he, Forney, has decided he is going to marry.  But said woman has left him for another sailor on another ship.

Back on his ship, Brubaker starts to get cold feet about the mission.  His commander, CDR Wayne Lee (Charles McGraw) tells him he won't look down on him if Brubaker decides to pull himself out of the fight, but that he will be very upset if Brubaker endangers the mission by following through with basd nerves and ends up scrubbing the mission.  Eventually Brubaker does get a renewed perspective and decides to stay with the mission.

After a successful mission, Brubaker's plane is hit by enemy fire and he attempts to return to the ship before his fuel runs out.  But he ends up having to crash land in enemy territory.  A rescue helicopter with Forney and Gamidge is sent out to retrieve him.   But will they rescue him before he is captured by enemy soldiers?

Although this movie has less dramatic acting than the previous film, it still has something going for it.  It blends a documentary feel for the action in the Korean conflict.  The air attack on the bridges  are fantastic.  And despite the relative low dramatic acting, Holden does hold his own.

Well, folks time to fire up the jets and head home.  Drive safely.



  1. I love the idea of this double-feature article! I must admit that I've only seen The Bridge on the River Kwai once (some times ago) and that, odddly enough, I didn't care much for Holden at the time! (can you believe it?) However, there's a low angle shot of him in the film that I love and that I tempted to reproduce in a short film so, in a way, even if he wasn't a favourite of mine yet, he was already inspiring me! I've seen Toko-Ri much more often and that's the kind of film I like more and more on each viewing. Very underrated imho. I agree with everything you said about it, especially about the attack of the bridges being fantastic. Thanks so much for your contribution to our blogathon!

    1. Appreciated the chance to get back to a double feature mode. Its been too long. Thanks for reading.

  2. My brother and I loved The Bridge on the River Kwai sooooooooo much when I was a teen. We watched it over and over and over. I wonder what I'd think of it as an adult -- I should rewatch it.

    I know I saw Bridges at Toko-Ri once, but I didn't really care for it at the time. I should probably rewatch it too.

    1. Kwai is great. Toko-Ri probably wouldn't have appealed to me if the battle scenes had been less prevalent. Thanks for reading.


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