Take 3: The Bridge on the River Kwai Review

William Holden is an actor who I am familiar with. I have seen some of the films on his filmography and have even reviewed a few. So, when I came across the announcement post for The 5th Golden Boy Blogathon, I saw it as a great opportunity to explore William’s filmography some more! As I was signing up, though, I noticed how The Bridge on the River Kwai hadn’t been selected yet. Surprised by this, I found another good opportunity to check out a “classic”! For years, I had heard of the 1957 film. It is even featured on the American Film Institute’s list of The 100 Greatest American Movies Of All Time. At the publication of this review, I have seen twenty-nine of the movies on this list, in their entirety. Some of these titles have been enjoyable, but there are others I wasn’t a fan of. Where does The Bridge on the River Kwai fall on that spectrum? Keep reading to find out!

The Bridge on the River Kwai poster created by Horizon Pictures and Columbia Pictures

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: Since William Holden is one of the reasons why I chose to watch The Bridge on the River Kwai, I’ll talk about his performance first. This is not the first war film William has starred in. Four years prior to the release of The Bridge on the River Kwai, he appeared in Stalag 17. What makes his portrayal of Shears different from Sgt. J.J. Sefton is the material allowed William to expand his acting abilities. While on a beach at a nearby hospital, Shears is flirting with a female nurse. In this scene, William turns on the charm, sharing nice on-screen chemistry with Ann Sears. In the next scene, Shears carries a serious demeanor as he is called upon for a military mission. Out of Williams’ films I have seen, his character presents one of two personas: the “charmer” or the serious, no-nonsense man. In The Bridge on the River Kwai, Shears displayed both.

One of my favorite scenes is when Colonels Nicholson and Saito are attempting to make a negotiation. Colonel Saito, portrayed by Sessue Hayakawa, wants every member of Nicholson’s team to work on the bridge. Colonel Nicholson, portrayed by Alec Guinness, refuses this order. Prior to this scene, Nicholson stood his ground. He was even locked in a small hut because of his refusal. But Nicholson persevered, even carrying a dignified persona that ends up boosting the morale of his team. He consistently maintains this persona, especially during his meeting with Colonel Saito. This dignified, confident demeanor of Nicholson angers Saito. Up until that point, Saito presents himself in a professional manner. He is no-nonsense and doesn’t allow anyone to step out of line. But in his meeting with Nicholson, his anger becomes visible. Both Sessue and Alec gave different performances, portraying two different military leaders. Yet the strength of their acting abilities allowed them to go toe-to-toe with one another.

The scenery: The Bridge on the River Kwai had such magnificent scenery, it honestly stole the show! There are two locations I loved so much, I wanted to talk about them in my review. The first location is the hospital I just mentioned. The Mount Lavinia Hotel was the stand-in for the hospital. When looking at the exterior and grounds, one could see why this location was chosen. The trimmed lawn was a great contrast to the small white structure. The manicured gardens surrounding the hospital created a pleasant outdoor space. In the scene the hospital was featured in, a nearby beach was primarily showcased. The clear blue waters and bright sandy shore paired with the garden-esque surroundings illustrated a tropical oasis!

The second location is Major Warden’s office! Any time a scene took place in his office, glass windows in wooden frames were always open. This allowed the audience to see the beautiful view! Major Warden’s office overlooked a river. Sloping green hills sat on the sides of this river, contributing to the visually appealing view. Similar to the aforementioned hospital, Warden’s office also oversaw a trimmed lawn and manicured gardens. The spacious surroundings of this location presented the audience a peaceful atmosphere!

The music: There were some scenes in The Bridge on the River Kwai that included little to no dialogue. This decision led the film’s creative team to use music to elevate a scene’s tone. While stumbling through the jungle, Shears notices a group of vultures sitting on a nearby tree. As he walks through this environment, quiet orchestral music becomes louder. A “bird” appears out of nowhere, adding to the scene’s tension. The music gets even louder when Shears crosses paths with the “bird”. When the “bird” is revealed as a bird-shaped kite, the music stops. The tension and suspense of this scenario was accomplished by a combination of music and visuals!

The 5th Golden Boy Blogathon banner created by Virginie from The Wonderful World of Cinema, Emily from The Flapper Dame, and Michaela from Love Letters to Old Hollywood

What I didn’t like about the film:

A confusing first half: During the first half of The Bridge on the River Kwai, I was confused by what was happening in the story. This confusion was caused by the lack of explanations. At the prisoner camp, Colonel Saito continuously mentioned the importance of the titular bridge. He stresses how the bridge needs to be built on a specific day, even going so far as to claim he’ll commit suicide if the bridge isn’t built. What Colonel Saito failed to mentioned is the bridge’s purpose. Even though an explanation was eventually provided, it is given at the film’s half-way point. Had this information been given sooner, so much confusion could have been avoided.

A limited amount of urgency: In war films or films that involve a significant amount of action, a strong sense of urgency can be felt throughout the story. This sense of urgency encourages the audience to care about the safety and wellbeing of the characters. But because some scenes in The Bridge on the River Kwai were drawn out, the sense of urgency was limited. Toward the end of the movie, a climactic moment involving the story’s major players takes place. While I won’t spoil the movie, I will say this moment was drawn out a little longer than necessary. The action moved at a slower pace, which also effected the urgency. It seems like this creative decision was made to build suspense. However, it left me, at times, frustrated.

Inconsistent halves: Earlier in this review, I said William Holden was one of the reasons why I chose to watch The Bridge on the River Kwai. Interestingly, his character’s story was the one I found the most engaging. This movie features two major storylines: Colonel Nicholson’s team in the prisoner camp and Shears’ experiences in the military. Since Shears’ story was prominently featured in the film’s second half, I found that half the most interesting. With Shears’ story, there was a strong conflict and an even stronger part of the plot. Meanwhile, Colonel Nicholson’s story seemed to remain at a standstill. Like I also mentioned in this review, the film’s first half was confusing due to the lack of explanations. If The Bridge on the River Kwai had just focused on Shears’ story, the film as a whole would have been more intriguing.

Military plane image created by Brgfx at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by brgfx – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

Why is The Bridge on the River Kwai on AFI’s list of The 100 Greatest American Movies Of All Time? I’m not asking this to be disrespectful or mean. I’m asking out of curiosity. When I think of lists like AFI’s, I think of movies that fit one of two categories: those that represent the time they were released and those that brought something new to the cinematic table. With The Bridge on the River Kwai, I can’t see this film fitting into either category. As I mentioned in this review, Stalag 17 was released four years prior to The Bridge on the River Kwai. Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison was also released in 1957. With that said, what makes those two films less deserving of being on AFI’s list than The Bridge on the River Kwai? Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any cinematic advancements The Bridge on the River Kwai had to offer. The more films I watch from AFI’s list and the more I think of lists of this nature, I wonder what the criteria is? Was there criteria to begin with or is the list purely subjective? As I explore more “classics”, those are questions I will keep in mind.

Overall score: 7-7.1 out of 10

Have you watched any of William Holden’s movies? If so, which one would you like me to review next? Please tell me in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Citizen Kane Review (Clean Movie Month — #2)

For my second review for Clean Movie Month, I decided to talk about Citizen Kane! Yes, the same movie that received a lot of critical acclaim and was placed in the number one spot on AFI’s list of the Top 100 Movies of All Time. This was the first time I had ever seen this film. Since I happened to have this movie on my DVR, I finally had an excuse to watch it. It’s interesting to see how many films from the Breen Code era have become beloved classics. On AFI’s list, twenty-nine films are from the Breen Code era. This tells me that the beliefs of Joseph I. Breen and the way he saw film are not only important to film history, but also to cinema in general. So, without further ado, let’s give this review of 1941’s Citizen Kane a grand welcome!

Citizen Kane poster
Citizen Kane poster created by Mercury Productions and RKO Radio Pictures. Image found at http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/89/Citizen-Kane/#.

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: I was pleasantly surprised by the acting performances in Citizen Kane! Before watching this movie, I had never known that Orson Welles was an actor. His portrayal of Charles Kane impressed me more than I expected! Orson’s ability to convey emotions at the right moments enhanced his performance, making his character appear more realistically. Another performance that I was impressed with was Dorothy Comingore’s! She made her character, Susan, interesting by the way she interacted with the other cast members/characters. Her reactions to different situations made Susan feel like she was more than just a character. From performing at the opera to meeting Charles for the first time, Susan came across as a real-life person on-screen.

 

The evolution of Charles Kane: The majority of this story is about the life of Charles Kane. Throughout the film, the audience gets to witness how he evolves as a person. This evolution is shown in a very believable way! The screen-writing and the acting performance of Orson Welles helped make this part of the story effective. Besides portraying the lead character, Orson co-wrote the film’s script. Because of this, it shows that he appeared to have an understanding of not only the character he was portraying, but also the character he was writing.

 

The cinematography: Citizen Kane had some interesting cinematography! Toward the beginning of the film, the camera appeared to use a special lens that made the audience feel like they were looking through Charles’ fallen snow-globe. This gave that scene a unique visual perspective. In some scenes, a person was in the foreground and another person was in the background. One example is when Charles is finishing Jedediah’s article about Susan’s opera performance. This was an interesting way of showing who the focus of the scene was. The cinematography in this film made the overall project have a compelling visual aesthetic!

Clean Movie Month banner
Clean Movie Month banner created by Tiffany and Rebekah Brannan from Pure Entertainment Preservation Society. Image found at https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2019/07/01/cleanmoviemonth85-is-here/.

What I didn’t like about the film:

  • No connection to the characters: When characters are introduced in a film, there is always a chance for the audience to connect with, at least, one of them. An experience that a character has or a character’s unique talent can help make this connection happen. In Citizen Kane, however, I never felt like I was able to connect with any of the characters. Yes, I got to know them over the course of the story. But, getting to know a character and connecting with them are two different things. What didn’t help was having other people share Charles Kane’s life-story. This reminded me of the movie, Edward, My Son, where the audience never gets to connect with the character of Edward, but get to know him through the dialogue of the other characters. The only thing that the audience could do was observe Charles’ story. Charles himself, as well as the other characters, always felt like they kept their distance from anyone watching the film.

 

  • Drawn-out scenes: There were several scenes in Citizen Kane that lasted longer than they should have. One example is when Emily and Charles’ marriage is deteriorating. I understand that the purpose of this scene was to show how Emily and Charles’ relationship evolved as time went on. However, this idea could have been expressed in a shorter amount of time. Another example is when Susan is putting her puzzles together. Similar to my previous statement, I understand that this scene was meant to show how trapped and isolated Susan felt in her new home. But, again, the visual explanation of this concept could have been shortened.

 

  • The run-time: The more I review movies on 18 Cinema Lane, the more I notice that a film’s run-time can make or break that film. This goes for Citizen Kane, whose run-time was one hour and fifty-nine minutes. Personally, I think this run-time made the movie feel longer than it was intended. This is probably why some scenes felt drawn-out, as I previously mentioned. I think Citizen Kane could have benefited from having a run-time set at one hour and about twenty minutes. That way, drawn-out scenes are shortened and their ideas would be straight to the point.

OYHKOT0
Newspaper image created by Zlatko_plamenov at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-psd/newspaper-mockup_1386098.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/mockup”>Mockup psd created by Zlatko_plamenov – Freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

So, now that I’ve finally seen Citizen Kane, it’s time for me to share my overall impression of the movie. Personally, I thought it was just decent. It’s not as good or great as other people have claimed it to be. The way I feel about this movie is similar to how I felt about The Christmas Card. There are so many Hallmark fans who like or love that film, yet I think it’s just ok. In my opinion, Citizen Kane has been over-hyped as the years have gone on. But I’m glad I gave this movie a chance because I can now form my own honest opinion about it! The effect of the Breen Code was more obvious in Citizen Kane than in Stowaway. One example is when Charles says “Gosh only knows”. Also, in this story, there’s a subplot about Charles having an affair with Susan. Because of the way the script was written, the idea of an affair or the word itself is never explicitly stated. Even though I didn’t like Citizen Kane as much as other people did, it’s nice to see a Breen Code era film receive a good amount of recognition.

 

Overall score: 7.1 out of 10

 

Have you enjoyed my Clean Movie Month reviews so far? Is your favorite Breen Code era film on AFI’s list of movies? Leave your thoughts in the comment section!

 

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen