DVD Picks: 'The Bridge on the River Kwai'

Jun 14, 2011

It's time for movie critic Bob Mondello's latest home-viewing recommendation, for those who want to pop in a video and pop their own popcorn. This week, Bob's suggesting a new Blu-Ray collector's edition of The Bridge on the River Kwai.

British prisoners of war marching into a Japanese labor camp, whistling "The Colonel Bogey March" as a way of thumbing their noses at their captors, then building one magnificent railroad bridge — the best that British military engineering (and director David Lean's production crew) could manage.

Alec Guiness is their commanding officer — so intent on besting Sessue Hayakawa's Japanese commandant and preserving his men's morale that, as the camp's doctor keeps trying to tell him, he's blind to the consequences of building a bridge for the enemy that shows off the virtues of British workmanship.

Fortunately, William Holden's also on hand, preaching common sense, and eventually joining an expedition tasked with blowing up the bridge.

The fictional story David Lean told in 1957 is based on the building of the Burma Railroad, a project that cost tens of thousands of laborers their lives a little more than a decade earlier. Details of those real events are contained in a Blu-ray extra — a historical primer that you can play along with the film. There's also a documentary with filmmaking details, including a recounting of a first attempt to blow up the film's bridge, when the explosives didn't detonate and the train, instead of plunging into the river, zoomed straight across and derailed in the jungle.

Also a story of how the crew fired guns to get the jungle's birds to take flight. The effect was spectacular; there were thousands of birds blotting out the sun. Alas, they'd been frightened and as they flew, they relieved themselves. "It was like hot stinking rain falling all around us," says a crew member. "You don't see that in the movie."

No you don't. What you do see is what nearly everyone agrees is one of the screen's great epics.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.