Another recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book for my screening of The Great Escape is this David Lean classic starring William Holden, Alec Guinness, and Jack Hawkins.
The film walked away with seven Academy Awards, taking home Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Guinness), Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and Best Score.
It had been a couple of decades since I had watched this one, so I was eager to dive into this one, and enjoy it anew.
Guiness as Colonel Nicholson is engrossing as he goes toe to to with the commander of the POW camp that he and his men find themselves in, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa). Personalities clash as he stands by the rules of the Geneva Convention, something Saito won’t recognize.
After the clash, Nicholson takes on the task of building a bridge for the Japanese, intent on creating the best piece of structural engineering he and his men can, forgetting that it is fact helping the Japanese war effort.
An escapee, Shears (William Holden), with a secret is approached by Allied commanders to destroy the bridge and the film balances the fine act of creation and destruction, and the loss of one’s self in war.
This part of the story could draw comparisons to the later film The Guns of Navarone, but Kwai gets it right, having developed the characters, juxtaposing the experiences of the characters on both sides of the war, and taking the time to tell a truly solid story.
Holden is fantastic, but it’s Guinness’ performance that drives the film. From Nicholson’s confinement in the hot box, defying Saito, to his realisation in the film’s final moments of what he’s done. British doggedness, propriety and the belief that there are guidelines and rules even in something horrific as war conflict and stand out against the background of the camp.
An incredibly enjoyable film, the story is incredibly captivating, Lean is a master of image, the only thing that disrupts the experience for me and that is shooting day for night. No matter how it’s done, it always pushes me right out of the film, because you can always tell.
Despite that momentary ejection from the film, the performances, the pacing and the story kept me solidly involved. It’s a fantastic film to watch, and everything comes down to Guinness’ performance. If he didn’t give it his all, it just wouldn’t work, but everything is amazing in the film. The award winning cinematography and music, the story, it’s a dazzling experience that still works to this day.
While some may be threatened by the film’s run time, just over two and a half hours, I can categorically say that it flies by. With the exception of the day for night sequences, it flew by, and I didn’t even notice the film’s length.
This one was a joy to watch again, has definitely found its way into my list of favourites, and may need to be revisited sometime soon in the future.