David Lean, in adapting the novel by Frenchman Pierre Boulle, found the right tone, a mixture of lyricism, tragedy and grandeur. The story of this English prison camp forced by the Japanese to build a bridge, in 1943, was scripted by two authors who were victims of the Black List, Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, credited posthumously in 1985. Their convictions of men on the left have permeated the narrative. But, as they were blacklisted, it was Pierre Boulle who obtained the Oscar for the screenplay, even though he did not speak a word of English …
Initially, Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant, who were to take the lead roles, refused. Later, the shooting almost stopped, the producers (Columbia) realizing that there was no female character. We added a love scene on a beach. Lean got angry with his English actors (Guinness, in particular), who asked him to explain the motivations of the characters. “Fuck you”, he replied. And the rushes of the film, airlifted from Ceylon, never made it to London, causing panic among the film crew. They were found a week later in Cairo. Upon release, the film was a colossal success – especially in Japan. Sixty-four years later, he hasn’t aged a bit.
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Thursday October 14 at 8:55 p.m. on Paris Première. David Lean’s American War Film (1957). With William Holden, Jack Hawkins, Alec Guinness, Sessue Hayakawa. 2h41.