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The Best Picture winner of 1958, The Bridge on the River Kwai was nominated for eight Academy Awards and took home seven. Considered one of the greatest war films in cinema history, the epic's production was complicated and demanding.
Director David Lean said it best when accepting his Best Director Oscar: “When we were sweating away in the jungles of Ceylon, I never dreamt that bridge of ours would carry me here to Hollywood for the first time, let alone for this moment on this stage.”
1. The blacklist affected the film.
The process of adapting Pierre Boulle's French novel Le Pont de la Riviere Kwai was difficult, but the two writers responsible for it were Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson. Neither of them got credit though, as they were blacklisted. Instead, Boulle was credited, even though he had nothing to do with the adaption. In 1985, the Academy officially recognized Foreman and Wilson as the screenwriters and posthumously awarded the Best Screenplay Oscar to them.
2. Big names were considered for Nicholson.
Producer Sam Spiegel first approached Laurence Olivier, who turned him down to make The Prince and the Showgirl with Marilyn Monroe. Noel Coward turned it down next because he didn’t want to film on location. Spencer Tracy read the book but told Spiegel that the part must be played by an Englishman. Variety reported that Charles Loughton was considered, but that was incorrect. Humphrey Bogart was also considered, but ultimately, Alec Guinness was chosen. For his performance, Guinness won a Best Actor Oscar.
3. There's a reason why they whistled.
For the scene when the prisoners march into camp, the screenwriters wanted something subtle to show their disdain for their captors. The director remembered the song “Colonel Bogey March,” which fit perfectly. However, the lyrics were considered too crass at the time since they referred to Hitler’s anatomy – or rather lack of it. So it was decided that the prisoners would whistle the tune, instead of singing it.
4. The budget demanded a star.
Given the cost of production, the studio wanted an American star in a lead role to garner attention. Director Lean created the American character, Commander Shears, to fit the need. The studio was also concerned that the story was too much about the men and lacked a love interest. Again, Lean obliged adding Shear’s affair with a British nurse.
5. Cary Grant turned down the role.
Director Lean wanted William Holden to play the lead because of the buzz with his Oscar win for Stalag 17. However, Spiegel wanted Cary Grant. Grant said, "I had to back out of The Bridge on the River Kwai because of another commitment. I slimmed down a lot to do the part, but you know you can't do them all." For the role, Holden got $300,000 dollars which was more than the director’s $150,000.