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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

It's time now for movie critic Bob Mondello's latest home video recommendation.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Bridge on the River Kwai")

SIEGEL: With so many big movies crowding the multiplex, Bob is looking back more than half a century to a movie that makes most of today's blockbusters look painfully small, and if the whistling didn't give it away, it's a collector's edition of my favorite movie, "The Bridge on the River Kwai."

BOB MONDELLO: British prisoners of war in a Japanese labor camp building one magnificent railroad bridge, the best that British engineering and director David Lean's production crew can manage.

Alec Guinness is the commanding officer so intent on preserving his troops' morale that, as the camp's doctor tries to tell him, he's blind to the practical implications of what they're doing.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Bridge on the River Kwai")

Mr. JAMES DONALD (Actor): (as Major Clipton) Sir, are you convinced that building this bridge is a good idea?

Mr. ALEC GUINNESS (Actor): (as Colonel Nicholson) Are you serious?

Mr. DONALD: (as Major Clipton) Yes, sir.

Mr. GUINNESS: (as Colonel Nicholson) You don't agree that the men's morale is high, that discipline has been restored, their condition has been improved?

Mr. DONALD: (as Major Clipton) What we're doing could be construed as - forgive me, sir - collaboration with the enemy, perhaps even as treasonable activity.

Mr. GUINNESS: (as Colonel Nicholson) Are you all right, Clipton?

MONDELLO: Fortunately, William Holden is also on hand preaching common sense.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Bridge on the River Kwai")

Mr. WILLIAM HOLDEN (Actor): (as Shears) You've seen the graveyard. To give up hope of escape, to even stop thinking about it is like accepting a death sentence.

MONDELLO: The fictional story David Lean told in 1957 is based on the building of the Burma Railroad, which cost tens of thousands of laborers their lives during World War II. Details of the real events are contained in a "River Kwai" extra, sort of a historical primer that you can play along with the film. And there's a documentary with details of building that bridge.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Bridge on the River Kwai")

Mr. GUINNESS: (as Colonel Nicholson) It's going to be a proper bridge.

MONDELLO: The largest movie set ever created to that time, according to the filmmakers. And in 1957, you had to actually build the thing, not drop it in digitally. There's also the story of a failed first attempt to blow up the bridge when the train, instead of plunging into the river, zoomed straight across and derailed in the jungle.

And this story of how the crew captured a spectacular scene of birds in flight.

(Soundbite of extra feature from the movie, "The Bridge on the River Kwai")

Unidentified Man: And I had some men posted around to fire rifles to get the bloody things to come out of the trees.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

Unidentified Man: And when they came out, there were thousands of them. It blacked out the sun. It was a phenomenal sight, but they started to (bleep), and it was like hot stinking rain falling all over us. You don't see that in the movie.

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

I'm Bob Mondello.

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