Alec Guinness won his only Oscar from his second Oscar nomination for portraying Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Alec Guinness is always actor I think, finds a new way to play every part he gets, to make himself hard to recognize from role to role. This is most certianly the case in this film, as Alec Guinness creates a unique characterization in the character of Col. Nicholson. Nicholson being an overly proper officer, who always believes in the letter of the law no matter what the circumstance he finds himself in.
One thing I love about this performance is how he makes a completely unique characterization out of what could have been a stock role in certian ways with stock mannerisms, and attitudes. Alec Guinness most certainly portrays Nicholson with a stiff spine, and a stiff upper lip. Alec Guinness somehow portrays these proper mannerisms, in his own unique way that perfectly fit and amplify the character, as well as not ever seem dull despite doing mannerisms that by nature are a bit dull.
Alec Guinness is brilliant in this part I think because he is always working on at least two levels in this performance. For example Col. Nicholson as a British officer is a no nonsense rather lacking in humor sort of man, yet Guinness knows how to through Nicholson's humorless attitude, to make his portrayal quite humor filled in fact. Guinness always portrays the ironic humor behind his character's properness, well still being the proper soldier he is, it is a difficult trick to pull off but Guinness does it masterfully.
The trickiest part of his character though is Nicholson's belief in proper military behavior. It would have been easy to portray the part as simply that is the character's code and that would be that. But that is not that, Guinness finds a deeper meaning inside of his inability to do anything not by the code, showing it as all that his entire life has been, and it would be against his very nature to go against what he has done for his whole entire life.
Guinness portrayal of his fight with Col. Saito over officers working is expertly handled by Guinness, and Guinness always gets the most out of the part. I love of Guinness portrays the way even when Nicholson is tortured, and basically powerless he refuses to stop fighting in his fully proper fashion. I think the very best moment is when he wins though, because Guinness' reaction is just pure gold in his facial response, and the way he straightens himself up, since he is finally in charge once more.
I really love how Nicholson playss ever single moment of his performance, and how astutely he always reinforces the nature of Nicholson in every scene. For example in the opening scene, how he no matter never loses his stature among his men no matter what even when hit by the camp commandant Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa). Guinness displays just the tremendous will of Nicholson without a single fault, making his iron resolve always entirely realistic, even though it could have completely failed to work if Guinness faltered for a moment, but Guinness never does.
I find Guinness is brilliant in the way he portrays Nicholson as genuinely insane, completely mad really in the way he refuses to ever lose his proper behavior, but yet he is able to completely realistically portray this totally insane, yet totally in possession of his faculties Colonel. This again is a rather difficult trick to pull off, since Nicholson could have been a hard to believe character, but Guinness' conviction and consistency never left a doubt in my mind about Nicholson.
Guinness is careful in his slow decent actually in greater madness of Nicholson that slowly arrives well building the bridge for the Japanese. It is a slow easy descent that Guinness does ever so slightly that it is really an amazing to watch. Guinness is excellent in his way that he shows tat his belief in the bridge is so great it even overrides his belief in all else, in tremendous flawless portrayal of madness like no other ever seen on film.
Guinness' greatest moment should be mentioned though as well, where his character finally has his moment of clarity not only about his present situation but his entire life, it is one of the greatest moments, and reactions I think in film, Guinness' is incredible and shows that although it took almost everything his madness could be broken. The scene would seem almost impossible to portray, since it technically breaks the character, but Guinness earns the break completely.
Guinness creates a fascinating portrayal of attuned madness, and I felt I rally met Nicholson, because Guinness brings him to life so fully. This is a performance I simply love to watch over and over again, and it fits so perfectly in line with the great film it is, Guinness is the perfect personification of the folly in the war in this film. This is an outstanding performance, in a challenging role, a role that could have been dull, or seem easily over or underacted, but Guinness never strikes a false note in this stunning portrayal.