Kwai but Lean on Style
Following the bombing of the Burma-Thailand Death Railway by the Allies, Commander Tanaka (George Takei) is preparing to execute three of the prisoners but is prevented by Major Harada (Tatsuya Nakadai) who arrives with a new directive. Tanka must pick the healthiest prisoners and get them to Japan. But it is a dangerous journey as they risk being blown up by the resistance and allied planes bombing boats and trains unaware of the prisoners being transported on them. Mean while American pilot Leyland Crawford (Christopher Penn) has been shot down and having parachuted out has been rescued by the Meo, a local resistance group headed up by Colonel Grayson (Denholm Elliott).
This is not a sequel, I repeat this is not a sequel. That may be a bit of an overkill but if you saw "Return from the River Kwai" appear on the TV schedule and knew nothing about it you might think that it must be a sequel to "The Bridge on the River Kwai". But as I said "Return from the River Kwai" is not a sequel and is in fact a typical Andrew V. McLaglen action movie rather than the epic drama of David Lean's "The Bridge on the River Kwai". Of course it is extremely difficult not to make comparisons and whilst McLaglen could knock out an entertaining war movie his style was completely different to Lean's and so unfortunately "Return from the River Kwai" does seem inferior.
Part of the trouble is that whilst "Return from the River Kwai" starts by informing us that it is based on true events what we get feels like a routine war drama with resistance fighters, prisoners, escape attempts and some action as they get one over on the enemy. It doesn't have a great deal of depth, it doesn't have great dialogue, it doesn't have great characters and it doesn't have great performances but in a routine action/ war movie way it works well enough to keep you entertained, well in truth keep you entertained if you are a fan of Andrew V. McLaglen's movies.
I suppose the most disappointing thing about "Return from the River Kwai" is that McLaglen has got himself a decent cast and whilst they are not the calibre of William Holden, Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins the likes of Edward Fox, Timothy Bottoms, George Takei and Chris Penn were all capable of much more than they got to do in this movie. It is sadly a waste of talent and each of them could have delivered the imposing character that the movie needed to be memorable rather than being memorable for not being a sequel but sounding like one.
What this all boils down to is that "Return from the River Kwai" is an okay Andrew V. McLaglen war movie for those who enjoy his movies. But there is no denying it could have been better and sadly the movie's title causes it huge issues which are hard to get past as it immediately makes you think of the superior "The Bridge on the River Kwai" despite this not being a sequel.