I’ve just been watching (i.e., have just escaped from) Jonathan Taplitzky‘s The Railway Man at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall. I felt lost in the ether, but it costars Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine and Stellan Skarsgard. By far the most interesting portion is an extended World War II flashback sequence showing British POWs working on the Thai-Burma Railway under Japanese troops. It’s interesting because another camp of soldiers are doing the exact same thing under the command of Lt. Col. Nicholson (Alec Guinness) down near the River Kwai, and because there’s also a certain British POW named Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers), later to become a Group Captain and serve at Burpleson Air Force Base under General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), who’s also laying track. They’re all starving and suffering and sweating buckets and planning escapes and dying from malaria and bumming butts.
Who else is suffering under the Japanese in Southeast Asian POW camps at the same time? Well, there’s poor David Bowie and Tom Conti, of course, under the heel of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Takeshi Kitano in the Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence POW camp. Not to mention the Paradise Road ladies — Glenn Close, Frances McDormand,Julianna Margulies, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Ehle. There’s also the King Rat guys — George Segal, Tom Courteny, James Fox.
What the Japanese command needs to do, for efficiency’s sake, is put all of these guys into a big super-sized prison camp. All the bad apples behind the same fence, just like the Germans did in The Great Escape. Can you imagine the dramatic fireworks when Guinness and Sellers get into an ethical argument with Segal over black-market rations? And instead of having the hots for Bowie, imagine if Sakamoto decides to go straight and put the moves on Glenn Close in exchange for favored treatment. Imagine William Holden and Conti both falling for Blanchett and coming to blows at the climax, etc. The possibilities are endless.
General Jack D. Ripper: “When they tortured you did you talk?”
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: “Ah, oh, no… well, I don’t think they wanted me to talk really. I don’t think they wanted me to say anything. It was just their way of having a bit of fun, the swines. Strange thing is they make such bloody good cameras.”