Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mitch Miller and his Orchestra -- "March from 'The River Kwai' and Colonel Bogey" (1957)

The Bridge on the River Kwai, which was released in 1957, was a huge success at the box office -- it cost only $2.8 million to make, but grossed over $30 million.

Here's the trailer:

The movie won seven Academy Awards, including those for best picture, best director (David Lean, who went on to make Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago), best actor (Alec Guinness), best cinematography, best editing, best adapted screenplay, and best music.

That screenplay was the work of two blacklisted screenwriters, Carl Foreman (who also wrote the script for High Noon), and Michael Wilson (who had won an Oscar for A Place in the Sun).  Since neither man could be credited for his work on the script, the official credit went to Pierre Boulle, whose 1952 novel of the same name was the basis of the movie. 

Given that Bouelle was a Frenchman who did not speak English, he was an odd choice for a screenwriting credit.  (Years later, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave posthumous Oscars to Foreman and Wilson.)  

The most memorable scene in the movie ist when he British prisoners of war march into the prison camp whistling the "Colonel Bogey March."

Major F. J. Ricketts
(a/k/a Kenneth Alford)
That march was written in 1914 by a British bandmaster, Major F. J. Ricketts, who published it and other compositions under the pseudonym Kenneth Alford.  The two-note phrase (a descending minor third) that begins each line of the melody was supposedly copied from a golfer who whistled those notes instead of shouting "fore" when he teed off.  

The name "Colonel Bogey" was a reference to an imaginary golfing opponent -- it was a reference to the course itself, which is the real opponent of a golfer -- and the word "bogey" later came to mean a score of one over par on a hole.

The same melody was used for a British World War II ditty, "Hitler Has Only Got One Ball."  Here's one version of the verse to that song:

Hitler has only got one ball
Göring has two but very small
Himmler is somewhat sim'lar,
But poor Goebbels has no balls at all

There are a number of alternate versions, including this one:

Hitler has only got one ball
The other is on the kitchen wall
His mother, the dirty bugger
Chopped it off when he was small

It has long been rumored that Hitler was, in fact, monorchid -- that is, had only one testicle -- perhaps as the result of a wound to the groin he suffered in World War I.  The Soviet autopsy on Hitler's remains, which was released in 1970, stated that Hitler did not have a left testicle.  But many have questioned whether the autopsy was altered for reasons of propaganda.

The composer of the soundtrack for The Bridge on the River Kwai, Sir Malcolm Arnold, composed over a hundred film scores, as well as symphonies and other orchestral pieces.  His personal life was a bit of a show, thanks to schizophrenia (his children once had him committed to a mental hospital) and alcoholism.

From a story in the Daily Mail:

Friends recall a man whose generosity knew no bounds, but Sir Malcolm, who began his career as a professional trumpeter, was also often drunk and highly promiscuous.

On one occasion, his wife came home to find him making love to a maid over a table.  On another, he had sex with a waitress on a restaurant floor.

In later years, the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, a close friend, recalled how he was told to "f*** off" when he reprimanded Sir Malcolm for trying to kiss his wife on the mouth.

Hey, no one's perfect.  (You can click here to read the entire Daily Mail story.)

Here's Mitch Miller's recording of "March from The River Kwai and Colonel Bogey," which combines the "Colonel Bogey March" with Arnold's original composition, "The River Kwai March":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

1 comment:

  1. Pierre Boulle: his other hit book was "Planet of the Apes."

    Bridge on the River Kwai: yes there was a war, and prisoners, and a railroad and a bridge. Prisoners built the railway and the bridge. Other than that, it's totally made up. There was a lot of Asian slave labor, too, which didn't show up in the movie. The prisoners were not trying to show off their expertise or work ethic, they were trying to sabotage the project at every turn. And the bridge wasn't destroyed by a commando strike, but by an air raid.

    Colonel Bogey: I think they were playing a joke by having the prisoners whistle it. Brits have told me that, as schoolchildren, they were *forbidden* to even whistle it, because of the "Hitler has only got one ball" business.

    My father told me a story about when he was training recruits in South Carolina in 1943. German POWs used the same road as the trainees, and when they came in sight of the Americans, they would start singing in an intimidating manner. Eventually, the two groups were put on different roads so the recruits could breathe easier.

    I mentioned this to a guy who was a WWII German vet. He was amused. "The German Army *always* sang while it marched. That's what got us down the road."