Pierre Boulle

Recent Role:

Story on Playhouse 90


2/20/1912, Avignon, France



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  • French writer whose best-known novels are LE PONT DE LA RIVIÈRE KWAI (1952, The Bridge over the River Kwai), a story of a foolish pride, and LA PLANÈTE DES SINGES ( 1963, Planet of the Apes), both of which were adapted into highly successful films. Several of Boulle's works deal more or less directly with his experiences in Southeast Asia. Like Graham Greene, he used the frame of an adventure, war or a spy story to study themes of false ideals and human destructiveness. Pierre Boulle was born in Avignon. He studied electrical engineering at the Ecole Superieure d'Electricite in Paris, and after working in France as an engineer, he moved to Malaysia in 1938. He was an overseer in a rubber plantation near Kuala Lumpur, and at the outbreak of World War II he joined the army in Indochina. When German troops occupied France, Boulle joined in Singapore the Free French Mission. He served as a secret agent under the name Peter John Rule and helped the resistance movement in China, Burma and Indochina. In 1943 Boulle was captured by the Vichy French loyalists on the Mekong River and sentenced to a life of hard labor. With the help of authorities he escaped in 1944 from imprisonment in Saigon, and served until the end of the war in British special forces. Before returning to France and becoming a writer, Boulle continued his work at the plantation in Malaysia; he also spent some time in the Cameroons. He had started to keep a diary in prison, and in 1950 Boulle published his first novel, WILLIAM CONRAD. After the movie version of The Bridge over the River Kwai gained worldwide popularity, the director Otto Preminger planned to film Boulle's novel The Other Side of the Coin (1958), but the project was never realized. Among Boulle's later works are The Whale of the Victoria Cross (1983), a story of naval warfare and marine mammals, The Photographer (1967), in which an Algerian war veteran sees an opportunity to take the ultimate picture when he discovers that his friend wants to murder the President, and Because it is absurd (on earth as in heaven), a collection of short stories. In AUX SOURCES DE LA RIVIÈRE KWAÏ (1966) Boulle returned to his war experiences and L'ILON (1990) was about his childhood. - Boulle died in Paris on January 30, 1994. His last book was A NOUS DEUX, SATAN! (1992). Boulle was an officer of the Legion of Honor, and a recipient of the Croix de Guerre and the Medal of the Resistance. Boulle combined in his works a captivating story with a pessimistic view of human endeavors and absurdities. His novel Planet of the Apes, which has inspired several film adaptations, is an ironical tale about the relationship between men and animals. It transferred the basic relationship between the Japanese soldiers and Allied prisoners - the repression of a weaker group by a stronger and its moral effect on both sides - into the distant future. Boulle depicts a world where humankind has lost its position as the dominant species, and apes rule over human savages. Planet of the Apes is a story inside a story, set in the year 2500. Jinn and Phyllis, a wealthy leisured couple traveling in space, find a handwritten manuscript in a bottle floating through the void. It tells in the spirit of Gulliver's Travels about Ulysse Mérou, a French journalist. He lands on another planet, where the apes are intelligent. Humans, who have lost the power of language and thought, are exhibited in zoos. Chimpanzees, gorillas, and orang-utans all have equal rights. Humans are used as guinea pigs in laboratories. Some of the planet's scientists refuse to acknowledge that an animal has a soul, while according to another view there is only a difference of degree between the mental processes of beasts and those of monkeys. Mérou speaks at a scientific congress and tells the astonished audience: "... I come from a distant planet, from Earth, that Earth on which, by a whim of nature that has still to be explained, it is men who are the repositories of wisdom and reason." The book differs in many ways from the film. When Boulle wanted to question our superiority over other animals, the film reveals in the climax the past and destroyed glory of humankind, symbolized by the ruined, half-buried remains of the Statue of Liberty. Charlton Heston ends the film with his cry: "Damn them all to hell!" In the book Mérou returns finally to Earth, and is received at the airport by a gorilla. Another twist of the tale is that Jinn and Phyllis are chimpanzees and consider the story incredible: "Rational men? Men endowed with a mind? Men inspired by intelligence? No, that's not possible; there the author has gone too far. But it's a pity!" The Bridge over the River Kwai was awarded the Prix Ste Beuve. It depicted the true story of POW's from a Japanese Labor Camp who are forced to build a bridge for the Japanese war effort. The grueling work becomes for the prisoners a means to find again their self-respect, but all their achievements in turn are just a ridiculous testament of the madness of war. Boulle's view of the British officers was satirical. Colonel Nicholson is in his book the perfect example of the military snob, but he also examined friendship between individual soldiers, both among captors and captives, created by the enterprise. As in Planet of the Apes, Boulle plays with the Darwinist theme of survival of the fittest. The victorious Japanese soldiers cooperate with their prisoners, who want to show their superiority through the construction work. David Lean's war drama based on the book was filmed in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). The heroic ending of the film differed from Boulle's novel, in which the bridge remains standing. When Boulle met the screenwriter Carl Foreman and the producer Sam Spiegel in London, he said that he wanted to destroy the bridge but couldn't work out how. Lean also did not manage to blow it up on the first attempt, and he was not satisfied with the ending, the scene which closes the picture, looking down on the shattered bridge and the wrecked train, and James Douglass saying, "Madness, madness." In one of its most memorable moments the troops march into the camp whistling "Colonel Bogey". The song had been written by a British army officer, Kenneth J. Alford. It became a great hit. The Bridge over the River Kwai was nominated for eight Academy Awards. The screen credits were the final responsibility of Sam Spiegel, and he gave the credit for the script to Pierre Boulle, who had written not one line of it. "Boulle was amazed, but Spiegel told him it was his book on the screen, that he had just put a few camera angles on it and what do you care? Actually, it was the best thing that ever happened to Boulle because it made him a millionaire." (Carl Foreman in David Lean: A Biography by Kevin Brownlow, 1986) Boulle received an Academy Award for the best screenplay. Actually much of the screenplay was written by Michael Wilson, a blacklisted writer, and Carl Foreman. Lean made up a story about Boulle and himself in Paris, to explain how a novelist who did not have much film experience could produce such a work. Boulle did not attend the ceremony when the awards were presented at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood.moreless

    Birth Place:

    Avignon, France