Sunday, May 23, 2021

#2,572. The Light at the Edge of the World (1971) - The Films of Kirk Douglas


A number of fine, family-oriented movies have been based on the writings of Jules Verne, classics such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in 80 Days, and Mysterious Island, just to name a few.

The Light at the Edge of the World, a 1971 film starring Kirk Douglas, is not one of those movies!

Don’t misunderstand me: it’s an excellent film, a beautifully shot, expertly acted motion picture that tells one hell of a story. Where it differs from the others is in its presentation; despite its GP (General Audience) rating, The Light at the Edge of the World is not a movie you’ll want to show the kids.

Douglas plays Will Denton, one of three men assigned to a remote 19th-century lighthouse on the southernmost tip of South America. One day, a ship pulls into the nearby harbor, and Denton’s associates, Captain Moriz (Fernando Rey) and Felipe (Massimo Ranieri), go down to greet the vessel.

Unfortunately, the ship belongs to a band of bloodthirsty pirates, and their captain, Kongre (Yul Brynner), is the most ruthless of them all. After killing Moriz and Felipe, Kongre and his men take over the lighthouse with the intent of luring unsuspecting ships onto the nearby rocks, thus making them much easier to pillage.

Denton manages to escape and hide out in the surrounding hills, hoping he can survive long enough to be rescued by the relief ship that’s due any day.

When Kongre and his men cause a British-bound passenger ship to run aground, Denton rescues the boat’s engineer, Montefiore (Renato Salvatori), and is stunned to discover that the only other survivor, a prisoner of Kongre’s named Arabella (Samantha Eggar), bears a striking resemblance to a woman he once loved!

Can Denton and Montefiore avoid capture long enough to save Arabella, or will they, too, become one of Kongre’s countless victims?

As I already mentioned, The Light at the Edge of the World is a gorgeous movie, thanks to the picturesque locations (a large portion of the film was shot on the coast of Spain) and the expert cinematography of Henri Decae, a favorite of the French New Wave directors (he shot – among others - Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows).

In addition, Douglas and Brynner do a fine job squaring off against one another, with Brynner turning in an especially devilish performance as the cruel pirate with just a dash of sophistication (which he displays proudly in his scenes with Eggar’s Arabella).

Sounds like a rollicking adventure that the whole family can enjoy, doesn’t it? Well, unlike other Verne adaptations, The Light at the Edge of the World is also quite brutal, sometimes shockingly so. The violence is unflinching and occasionally gory (especially during a late torture scene), and Arabella’s treatment at the hands of her captors might have younger viewers asking some uncomfortable questions.

Though it may not be for kids, The Light at the Edge of the World has enough going for it to keep the adults entertained. A grand adventure that doubles as a tense showdown between two strong characters, it is a movie that would have made Jules Verne proud.

As long as he had the stomach for it.
Rating: 8 out of 10

1 comment:

Kevin Bergin said...

Slower than this review suggests in spots. The showdown between the the stars is entertaining but there are a few head scratching moments that make the final mano-a-mano payoff too little too late.