Thunder Rock (film)

Last updated

Thunder Rock
Thunderrock.jpg
Directed by Roy Boulting
Produced by John Boulting
Written by Bernard Miles
Jeffrey Dell
Based on Thunder Rock
by Robert Ardrey
Starring Michael Redgrave
Barbara Mullen
James Mason
Lilli Palmer
Music by Hans May
Cinematography Mutz Greenbaum
Edited byRoy Boulting
Production
company
Charter Film Productions
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (UK)
English Films (US)
Release date
  • 4 December 1942 (1942-12-04)
Running time
112 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish

Thunder Rock is a 1942 British drama film directed by Roy Boulting and starring Michael Redgrave and Barbara Mullen, with James Mason and Lilli Palmer in supporting roles. It was based on Robert Ardrey's 1939 play Thunder Rock .

Contents

Background

The film is based on the 1939 play Thunder Rock by Robert Ardrey, which had originally been a flop when staged in New York folding within three weeks, [1] but proved to be considerably more successful in London where it ran for months in the West End. The film version was opened out considerably from its source by the addition of a montage sequence to illustrate the protagonist Charleston's back-story, and flashback sequences detailing the histories of the various characters in Charleston's imagination, in the process serving to give a heightened propagandist tone to the material.

Critical opinion of the time in Britain was divided as to whether the additional material brought new depths to the story, or made too explicit things which Ardrey had preferred to leave to the audience's imagination and intelligence. The film was however almost universally admired by North American critics and became a huge popular success. Ironically, it ran to packed houses in New York for over three months, where the play had folded in less than three weeks. [1]

Plot

During the late 1930s, David Charleston (Redgrave) is an ambitious campaigning newspaper journalist, a fierce opponent of fascism and the British policy of appeasement. He wishes to alert his readers to the dangers of German rearmament and the folly of ignoring what is going on in Europe, but the reports he submits are censored by the editor of his newspaper. He subsequently quits his job and sets off on a speaking tour around the country under the slogan "Britain, Awake!" The lack of interest and response indicates that Britain is happy to keep slumbering. The final straw comes when Charleston is at the cinema, and the newsreel feature comes on the screen detailing the German occupation of the Sudetenland. The audience show themselves completely uninterested in the newsreel, taking the opportunity to chat among themselves or go in search of refreshments. In despair at the way his countrymen seem totally oblivious to the ever-more impending doom which is about to engulf them, and appear to be content to go about their daily business as normal while all the time sleepwalking towards disaster, he decides to turn his back on Britain and find a far-flung location where he can withdraw from the world and all its contemporary woes.

He crosses the Atlantic, and finds exactly what he is looking for when he successfully lands a job as a lone lighthouse-keeper on Lake Michigan, which will provide him with the solitude he craves. The lighthouse rock carries a commemorative tablet, listing the names of a group of immigrants from Europe who perished 90 years earlier when the ship carrying them to a new life in America foundered off-shore in a violent storm. As weeks turn into months in his self-imposed isolation, Charleston becomes fixated on the names on the tablet, and begins to experience ghostly visions of the lost souls, who start to relate to him their sad stories of sorrow, escape and unfulfilled dreams, in what seems an uncanny parallel to Charleston's own situation. The ship's captain Stuart (Finlay Currie), who appears to be the only ghost aware that he is dead and that it is no longer 1850, acts as mediator between Charleston and the other spirits as they tell their tales. Charleston discovers the story of proto-feminist Ellen (Mullen), repeatedly persecuted and imprisoned for her progressive views, and becomes particularly emotionally involved with the Kurtz family, progressive medical man Stefan (Frederick Valk) and his sad daughter Melanie (Palmer), who seems to harbour a strange ghostly attraction towards Charleston, which he reciprocates.

Charleston's lonely existence is broken by the arrival of an old colleague Streeter (Mason), who is worried about him after finding out from Charleston's employers that his pay cheques have not been cashed for many months. Streeter is nonplussed and not a little concerned as he starts to realise Charleston's mental state. Stuart meanwhile becomes exasperated by the way in which Charleston's imagination is forcing the others into unrealistic behaviour. Charleston agrees to let them have more freedom of action, but then finds them all starting to question where they are and what time they are in. He finally allows Melanie to read the tablet describing their deaths, and tells them all that the civilisation they knew is coming to an imminent end, and he has withdrawn to avoid being witness to its demise. He adds that now he has told them the truth, as figments of his imagination they no longer need to appear to him.

To his consternation, they do not disappear. Stefan confronts him sternly, pointing out that running away is cowardly and that it is always better to stand up and fight for what is good and right, regardless of the consequences. Moreover, none of the spirits have any intention of leaving him until he faces up to what he has to do. Finally convinced, Charleston realises he must return to Europe and carry on his fight for truth and justice against the evil which threatens the continent.

Cast

Production

In 1941 the Boulting brothers signed a contract whereby their production company, Charter Films, would produce the film for MGM, who would fund the production in entirety. Roy Boulting was to direct and John Boulting produce. Jeffrey Dell and Bernard Miles (himself a member of the original cast) adapted the screenplay. Several of the stage actors reprised their roles, including Michael Redgrave as Charleston, Frederick Valk as Dr. Kurtz, and Barbara Mullen (a later addition to the cast) as Miss Kirby. James Mason and Lilli Palmer signed on to play the parts of Streeter and Melanie respectively. [2]

The Boulting brothers, both of whom were then engaged in the armed services, were given a special release to carry on with production. The British government arranged to have Michael Redgrave flown back from an aircraft carrier in the Far East for filming. [3] The company spent ten weeks shooting in the Denham Film Studios. Thunder Rock was premiered in London in December 1942 and went into more general release in February 1943. [2] The film was given a reissue in 1947. [4]

Reception

On its British release in 1942, Thunder Rock received mixed reviews, with critics eager to compare the screen version to the stage play, not always to the former's advantage. The Glasgow Herald review was typical, almost appearing to damn the film with faint praise by stating: "Though scarcely so good as the play, the film is by no means ineffective or undistinguished. Michael Redgrave, Barbara Mullen and others do well." [5] The reviewer for The Manchester Guardian had also seen both, though not to the detriment of his regard for the film: "Robert Ardrey's 'Thunder Rock', still the best new play of the war, has been faithfully translated to the screen. ... The result is a really intelligent film, more moving in parts than anything this country's studios have produced before and more interesting technically than anything since Citizen Kane." [6] Of the reviews that examined the film in its own right, C. A. Lejeune wrote in her long enthusiastic review for The Observer : "I like the unselfconscious courage of a film that knows what it should do and goes ahead and does it. I like a piece that doesn't give a hang whether it's popular or unpopular. I like its frank speech, so distinct from that mumbo jumbo of the average refined, pie-faced British picture." [7]

When released in North America almost two years later, however, the film was lavished with enthusiastic praise from influential sources. In his syndicated column, Walter Winchell called the film "a glowing fantasy that lights up the dark corners of many current issues...it manages to be high-class without being highbrow". [8] Dorothy Kilgallen, writing in her Voice of Broadway column, urged any of her out-of-town readers planning a visit to New York to "drop in at the World Theatre...and see the film Thunder Rock...you'll remember it a long time, and it may not play your town." [9] Herbert Whittaker, film critic for the Montreal Gazette , chose the film as one of the ten best of 1944, observing "it translate(s) Robert Ardrey's deep and philosophical drama to the screen with brilliance". [10] The Los Angeles Times described it as "highly imaginative", "noteworthy" and "outstanding". [11]

Modern critical assessments of Thunder Rock tend to be equally assertive of the film's lasting merit. A reviewer for the Radio Times comments that the film "succeeds in creating an atmosphere that is at once haunting, mournful and inspiring. As the writer disillusioned by the world's complacent response to fascism, Michael Redgrave gives one of his most complex and tormented performances, as he regains the crusading spirit from his encounters with the victims of a shipwreck that occurred years before on the rocks near the lighthouse he now tends. With a bullish contribution from James Mason and truly touching support from ghostly emigrée Lilli Palmer, this is one of the Boulting Brothers' finest achievements." [12] The Time Out Film Guide says: "The film effortlessly transcends its theatrical origins, merging drama and reality, past and present, propaganda and psychological insight, to complex and intelligent effect. Beautifully performed, closer in tone and style to Powell and Pressburger than to the British mainstream, it's weird and unusually gripping". [13] In Beacons in the Dark, film historian Robyn Ludwig critiques the film as a "didactic... parable of the evils of appeasement". [14]

Related Research Articles

Boulting brothers Twin brothers and filmmakers

John Edward Boulting and Roy Alfred Clarence Boulting, known collectively as the Boulting brothers, were English filmmakers and identical twins who became known for their popular series of satirical comedies in the 1950s and 1960s. They produced many of their films through their own production company, Charter Film Productions, which they set up in 1937.

James Mason English actor

James Neville Mason was an English actor. Mason is widely considered to be one of the greatest film actors of the 20th century; he achieved considerable success in British cinema before becoming one of Hollywood's biggest stars. He was the top box office attraction in the UK in 1944 and 1945, with notable films including The Seventh Veil (1945) and The Wicked Lady (1945). He starred in Odd Man Out (1947), the first recipient of the BAFTA Award for Best British Film.

Michael Redgrave English actor

Sir Michael Scudamore Redgrave CBE was an English stage and film actor, director, manager, and author. He received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Mourning Becomes Electra (1947), as well as two BAFTA Award for Best British Actor nominations for his performances in The Night My Number Came Up (1955) and Time Without Pity (1957).

James Donald Scottish Actor

James Donald was a Scottish actor. Tall and thin, he specialised in playing authority figures.

Lilli Palmer actress (1914-1986)

Lilli Palmer was a German actress and writer. After beginning her career in British films in the 1930s, she would later transition to major Hollywood productions, earning a Golden Globe Award nomination for her performance in But Not for Me (1959).

<i>The Way to the Stars</i> 1945 film by Anthony Asquith

The Way to the Stars is a 1945 British war drama film made by Two Cities Films. In the United States it was known as Johnny in the Clouds and distributed by United Artists. It was produced by Anatole de Grunwald and directed by Anthony Asquith. The screenplay was co-written by noted dramatist, Terence Rattigan, as a significant reworking of his 1942 play Flare Path, which incorporated his Royal Air Force (RAF) experiences as a Flight Lieutenant. The film stars Michael Redgrave, John Mills, Rosamund John and Stanley Holloway.

Phantom Manor is a dark ride attraction in Frontierland at Disneyland Park in Disneyland Paris. Phantom Manor is the park's version of the Haunted Mansion attractions at Disneyland, Magic Kingdom and Tokyo Disneyland, although a lot of scenes from the Haunted Mansion have been reimagined to coincide with a darker theme. It opened with Euro Disneyland on April 12, 1992.

Robert Ardrey Screenwriter and author of several books on anthropology

Robert Ardrey was an American playwright, screenwriter and science writer perhaps best known for The Territorial Imperative (1966). After a Broadway and Hollywood career, he returned to his academic training in anthropology and the behavioral sciences in the 1950s.

<i>Back-Room Boy</i> 1942 film by Herbert Mason

Back-Room Boy is a 1942 British comedy film directed by Herbert Mason, produced by Edward Black for Gainsborough Pictures and starring Arthur Askey, Googie Withers, Graham Moffatt and Moore Marriott. The original story is written by J.O.C. Orton. A man from the Met Office is sent to a lighthouse on a remote Scottish island to monitor the weather. He hopes to escape from women, but soon finds the island overrun by them.

<i>Thunder Rock</i> (play) play written by Robert Ardrey

Thunder Rock is a 1939 play by Robert Ardrey.

Arthur Crabtree was a British cinematographer and film director. He directed several of the Gainsborough Melodramas.

<i>A Place of Ones Own</i> 1945 film by Bernard Knowles

A Place of One's Own is a 1945 British film directed by Bernard Knowles. An atmospheric ghost story based on the novel by Osbert Sitwell, it stars James Mason, Barbara Mullen, Margaret Lockwood, Dennis Price and Dulcie Gray. Mason and Mullen are artificially aged to play the old couple. It was one of the cycle of Gainsborough Melodramas.

Barbara Mullen Television actress

Barbara Mullen was an American actress well known in the UK for playing the part of Janet McPherson, the housekeeper in Dr. Finlay's Casebook. Although the role of Janet brought her fame in later years, she already had made her mark in the theatre.

Thunder Rock may refer to:

The First Offence is a 1936 British low-budget "quota quickie" drama film directed by Herbert Mason, produced by Michael Balcon for Gainsborough Pictures and starring John Mills, Lilli Palmer and Bernard Nedell. It is a remake of the 1934 French film Mauvaise Graine, directed by Billy Wilder.

Sybille Binder Austrian actress

Sybille Binder was an Austrian actress of Jewish descent whose career of over 40 years was based variously in her home country, Germany and Britain, where she found success in films during the 1940s.

<i>Jeb</i> (play) play written by Robert Ardrey

Jeb was a play by Robert Ardrey that opened on Broadway in February 1946 tackling the issue of race in post-World War II America. The play deals with a disabled black veteran who returns to his home in the rural South after serving overseas.

Plays of Three Decades book by Robert Ardrey

Plays of Three Decades is a collection of three plays by the prolific playwright, screenwriter, and science writer Robert Ardrey. The three plays included are Thunder Rock, Ardrey's international classic about hope and human progress; Jeb, Ardrey's post-World War II civil rights play about a black soldier returning from the Pacific; and Shadow of Heroes, a documentary drama about the prelude to and aftermath of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. The last play resulted in the release of two political prisoners from Soviet custody.

Herbert Percival James Marshall was a British writer who was also involved in filmmaking, theater design and direction, education, and Russian literature.

<i>The Brotherhood of Fear</i> 1952 political novel by Robert Ardrey

The Brotherhood of Fear is a 1952 political novel by Robert Ardrey. It was optioned for a film by Fox and re-issued in 2014.

References

  1. 1 2 Of Local Origin New York Times, 24 November 1944. (Subscription required to read full article online)
  2. 1 2 Aldgate, Anthony et. al. Britain Can Take It: The British Cinema in the Second World War 2nd ed. London: I.B. Tauris, 2007. p.178 Print.
  3. Ardrey, Robert; Ardrey, Daniel (ed.). "The Education of Robert Ardrey: An Autobiography" (unpublished manuscript ca. 1980, available through Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center) p. 86.
  4. Aldgate 2007, p. 184.
  5. Films in Glasgow Glasgow Herald, 29 March 1943. Retrieved 17 October 2010
  6. Manchester Guardian, 6 April 1943. Quoted in Adgate 2007, p. 183
  7. Lejeune, C.A. The Observer 6 December 1942. Quoted in Aldgate 2007, p. 183.
  8. "Notes of an Innocent Bystander" Winchell, Walter. Daytona Beach Morning Journal, 27 September 1944. Retrieved 17 October 2010
  9. Voice of Broadway Kilgallen, Dorothy. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4 November 1944. Retrieved 17 October 2010
  10. "Ten Best Films For 1944" Whittaker, Herbert. Montreal Gazette, 30 December 1944. Retrieved 17 October 2010
  11. Thunder Rock, Outstanding British Picture Los Angeles Times, 21-20-1944. Retrieved 17 October 2010
  12. Thunder Rock (1942) Radio Times. Retrieved 17 October 2010
  13. Time Out Film Guide, Penguin Books London, 1989, p.603 ISBN   0-14-012700-3
  14. "Beacons in the Dark: Lighthouse Iconography in Wartime British Cinema"