The Edge of the World (1937)

          When one hears the name of British filmmaker Michael Powell,
  a number of films should immediately spring to mind, including his
  several collaboration with Emeric Pressburger, for example
BLACK NARCISSUS (1947), THE RED SHOES (1948), or his solo work,
  especially the controversial classic
PEEPING TOM (1960). One of his
  earlier solo efforts, and the film that brought him to the attention
  of the Korda brothers,
THE EDGE OF THE WORLD (1937) has been
  restored by the British Film Institute and is now being re-released
  theatrically (handled in the United States by Milestone Film & Video)
  before it reaches the video/DVD shelves.

          The film opens with a debonair yachtsman and his wife (played
  by Powell and his then-wife Frances 'Frankie' Reidy) sailing to a deserted
  island off the Scottish coast. Their guide then recounts the story of how
  the residents made the decision to abandon their homeland and move
  to the mainland. Shot in glorious tones of gray by Monty Berman,
  Skeets Kelly and Ernest Palmer and employing dissolves and crosscuts
  for flashbacks,
THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is a visually stunning tale
  that possesses the air of a documentary. While Powell later came to be
  recognized for his mastery of Technicolor, this early film demonstrates
  his craftsmanship working in black and white.

          On the island of Hirta, families were beginning to feel the force
  of progress. Food supplies were threatened by poor harvests, the amount
  of peat burned for warmth was depleting and more progressive forms
  of fishing were threatening their livelihood. Powell leisurely establishes
  the residents of the island and their routines. Soon, however, the
  emphasis shifts to the subplot that spurs the action, the star-crossed
  love affair between island residents Ruth Manson (Belle Chrystall) and
  Andrew Gray (Niall MacGinnis). Their families are on opposite sides
  about leaving so to settle the matter, Ruth's brother Robbie (Eric Berry)
  and Robbie challenge one another to a rock climbing contest. These
  sequences feature incredible shots of the men scaling the mountainous
  side of the island and, of course, tragedy ensues. Lovers are parted
  and there is another brilliantly staged boat rescue during a storm that
  is very well done.

          When one considers that Powell and his cast and crew were
  shooting in a remote location in the mid-30s,
  becomes even more fascinating. The director demonstrated his talents
  by capturing the harsh fury of a storm at sea as well as the majestic
  natural beauty of the landscape. The actors all contribute fine
  performances and the restoration has enhanced the vibrant
  cinematography and crisp editing. The film clearly held special
  consideration for Powell; forty years after its release, he and the
  surviving cast and crew, including an eighty-something John Laurie
  who had played the unyielding Manson patriarch, returned to the area
  to film the quasi-documentary
  While the melodramatic romantic subplot probably disqualifies
THE EDGE OF THE WORLD for status as a bona fide masterpiece,
  it still has to rank as a fine example of its unique genre.

Rating:                B+
© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.