Monday, January 11, 2010

Thunder Rock (1942)

I must begin this post with a confession. I love Michael Redgrave. He's near the tops in my own personal League of Obscure British Actors. The particular era of Michael Redgrave that I love, is his matinee idol period (1936-1952). I've gone to great lengths to obtain some of the more obscure titles from this time in his filmography, so it is always exciting when a new one turns up, as was the case with Thunder Rock. I was further delighted when I realized that this movie was all Michael. It's practically a one-man show, though James Mason does turn up briefly in a small supporting role. (I love James mason, too, by the way). The rest of the cast play imaginary characters born out of the imagination of David Charleston, failed writer, light-house keeper and professional daydreamer. So much relies on Michael and he does an admirable job of carrying the weight of the story. Why then, was I disappointed with the movie? Perhaps its just that it was too much Michael Redgrave, the great actor and not enough Michael Redgrave the matinee idol. Where was the irrepressible, plucky charm of Gilbert in The Lady Vanishes? Where was the shy romantic of The Remarkable Mr. Kipps? They were gone and in their place was an angry, depressed man who was on the verge of a complete mental break. There were shades of the disillusioned middle-aged characters he played in The Browning Version, Time Without Pity and The Quiet American. There was even a little bit of Maxwell Frere the psychotic ventriloquist from Dead of Night.

The story of Thunder Rock unfolds as a bit of mystery. We learn that a lighthouse keeper hasn't been cashing paychecks. He is acting strangely and we see him drinking a lot and arguing with his only real friend, the pilot, Streeter (James Mason). When Streeter leaves David becomes surrounded by a group of people. He interacts with them and though they interact with him, they seem strangely different. Here lighting and expressionist camera angles go a long way toward giving the feeling that something isn't right. An eerie, tense mood predominates throughout the film, which keeps its secrets as long as possible. It's competently put together, well-acted and memorable in the twists and turns of the thriller plot.

The film ends by explaining that Charleston decided to exile himself in his lighthouse prison because he was a passionate journalist who campaigned against the policy of appeasement in the Second World War. Perhaps this was an attempt to bring some wartime relevance to a popular stage role which Redgrave had already played successfully in the theater. I think that his plucky Gilbert from the Lady Vanishes is a far more useful propaganda tool and is far more entertaining to boot. Thunder Rock is great performance from Redgrave, though, and while it is stagey because it's based on a play and bound to a single location set, it still absorbs. That I would even prefer to see the inferior Remarkable Mr. Kipps to Thunder Rock, is one of the many, many reasons I should never be a real film critic. Yes, it's a good movie and he's a great actor, but he's just so much cuter in this other movie. What am I like 12? I have no defense for this logically, so the best I can do is post the following wholly gratuitous eye candy which proves, if nothing else, the man could rock a chunky knit.

1 comment:

Andi B. Goode said...

Sounds like an interesting film! I quite like Michael Redgrave, too. =]
-Andi x