The Light at the Edge of the World

Infobox Film

name = The Light at the Edge of the World
director = Kevin Billington
writer = Jules Verne (novel)
Tom Rowe
Rachel Billington(additional dialogue)
starring = Yul Brynner
Kirk Douglas
Samantha Eggar
Fernando Rey
Massimo Ranieri
Renato Salvatori
Jean-Claude Drouot
Víctor Israel
music = Piero Piccioni
producer = Kirk Douglas
Alexander Salkind
Ilya Salkind
Alfredo Matas
distributor = Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
released = July 16 1971
runtime = 120 min
language = English, Spanish
budget = Unknown
imdb_id = 0067345

"The Light at the Edge of the World" is a 1971 suspense thriller movie, adapted from Jules Verne's classic 1905 action-adventure novel "Le Phare du bout du monde". The plot involves piracy in the South Atlantic during the mid 19th century, with a theme of survival in extreme circumstances, and events centering on an isolated lighthouse.

Despite having a large Hollywood budget, collaboration with prestigious foreign film studios, exotic shooting locations in Europe and some big name American movie stars, the movie was mainly a failure at the box office. This was in part due to classification problems (the film was generally considered too violent), which was not only a problem for getting the film to its intended audience but it also forced the film makers to heavily edit the film - subsequently resulting in a lack of cohesion and continuity between scenes, confusing its viewers. Also, some considered the adapted screenplay to be of a poor quality, containing poor and flimsy dialogue. Perhaps most importantly, prior to its general release there was also a lack of an organised marketing program to promote the film, and also a lack of advertisements, which no doubt hindered the films success.


The year is 1865. Will Denton (Kirk Douglas) is a jaded American miner escaping a troubled past. Seeking isolation for two reasons - to mend his broken heart after a failed romance during the California Gold Rush, and also to escape punishment after he murdered a man in a gunfight - Denton tends a lonely and isolated lighthouse with a minimal crew of three men, himself included.

The lighthouse sits on a fictional rocky island adorned with many caves carved by the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean; it is however set in the geographic location of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago at the southern tip of South America. Before the building of the Panama Canal, the waters off Cape Horn were perhaps the busiest and richest shipping lanes in the world (all shipping between Europe and the western coast of America had to go around the Cape) and therefore very lucrative.

Denton is contented to retreat from the world and be away from the problems of civilisation, and quickly adjusts to his new supervisor, old Argentine sea dog Captain Moriz (Fernando Rey) and his youthful and innocent assistant Felipe.

A shipload of utterly malicious and sadistic pirates show up, murder everyone they can find, and extinguish the light. They are "wreckers", brigands who mislead ships into the rocks to loot the cargo and prey upon the victims. Their leader Captain Jonathan Kongre (Yul Brynner) is a diabolical fiend with a seductive and charismatic facade. Brynner's performance in this film was in some scenes almost regal (perhaps implying an aristocratic history in the character) and as such compared to Brynner's earlier performance in "The King and I".

Denton hides out in the caves and amongst the rocks, and Kongre initiates a cruel game of cat-and-mouse. Denton manages to survive and cannot keep himself from striking back: he saves innocent Italian wreck survivor Montefiore from the pirates' massacre, and together they wage a war of guerrilla tactics against Kongre and his cutthroats.

Kongre breaks his own rule by keeping one captive alive - a beautiful Englishwoman named Arabella (Samantha Eggar). When Denton realizes she's there, the rules of the cat-and-mouse game change radically and the situation becomes more complicated than either side could have imagined. Kongre decides to use her as bait in luring Denton.

The conclusion to the film results in some the best choreographed battle sequences in cinematic history, as well as some of the most daring stunts ever committed to celluloid (for example a man on fire jumping from the top of the lighthouse) until only the protagonist and villain are left to fight it out to the death.

Filming Locations

Upon initial release the film was noted for its exotic cinematography and applauded because of the inherent difficulties of shooting on rocky outcrops, and also at night far away from civilisation. Most of the movie was filmed in Spain. Some of the shooting locations included:

* Jávea, Alicante, Comunidad Valenciana, Spain
* La Manga del Mar Menor, Murcia, Spain
* Cadaqués, Girona, Cataluña, Spain
* Cabo de Creus, Girona, Cataluña, Spain
* La Pedriza, Manzanares el Real, Madrid, Spain

Classification problems

The filmakers went for intense, gritty realism. On its initial release the film was criticised for being too graphic and violent, having being adapted from a Jules Verne novel (albeit even if the original book was violent) but mainly because it had been marketed as a family film.

The murders of Douglas' comrades are brutal and explicit, and later details, such as the sight of a victim being flayed alive, are very unpleasant. It is also more clearly established in the uncut version that shipwreck survivor Samantha Eggar sleeps with Brynner, almost willingly - her implied alternative being gang rape and murder at the hands of his crew. The 'edge of the world' where these people fight is also the edge of decent civilisation.

The movie has a published running time of 120 minutes (although the UK DVD has a running time of 122:38) but cinemagoers in Britain were shown a truncated version of the film. MGM had acquired the United Kingdom release rights in the movie and were intent on releasing it in Britain as their major Christmas film for all the family. Unfortunately the British Board of Film Classification would only grant the film an X certificate, barring all under eighteen years of age from seeing it. What MGM had perceived as a jolly action romp was deemed by the UK censors to be an excessively violent film suitable only for adults. In tandem with the censors MGM made extensive cuts, but still the censors would only grant an A certificate, meaning that children could only be admitted to see the film if accompanied by an adult. All hopes that MGM had of marketing the film as Christmas family fare evaporated. Virtually all of the graphic violence in the original film was excised and the heavily edited British release of the movie was seen as confusing, and subsequently not a success. The current UK DVD contains the original full-length print but has a 15 certificate, only three years less than the minimum of 18 imposed by the censors more than thirty years before.

General criticisms of the film

* A scene in which Kirk Douglas jumps from a cliff into the ocean to escape Yul Brynner: it is obvious that it is a dummy falling into the ocean, and not Kirk Douglas.
* A decent atmosphere of suspense is successfully built up throughout the film, and the action scenes are satisfactory, realistic and entertaining. These were generally agreed. However some felt that it was all spoilt by dialogue scenes which are unnecessarily lengthy and irrelevant to the plot.
* Some considered the titles to look cheap and ugly.
* The pirates appear to be inhumanly evil without cause: essentially, they are stock villains.
* The score by Piero Piccioni is excellent, however it is rarely used.
* The protagonists run around in full view of the pirates throughout the film, and most of the time are not seen.

These reasons, amongst others (including the classification problems and lack of a marketing program prior to the films release), made sure that the otherwise enjoyable romp was a box office failure.


*Kirk Douglas (Will Denton)
*Samantha Eggar (Arabella)
*Renato Salvatori (Montefiore)
*Fernando Rey (Captain Moriz)
*Massimo Ranieri (Felipe)
*Maria Borge (Emily Jane)
*John Clark (Matt)
*Juan Cazalilla (Captain Lafayette)vs.
*Yul Brynner (Jonathan Kongre) and his pirates:
*Jean-Claude Drouot (Virgilio)
*Aldo Sambrell (Tarcante)
*Víctor Israel (Das Mortes)
*Tito García (Emilio)

External links

*imdb title|id=0067345|title=The Light at the Edge of the World
* [ Page at] Rotten Tomatoes
* [ DVD Savant Review: "The Light at the Edge of the World"]

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