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With: John Laurie, Belle Chrystall, Eric Berry, Finlay Currie, Niall MacGinnis, Grant Sutherland, Campbell Robson, Kitty Kirwan
Written by: Michael Powell
Directed by: Michael Powell
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 75
Date: 09/01/1937

The Edge of the World (1937)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Mountain Men

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Milestone's new DVD release of Michael Powell's The Edge of the World (1937) offers us a chance to look at this great filmmaker's work in its early stages.

Unfortunately, that's about all it offers. Even at a brief 75 minutes, The Edge of the World drags a bit, wallowing in the dreary realities of island life that so fascinated the great British director.

Taking place on the island of Ultima Thule -- and actually shot on the island of Foula -- The Edge of the World tells the story of a noble people who make life work on their remote corner of the world. But as generations pass, the young folks get the urge to move to the mainland. Two young men, Robbie Manson (Eric Berry) and Andrew Gray (Niall MacGinnis) argue the question of should I stay or should I go, and agree to a mountain-climbing contest to decide.

To escalate things, Robbie happens to have a sister, Ruth (Belle Chrystall), whom Andrew is in love with.

That's the setup, and it's a classic. However, Powell finishes with it almost as soon as he starts it, and the rest of the film plunges into the inevitable depressing spiral. In one scene, a preacher drones on with a record-setting sermon, putting his flock to sleep. Watching this film sometimes has the same effect.

Which is not to say that The Edge of the World is without its beauties. Powell reveales his enormous talent early, setting up breathtaking shots of craggy cliffs and a haunting line of passing ghosts, as well as his ethereal cutting methods that bring a cartoonish lift to his moody scenes.

The new DVD comes from the original 35mm nitrate negative, and it's in remarkably good shape, even though grain and flaws are present. The sound can be a bit tricky, especially with the thick accents, and so some optional subtitles would not have been amiss.

The extras fare better: critic Ian Christie, actor Daniel Day-Lewis and editor Thelma Schoonmaker-Powell (who routinely works with Martin Scorsese and married the great Powell for the final years of his life) provide a better-than-average commentary track. A 23-minute documentary Return to the Edge of the World has Powell himself recreating his steps, and An Airman's Letter to His Mother is a moving wartime short. The DVD-Rom includes original and modern-day press kits and there is a stills gallery.

If you're one of the many people who found his or her life changed by the glories of I Know Where I'm Going! or The Red Shoes, then The Edge of the World will only be a curiosity; a bookmark in the career of an artist who would only get better.

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