Light That Failed, The (1939)

“Painting is seeing, then remembering better than you saw.”

Light That Failed Poster

A British painter and former Sudanese-war correspondent (Ronald Colman) pines after his childhood sweetheart (Muriel Angelus), who prefers to pursue her own painting career. Meanwhile, Colman’s eyesight — damaged during an attack while protecting a fellow soldier (Walter Huston) — begins to fail him, and he is determined to finish a key painting of a Cockney model (Ida Lupino) before he’s completely blind; but will Lupino’s anger at Colman for squelching her relationship with Huston get in the way of Colman’s final artistic accomplishment?


There are quite a few “classic” (i.e., older) films that may remain beloved by a few, but by and large have passed their prime. Such is the case with this adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s pro-British, pro-Colonialist, classist novel, which will likely only appeal to fans of Kipling’s era-specific work. There simply isn’t much here to hold our interest, other than Lupino’s feisty portrayal as a woman of few means — a “dissolute little scarecrow, a gutter-snippet and nothing more” — who sees an opportunity for betterment and latches onto it (though she’s essentially villainized for this attempt). It doesn’t help matters that Colman’s portrait of her — upon which the entire storyline hinges — seems like far from masterpiece material, which I suppose is a problem for any film centering on a pivotal piece of art (viz. The Picture of Dorian Gray — though that movie, despite its own flaws, is infinitely more nuanced and interesting).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ida Lupino as Bessie Broke
    Light That Failed Lupino

Must See?
No; feel free to skip this one.


One Response to “Light That Failed, The (1939)”

  1. First viewing. Skip it. ‘The Film That Failed’.

    I’ve heard that the source material by Kipling is better – but that’s all but impossible to imagine from this melodramatic and tedious flick. For a good film about painting and painters, you would have to turn to something like Huston’s ‘Moulin Rouge’. (Even the wonderful Mike Leigh, with his tiresome ‘Mr. Turner’, wasn’t up to the challenge.)

    This turkey even has such pretentious twaddle as Colman’s Heldar exclaiming to his model (Lupino), “I’m making you immortal!” …Eek.

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