Light That Failed, The (1939)

Light That Failed, The (1939)

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

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?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Artists
  • Blindness
  • Historical Drama
  • Ida Lupino Films
  • Revenge
  • Ronald Colman Films
  • Walter Huston Films
  • William Wellman Films

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

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


2 thoughts on “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.

  2. Usually I like Wellman movies but having just watched this I agree this is terrible. The first part before Ida Lupino shows up is one long snooze-fest and things don’t improve much after that. Ronald Colman is ok and Walter Huston is fine as usual but Muriel Angelus (who she?) in a fairly important role is pretty terrible. Ida Lupino tries but her accent shifts between Cockney and Australian continuously.

    The themes have dated badly – like most of Kipling’s work. It’s always a man’s imperial world and for some reason there seems to be glory in dying in battle.

    The best thing about the film is the photography with some interesting shots involving mirrors and the brief action scenes at the beginning and end.

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