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End of the River, The (1947)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of End of the River, The (1947)
35mm, black and white, 83 mins
DirectorDerek Twist
Production CompaniesArchers Film Productions, Independent Producers
ProducersMichael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
ScreenplayWolfgang Wilhelm
Original novelDesmond Holdridge
PhotographyChristopher Challis
MusicLambert Williamson

Cast: Sabu (Manoel); Bibi Ferreira (Teresa); Esmond Knight (Dantos); Antoinette Cellier (Conceicao); Robert Douglas (Jones); Torin Thatcher (Lisboa)

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In Brazil, an Indian boy is ostracised by his village, comes to the city, and after many adventures finds himself on trial for murder.

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Sabu's last two British films, both from 1947, reunited him with Michael Powell, one of the directors of The Thief of Bagdad (1940). The first, Black Narcissus, gave him a relatively small role as the young general, but he played the lead in The End of the River, released a few months later. But this time, Powell and Emeric Pressburger were merely the producers, being busy with The Red Shoes (1948), and the director was first-timer Derek Twist, an editor who had earned Powell's undying gratitude for working miracles on the mass of footage making up The Edge of the World (1937) - or, as the director put it, "he made sense of our ravings".

In 1946, Twist approached Powell with Desmond Holdridge's novel 'Death of a Common Man'. Neither Powell nor Pressburger thought much of the story, but they were struck by the Brazilian setting and decided to package the project as a vehicle for Sabu. Unfortunately, as Powell ruefully acknowledged:

It looked a good proposition, but it wasn't. Derek, as a director, was dull, and to be dull with the river Amazon as your backdrop, is to be very dull, indeed.

Powell was overly harsh, though he was right to blame the over-ambitious script, which combines a coming-of-age story, a sociological study of Amazonian Akuna Indians, a saga of political and union corruption, a romance , murder mystery, courtroom drama and even musical (there are several onscreen songs). Unfortunately, these elements cancel each other out, not helped by a convoluted multiple flashback structure whereby the characters tell their stories in court to Maurice Denham's kindly defence counsel. Twist's difficulties are perhaps summed up by the fact that the genuine Brazilian locations fail to come near to matching the extraordinarily exotic charge of the studio-shot Black Narcissus.

However, it did at least have a strong cast - Esmond Knight's swarthy, disease-ridden foreman Dantos, Bibi Ferreira's appealingly ingenuous Teresa, Torin Thatcher's gruff but kindly ship-owner Lisboa, and Sabu himself in what may have been the most challenging role of his career as the hapless Manoel - as well as historical interest in the way it transplants the themes of Alexander Korda's 1930s British Empire films to a Latin American context and is just as patronising towards "the natives". Significantly, even Manoel's legal defence is that he's merely "a twig in a current", clearly incapable of grasping the machinations of the "white man's world".

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Manoel the outlaw (1:20)
2. Dantos' disease (3:22)
3. The Brotherhood (3:37)
4. Fatal confrontation (3:30)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Black Narcissus (1947)
Edge of the World, The (1937)
Challis, Christopher (1919-)
Denham, Maurice (1909-2002)
Hawtrey, Charles (1914-1988)
Knight, Esmond (1906-1987)
Powell, Michael (1905-1990)
Sabu (1924-1963)