Light That Failed, The (1939)

The Light That Failed (1939), produced and directed by William A. Wellman.

Young Dick's sweetheart nearly blinds him when they are shooting a pistol on the beach one day. Years later he is a newspaper illustrator wounded by a sword cut to the temple during in a battle in Sudan. In his delirium he relives the childhood incident.

Back in London he is a successful artist trying to relight the flame with his past love, but she -- also a painter -- isn't having it.

The old wounds recur and he is quickly going blind. With frantic determination and alcohol for self-medication he has time for one more painting, his masterpiece. His model is a tempestuous streetwalker. Beware the anger of a prostitute scorned.

Where can he go to make an end? The war in Sudan is on again...

I saw this many decades ago when I was I-don't-know-how-old. A lot of it seemed familiar but the only part I remembered was the angry woman destroying the painting and the shock of those who can still see it.

Ronald Colman is -- as always -- superb as the reflective artist, descending into self-pity from his affliction, and because the women in his life are not cooperating.

Walter Huston is his best friend, a war correspondent.

Ida Lupino is the vengeful model, called a "barmaid" to satisfy the censors. She was only 21 and already had about two dozen film credits. Her performance is overblown. I read that she did not enjoy acting, had wanted to be a writer and wound up directing.

Victor Young score.

The Sudanese Hadendoa are called the "Fuzzy Wuzzies" by Kipling, referring to the hairstyles. It was not meant as a disparaging term; he praises their warrior spirit and skill in battle.

Adapted from Kipling's novel, published when he was 26. After I read it I learned that it had both happy and sad ending versions and I could not tell which I had. The ending seemed right and now I see it was the "sad" version.

He wrote only two more novels: Kim and Captains Courageous. He is best known for a wealth of short stories and poems, for which he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

As far as I can tell this has never been on home video. I found a recorded TV broadcast version online. I suppose this is a type of piracy and I'm sorry about that. I'd rather buy a disc but I can't wait forever. (It's possible the copyright was not renewed and the film is in the public domain. I don't know how to find out).