AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Light That Failed
Alternate Title: Rudyard Kipling's The Light That Failed
Director: William A. Wellman (Dir)
Release Date:   2 Feb 1940
Premiere Information:   New York opening: week of 25 Dec 1939
Production Date:   mid-Jun--8 Aug 1939
Duration (in mins):   97
Duration (in feet):   8,886
Duration (in reels):   10
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Cast:   Ronald Colman (Dick Heldar)  
    Walter Huston (Torpenhow)  
    Muriel Angelus (Maisie)  
    Ida Lupino (Bessie Broke)  
    Dudley Digges (The Nilghai)  
    Ernest Cossart (Beeton)  
    Ferike Boros (Madame Binat)  
    Pedro De Cordoba (Monsieur Binat)  
    Colin Tapley (Gardner)  
    Ronald Sinclair (Dick, as a boy)  
    Sarita Wooton (Maisie, as a girl)  
    Halliwell Hobbes (Doctor)  
    Charles Irwin (Soldier model)  
    Francis McDonald (George)  
    George Regas (Cassavetti)  
    Wilfred Roberts (Barton)  
    Fay Helm (Red haired girl)  
    Clyde Cook (Soldier)  
    James Aubrey (Soldier)  
    Charles Bennett (Soldier)  
    David Thursby (Soldier)  
    Colin Kenny (Doctor)  
    Hanley Stafford (Officer)  
    Joe Collings (Thackeray)  
    Armbra Dandridge (Bull-voiced native)  
    Ted Deputy (Johnnie, officer)  
    Major Sam Harris (Wells)  
    Larry Lawson (Andy, officer)  
    Clive Morgan (Slim)  
    Robert Perry (Hoke, officer)  
    Carl Voss (Chaps, officer)  
    Benjamin Watson (Manny)  
    John Spacey (Policeman)  
    Connie Leon (Flower man)  
    Gerald Hamer (First soldier)  
    Harry Cording (Second soldier)  
    Harold Entwistle (Old man with dark glasses)  
    Barry Downing (Little boy)  
    Leslie Francis (Man with bandaged eyes)  
    Gerald Rogers (Sick man)  
    Bob Stevenson (Man with thick rimmed glasses)  
    Clara M. Blore (Mother)  
    George Chandler (First voice)  
    George Melford (Second voice)  
    Cyril Ring (War correspondent)  
    Hayden Stevenson (War correspondent)  
    William S. Hurley (Cab driver)  
    Pat O'Malley (Bullock)  
    Barbara Denny (Waitress)  

Summary: While covering the war in the Sudan, newspaper illustrator Dick Heldar is struck over the eye with a spear when he attempts to shield his friend and fellow correspondent Torpenhow from a native attack. After a short stay in Port Said, Dick is summoned back to London by Torp, and returns home to discover that he is now an acclaimed artist. In London, Dick achieves great success for his paintings of the war, but succumbs to the lure of easy money and allows his work to become commercial and superficial. His success in painting is not paralled by success in love, for when he meets his childhood sweetheart Maisie, she refuses to relinquish her career as a painter for marriage. After Maisie leaves for France, Torp introduces Dick to Bessie Broke, a cockney bar maid, and Dick, inspired by her air of melancholy, decides to paint her. As Bessie models for Dick, she falls in love with Torp, but Dick intervenes and destroys her chance of romance. Meanwhile, plagued by headaches and blurred vision, Dick visits the doctor, from whom he learns that he is going blind as a result of the blow he suffered in the Sudan. Spurred by the desire to paint one last masterpiece before he loses his sight, Dick summons all his talents to repaint Bessie's portrait, the last work he will ever paint. He finishes the masterpiece just as he loses his sight, but Bessie, bent on revenge because he ruined her romance with Torp, destroys the painting. When Torp is called back to the Sudan, he summons Maisie to care for Dick, but Dick turns her away and later sends Torp off to the Sudan. Dick, now totally alone, meets Bessie, who unwittingly informs him of the destruction of her portrait. Learning that his masterpiece no longer exists, Dick loses all desire to continue living. As his final act, he returns to the Sudan to gallantly ride to his death in a cavalry charge. 

Production Company: Paramount Pictures, Inc.  
Production Text: A William Wellman Production
Distribution Company: Paramount Pictures, Inc.  
Director: William A. Wellman (Dir)
  Joseph Youngerman (2d unit dir)
  Fritz Collings (Asst dir)
  Stanley Goldsmith (Asst dir)
Producer: William A. Wellman (Prod)
  William LeBaron (Exec prod)
Writer: Robert Carson (Scr)
Photography: Theodore Sparkuhl (Dir of photog)
  Guy Bennett (Second unit cam)
Art Direction: Hans Dreier (Art dir)
  Robert Odell (Art dir)
Film Editor: Thomas Scott (Ed)
Set Decoration: A. E. Freudeman (Int dec)
Music: Victor Young (Mus score)
Sound: Hugo Grenzbach (Sd rec)
  Walter Oberst (Sd rec)
Production Misc: Capt. Jack R. Durham-Mathews (Tech adv)
  Alf Nicholson (Tech adv)
  Sidney Street (Unit mgr)
Country: United States

Source Text: Based on the novel The Light That Failed by Rudyard Kipling (New York, 1890).
Authors: Rudyard Kipling

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Paramount Pictures, Inc. 9/2/1940 dd/mm/yyyy LP9412 Yes

PCA NO: 5485
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording

Genre: Drama
Subjects (Major): Artists
  Painters (Of paintings)
  Portraits (Paintings)
Subjects (Minor): Barmaids
  London (England)
  War correspondents

Note: The opening credits of the film read "Rudyard Kipling's The Light That Failed ." According to a 1935 news item in HR , Gary Cooper was considered for the lead in this picture. 1939 news items in the HR add that the film was shot on location around Black Mesa and Santa Fe, NM. Technical advisor Alf Nicholson was a veteran of the Boer War. Modern sources add that the Hindu music in the film was actually "Yankee Doodle Dandy" played backwards. Other films based on the same source were Pathe's 1916 version of the same name starring Robert Edeson and Jose Collins and directed by Edward Jose (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20 ; F1.2390); and a 1923 Paramount film of the same title directed by George Melferd and starring Percy Marmont (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30 ; F2.3071). 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   20 Dec 39   p. 3.
Film Daily   26 Dec 39   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Nov 35   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Jun 39   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Jun 39   pp. 6-7.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Jun 39   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Jul 39   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Aug 39   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Dec 39   p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily   26 Dec 39   p. 8.
Motion Picture Herald   23 Sep 39   p. 58.
Motion Picture Herald   23 Dec 39   p. 37
New York Times   25 Dec 39   p. 19.
Variety   27 Dec 39   p. 12.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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