The End of the River

UK 1947, 102 mins
Director: Derek Twist

+ intro by film scholar Dr Kulraj Phullar
‘Who is guilty, the twig or the current?’ asks a courtroom lawyer, making a plea for clemency for a native Brazilian (played by Indian star Sabu) who fate has led from his jungle village to a murder trial. Produced by Powell and Pressburger, and directed by Powell’s one-time editor Derek Twist, the presented-in-flashback drama was released soon after Black Narcissus, but replaces its studio-created exoticism with black and white location footage shot by Archers-regular Christopher Challis.
James Bell,

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, BFI Screenonline,

Director: Derek Twist
Production Company: Archers Film Productions, Independent Producers
Assistant Producer: George R. Busby
Production Manager: John Alderson
Assistant Director: Geoffrey Lambert
3d Assistant Director: Lawrence G. Knight *
Script Supervisor: Doreen North
Screen Play by: Wolfgang Wilhelm
Author of the Original Work: Desmond Holdridge
Director of Photography: Christopher Challis
Editor: Brereton Porter
Art Director: Fred Pusey
Assistant Art Director: E.G.C. Scott
Music: Lambert Williamson
Conductor: Muir Mathieson
Sound: Charles Knott
Dubbing Crew: George Croll *

Sabu (Manoel)
Bibi Ferreira (Teresa)
Esmond Knight (Dantos)
Basil Appleby (ship’s officer)
Dennis Arundell (Coutinho)
Nicolette Bernard (Dona Serafina)
Minto Cato (Dona Paula)
Antoinette Cellier (Conceicao)
Raymond Lovell (Porpino)
James Hayter (Chico)
Maurice Denham (defence counsel)
Eva Hudson (Maria Gonsalves)
Milo Sperber (Ze)
Nino Rossini (Feliciano)
Torin Thatcher (Lisboa)
Andrea Malindrinos (officer of India Protection Society)
Alan Wheatley (Irgoyen)
James Harcourt (the judge)
Arthur Goullet (the pedlar)
Peter Illing (ship’s agent)
Robert Douglas (Jones)
Orlando Martins (Harrigan)
Charles Hawtrey (Raphael)
Zena Marshall (Santa)
Russell Napier (the padre)
Lucius Blake (stevedore) *

UK 1947
102 mins

* Uncredited

A BFI National Archive print

The Small Back Room
Fri 1 Dec 18:10 (+ intro); Sun 10 Dec 18:30; Sat 16 Dec 20:45; Fri 22 Dec 18:20; Wed 27 Dec 20:30; Sat 30 Dec 15:00
Oh… Rosalinda!!
Sat 2 Dec 11:45; Wed 13 Dec 20:45
Lazybones + Her Last Affaire
Sat 2 Dec 15:20; Wed 20 Dec 17:50
The Love Test + Something Always Happens
Sun 3 Dec 15:30; Tue 19 Dec 20:20
Library Talk: The Glass Pearls
Mon 4 Dec 18:30 BFI Reuben Library
Wanted for Murder + intro by Simon McCallum, BFI curator
Mon 4 Dec 20:40
Projecting the Archive: The End of the River + intro by film scholar Dr Kulraj Phullar
Tue 5 Dec 18:20
The Phantom Light
Wed 6 Dec 20:30; Sun 17 Dec 12:30
Peeping Tom
Thu 7 Dec 20:45 (+ intro); Sat 9 Dec 15:00 (+ Doesn’t Exist magazine launch and panel discussion hosted by Victor Fraga); Fri 15 Dec 20:50; Mon 18 Dec 20:45; Thu 21 Dec 18:00; Sat 23 Dec 18:00; Fri 29 Dec 18:15
The Red Shoes
From Fri 8 Dec
The Red Shoes in the Spotlight
Fri 8 Dec 18:00
Bluebeard’s Castle (Herzog Blaubarts Burg)
Fri 8 Dec 20:40; Fri 15 Dec 18:10 (+ intro by writer Lillian Crawford); Sat 23 Dec 13:30
Crown v. Stevens + Behind the Mask (aka The Man Behind the Mask)
Sat 9 Dec 12:40; Sat 23 Dec 15:00
The Tales of Hoffmann
Sat 9 Dec 17:30; Tue 12 Dec 20:20 (+ intro by Andrew Moor, Manchester Metropolitan University); Sat 16 Dec 14:45; Sat 30 Dec 17:30
Honeymoon (Luna de miel)
Sun 10 Dec 13:25; Thu 28 Dec 20:40
Queering Powell + Pressburger
Tue 12 Dec 18:00
Experimenta: Michelle Williams Gamaker and Powell + Pressburger + Michelle Williams Gamaker in conversation with Dr Kulraj Phullar
Wed 13 Dec 18:05
They’re a Weird Mob
Sat 16 Dec 17:45; Fri 29 Dec 20:40
Espionage: Never Turn Your Back on a Friend / A Free Agent + intro
Sun 17 Dec 15:15
Age of Consent
Fri 22 Dec 20:45; Wed 27 Dec 18:15
A Matter of Life and Death
Sat 23 Dec 15:00 BFI IMAX
Black Narcissus
Sat 30 Dec 14:30 BFI IMAX

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
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