This beautifully scenic Powell and Pressburger film is about a young native Brazilian boy who is removed from his jungle village and thrust into the civilized world of modern Brazil, only to discover he is arrested and put on trial for a crime he committed that was accidental and not premeditated. A series of flashbacks of what led to Manoel’s displacement from his village home is recounted with a sensitivity that makes the viewer sympathetic to his plight into the modern world.
The film opens with a scene of the Blessed Virgin Festival being held in St. Mary of Bethlehem, a port city located at the delta of the Amazon basin. Symbolic of the name of the city where Manoel, the subject of the story, first arrives after encountering the white man in his jungle village, the serene face of Mary reflects the nature of the life that Manoel longed to have once again; being carefree in the jungle and safe with his family. Even the panned shots of his face reveal the longing, in his ability to try and recreate what he used to have in the modern world. It is difficult for Manoel to try and understand that in order to achieve this type of peace; one must undergo a number of trials and tribulations that happen on an everyday basis, which is reflected in his story. Following the opening scene, he is shown locked up in jail awaiting his trial for a murder he ia alleged to have committed. He does not speak to his lawyer but instead listens to what his wife Theresa tells him. Part narrative, the film has Sabu beginning the narration of what his life used to be like in the jungle where he lived by the Amazon River. One night a fire burns up his grass hut where lived at home and he escapes. Thinking that he was responsible for the fire, his own villagers come after him once he encounters two Englishmen who want to help heal his wounded leg. He is labeled an outlaw by the villagers, ostracized by those he grew up with, but the two men are willing to help him escape and provide a refuge for him. From there on, young Manoel learns the ways of the civilized world and seems to adapt well at first, until he encounters condescension from the adults he is around.
The Englishmen he meets, Jones (Robert Douglas) and Harrigan (Orlando Martins), take him in and intend to bring him to the city once he learns to speak Portuguese and learn the daily etiquette and grooming habits of the city folk. Manoel soon discovers that those who claim to look out for his best interests do not really do so. The one exception is Lisboa, who is also in the Amazon jungle with his wife, infant, and a troop of men. They, too, are on their way back to civilization. Colonel Dantos (Esmond Knight) remains as part of the group with Manoel and Theresa, who they earlier on soon after leaving the native region of the Amazon. Lisboa (Torin Thatcher) is a father figure to Manoel and wants the boy to learn the value of the money that he has worked hard to earn, after giving him a job on his riverboat. Lisboa also guides Manoel through the first stages of getting married, and settling down to a home life. Manoel accepts Lisboa’s guidance even though he is always reticent when it comes to the discussion of his savings. It is not until they are back in the city where Manoel gets taken in by an unscrupulous character named Irygoyen (Alan Wheatley) who takes advantage of him. Manoel learns about what being a union member is really like, which winds up having a personal negative effect on him.
Manoel reunites with an old friend, Chico, after he and his wife Theresa set up home in the city. Chico is able to help get his friend a job on the ships. Manoel gets the job but not without some difficulty. In the process, he accidentally kills a man for which he is arrested and must stand trial for. In the final courtroom scene, his lawyer (Maurice Denham) mentions how the man Manoel murdered was bad for being a member of the brotherhood, and that Manoel is no guiltier than a court that unjustly condemns someone for a crime not committed. Manoel is acquitted, and finally finds himself free to be back with his wife Theresa.
There is a distinct Roman Catholic predominance throughout the film, from the statues of the Virgin Mary to the church where Manoel and Theresa get married. Manoel’s newfound Christian faith, in addition to his supportive wife, gives him the hope required to survive in what he eventually learns is not the always civilized world. Lifestyle comfort proves to be comparative once Manoel himself and his wife in a home in the city. The only difference is that now he has money saved from his job, something that was not needed by the natives in the village he grew up in.
Directed by Derek N. Twist, “End of the River” is based on a story by Desmond Holdridge called “Death of a Common Man.” Sabu is well suited for the role with his Indian good looks. He executes a credible performance as a native boy who is trying to make sense of the confusing incidents in his life, but Theresa remains by his side as his faithful wife. Bibi Ferreira is stunningly beautiful as his love interest who he eventually marries. Esmond Knight, Orlando Martins, Robert Douglas, and Torin Thatcher all turn in solid performances as the people who plays a significant role in the shaping of Manoel’s character.
Filmed on the Amazon River, it was a daunting task for the filming crew and actors making this movie in such remote areas of South America. The village scenes were filmed in the state of Roraima in northern Brazil where the Arekuna tribe lives. Even though parts of the story remain weak, the scenery definitely makes up for it. Christopher Challis is the cinematographer and he successfully portrays the life of the natives in the lush subtropical forests in Brazil.