February 28, 2017


Thunder Rock – 1942 | 112 mins | Drama | B&W


Plot Synopsis

Thunder Rock

The Boulting Brothers Thunder Rock, released at the end of 1942, anticipates a number of other British wartime films. With its isolated location, ghostly characters and protagonist who gets a second chance to make a difference to the world, the film can be compared to Basil Dearden‘s The Halfway House (1944), while, as an adaptation of a play about ideas rather than action, it is similar to Dearden’s film of J.B. Priestley’s They Came To a City (1944).

Thunder Rock, however, is a more complex film in terms of its formal and aesthetic qualities. Although it still shows evidence of its theatrical origins, it is more “filmic” and the larger sets allow for a more mobile camera. Indeed, the style of the film, with its contrast between the Expressionist camera angles in the lighthouse scenes and the snappily edited montage sequence illustrating Charleston’s journalistic career during the 1930s, even drew comparisons from some critics to Citizen Kane (1941).

Michael Redgrave repeated his stage role as Charleston, playing him as an Englishman, rather than as an American. James Mason received one of his first major roles as Streeter, while the redoubtable character actor Finlay Currie played Captain Joshua. Some changes were made from the play, adding more exposition. A light-hearted opening sequence was added in the offices of the Great Lakes Navigation Commission, where officials realise that one of their keepers is not cashing his pay cheques. There are flashbacks to flesh out the background histories of the various characters in Charleston’s imagination. In this sense, the film fulfils Captain Joshua’s observation in the play that Charleston’s imaginary companions are too “shallow”, and that he should make them more real. The most important addition, however, is the montage sequence which chronicles Charleston’s career as a crusading journalist in the 1930s, and which explains the reasons for his disillusionment. Charleston is shown as a staunch anti-Fascist, an opponent of appeasement, and a supporter of Eden and Churchill. His reports about German rearmament are censored by the editor of his newspaper. He resigns and embarks on a speaking tour of Britain with the slogan “Britain Awake!”, but no one pays him any heed. Finally, after seeing a cinema audience oblivious to the German occupation of the Sudetenland in a newsreel, Charleston walks away from the cinema and turns his back on the world. The sequence does more than just add some detail about Charleston’s background.

Thunder Rock was promoted as an important film with a serious theme. The pressbook described it as “one of the most important and significant films ever made in this country”. The critical reception was, to be fair, rather mixed, with some critics comparing it unfavourably with the play. William Whitebait, for example, while accepting that it was “tastefully photographed and well acted”, considered that, in opening out the play to include flashbacks, something was lost in the translation to the screen. “The effect is not only to slow down the action and create parentheses, but to break the spell by which alone drama can succeed”, he wrote. “The present Thunder Rock is a compromise between stage and screen, with the screen honourably losing”. C A Lejeune, however, was clearly very impressed with the film, which she held up as an example of the new maturity exhibited by the British cinema during the war.

Production Team

Roy Boulting: Director
Duncan Sutherland: Art Direction
Mutz Greenbaum: Cinematography
Honoria Plesch: Costume Design
Roy Boulting: Editing
Hans May: Music
John Boulting: Producer
Jeffrey Dell: Script
Bernard Miles: Script


Michael Redgrave: David Charleston
Barbara Mullen: Ellen Kirby
James Mason: Streeter
Lilli Palmer: Melanie Kurtz
Finlay Currie: Capt Joshua
Frederick Valk: Dr Kurtz
Frederick Cooper: Ted Briggs
Sybilla Binder: Anne-Marie
Jean Shepherd: Mrs Briggs
Barry Morse: Robert
George Carney: Harry
Miles Malleson: Chairman of Directors
Bryan Herbert: Planning
James Pirrie: New Pilot
A.E. Matthews: Mr Kirby

blog comments powered by Disqus