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THE SUN NEVER SETS on the British Empire, which now must confront the
menace of a millionaire madman broadcasting vile invective from a
secret radio station somewhere in Africa.
Here is an adventure story which asks unusually serious questions about duty & devotion, both to one's family & to one's country. The moralizing & heart searching is never allowed to throw the film off target, however. It simply gives it some extra depth.
Basil Rathbone & Douglas Fairbanks Jr are well cast as two brothers who must face tough inner stresses, while attempting to fulfill their duties for the Colonial Office in the British Gold Coast - given the task to stop the lying lunatic only adds to their tribulations. It is good to see Rathbone in a heroic role; with his excellent voice & patrician profile he fills it quite nicely. As his younger sibling, Fairbanks displays conflicted motives for his behavior, but the plot helps him resolve the problems of where his duty lies.
As Rathbone's wife, Barbara O'Neil has some good scenes as a diplomatic spouse who loathes Africa & longs for England. However Mary Forbes, as the boys' mother, is largely wasted in a modest role that calls for little beyond looking noble.
Wonderful old Sir C. Aubrey Smith is terrific as the family patriarch who is the epitome of duty; here is an actor who never disappointed and seemed incapable of giving a bad performance. Special mention should also be made of Lionel Atwill, adding yet another portrait to his gallery of grotesques, this time as an entomologist traveling about the African bush in a luxurious land yacht, studying ants & spouting the most frightful nonsense about disrupting human society. Because of the sort of roles he performed it is too easy to forget what an excellent & entertaining actor Atwill was.
Melville Cooper, as a loyal Gold Coast functionary, & Cecil Kellaway, as the head of the Colonial Office - both very enjoyable actors - help to flesh out important smaller roles.
Movie mavens should recognize an uncredited Lionel Belmore, hilarious as a Selection Board member questioning Fairbanks about mad dogs.
The film's biggest debit is the lack of an explanation as to how Atwill's broadcasts could possibly spread riot & ruination around the world. But this is a small quibble...
The Sun Never Sets is a tribute to a family whose service is to the
British Empire on which The Sun Never Sets. The Randolphs just go into
colonial service as a matter of duty and tradition. At this moment
Basil Rathbone is wrapping up a tour of duty on the African Gold Coast
now Ghana. And Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. is somewhat reluctantly entering
the colonial service as is expected of him. He gets posted to the Gold
But Rathbone is sent back with a pregnant wife Barbara O'Neil in tow, God only knows why she doesn't stay in the UK. There's a mysterious radio station operating in the area with broadcasts starting world wide panic to the benefit of some unnamed power. Lionel Atwill who is an entomologist is in charge of it and he's as villainous as Lionel Atwill can be.
The gist of the rest of the story is that Fairbanks screws up royally, but gets a chance to redeem himself and save the Empire. Why this African version of Fox News was such a threat we also are never told.
Of course a lot of Hollywood's British colony is here and it starred Hollywood's most noted Anglophile in Fairbanks. This was propaganda with a capital P. It's a given that the British Empire must be saved at all costs. This radio station has global capabilities and we were most definitely not at that stage of communication in 1939.
It's also mentioned that these Randolphs are related to those Randolphs in Virginia to make sure Americans have a stake in this as well. Real subtle I say.
The sun has most definitely set on the British Empire now which renders this film a most horribly dated propaganda flick. A real waste of a lot of talent.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
With Easter coming up,I started to search around for DVDs that I could
give to my dad as a gift.Taking a look around Ebay,I stumbled across a
near-forgotten British film starring Basil Rathbone,which led to me
getting ready to see the sun set.
Wanting to start a family with his wife Helen, Clive Randolph is delighted to be told that his call of duty in the Gold Coast is completed,and that he can now return to London.Returning home,Clive is disappointed to find that his brother John does not want to follow the family tradition and join the army.
Barely getting a chance to catch his breath,Clive is told by the army that he must return to the Gold Coast with his brother,due to suspicions that powerful Gold Coast resident Dr.Hugo Zurof is starting to play dirty political games on the Coast.Returning with John & Helen,Clive soon finds him and the family drowning in the vicious wave that Zurof is releasing on the island.
View on the film:
Holding the Action/Adventure scenes back for the final 20 minutes,the screenplay by W.P. Lipscomb/ Arthur Fitz-Richard & Jerry Horwin instead paint a shockingly bleak melodrama,as the writers burn away the gung-ho appearance of the Randolph's,to show John haunted by the near- mythical relatives in his family's past,whilst Clive finds his dreams of becoming a big name in the army,to be replaced with a tragedy that hits him and his wife.Keeping the title away from being too gloomy,the writers cut the movie with a number of sharp,very funny one- liners,as Zurof attempts to keep his evil plans undercover.
Picking up on the mood in the screenplay,director Rowland V. Lee covers the movie in a baking sun,which slowly changes into atmospheric,blistering rain,as tragedies start to rain down on the family. Initially appearing very withdrawn from his family, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. brilliantly shows John gain the confidence to save the day,whilst Basil Rathbone subtly displays feelings of fear and doubt begin to sink into the unbreakable image that Clive has made for himself in the army,as the Randolph's begin to fear that they will not see the sun set.
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