Terrific shots of awesome mountains with Willem Dafoe spitting wisdom about the sublime, the combination of beauty and terror that scaling these beasts engenders. Almost the entire movie is in slow-motion, the camera always gliding on helicopters or drones. From the history of mountain climbing forward, it gets more dangerous – now that just anyone can climb Everest if they’re rich enough for the gear and sherpas, the serious new climbers embrace a higher risk factor. This culminates in a Red Bull-branded extreme sports montage, which Dafoe solemnly condemns after showing us rad footage of it for fifteen minutes, the movie getting to have it both ways.

Grumpy sailor Andrew is assisting a couple of pleasure-cruisers (the man is played by Powell himself) who want to visit a deserted island. Atop the mountainous island, Andrew finds a tombstone and tells them his story in flashback. Just an amazing-looking movie, shot on “the lonely island of Foula,” an instant cure for my complaints that Design For Living was too talky with no visual imagination.

Andrew sees dead people:

Back before the island was deserted, Andrew (Niall MacGinnis, the reformed nazi in 49th Parallel) was best buds with Robbie, and liked Rob’s sister Ruth. Robbie had decided to leave the island, and there were few able young men left, especially after Rob’s decision became final when he died during a mountain-climbing race, so their fathers (Finlay Currie of Corridors of Blood, and prominently-sideburned John Laurie of The 39 Steps) and the other elders decide to gather their sheep and abandon the island. Meanwhile the couple can’t be together since Andrew is blamed for his sweetie’s brother’s death, but fortunately he got her pregnant, so her father says the hell with it and allows the wedding.

Jonathan Rosenbaum:

The film refuses to conclude with this couple – refuses to use them as a summing-up of what the picture is really about, as almost any American movie would. Eerily, these characters are dwarfed first and last by their awesome physical surroundings, and by the nurturing community they come from, which looms second largest in Powell’s sense of a natural order.

Sideburns falls off a cliff during a plot contrivance the evacuation, leaving behind a tombstone for Andrew to find years later. It’s kind of a negative movie, actually, but so wonderful to watch that it hardly matters. IMDB says Powell overshot the film and credits his editor for saving it.

I have Powell’s autobiography but haven’t the time to read whatever he wrote on Edge of the World just now – and apparently he wrote a whole separate book just on the making of this film.

Yachtsman Powell with his future wife Frankie Reidy:

Return to the Edge of the World (1978)

A lot like Agnes Varda’s DVD extras, returning to scene of a film made many years ago, reconnecting with some participants, but putting in real effort to produce more than a simple nostalgia (or marketing) piece. Alarming to watch them closely together and see everyone get old so fast.

One of the most stylishly shot courtroom dramas ever, beating Clouzot’s La Verite. Ayako Wakao, star of Seisaku’s Wife, is again the titular wife, again with marital problems. This time she’s defending herself in court, accused of self-widowing on a mountain climb so she could marry her lover and climbing buddy.

The facts are laid out right from the start: the married couple fell and Kouda was holding on, with Ayako in the middle and her husband dangling below. Kouda couldn’t pull them both up. She cut the rope below her, letting her husband fall to his death.

She testifies that she and her husband (Eitaro Ozawa: Minobe in When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, Kinichi’s dad in Kiss) were never in love, but he wouldn’t allow a divorce. Meanwhile young, ambitious Kouda (Hiroshi Kawaguchi, Kinichi in Kiss) is engaged to his best client’s high-haired daughter Rie, but is spending all his time with the accused Ayako.

Kinichi and his dad, in love with the same woman:

Rie testifies:

The court case continues, experts are called in, stories are told by witnesses, a flashback within a flashback, as they try to determine whether Ayako had to kill her husband in order to save her own life. It has become a wide-open secret that the two surviving climbers are in love, and the day before the verdict, they go to the beach together as the soundtrack plays haunted string music. The next day she’s proclaimed innocent.

Kouda is dumping his fiancee and marrying Ayako, but surprised that she’s so quick to start spending her life insurance windfall. He grills her, and finally we get to see the fateful climb, as she confesses that she took the opportunity to get rid of her hateful husband, then Kouda calls her a liar and runs back to Rie. Ayako poisons herself, and Rie gets the last word: “Mr. Kouda, you killed her. If she’s a murderer, you’re also a murderer. Goodbye. I won’t be seeing you again.”

Shot the year before Masumura’s Black Test Car, from the writer of three of Kurosawa’s most famous later films.

Berkeley: “combines the pessimistic observations of film noir with the sensuality that Masumura would pursue further in later films… an early film to deal openly with a woman’s feelings about sex… Within an unusually complex narrative structure, Wakao beautifully develops contradictory desires in her heroine – her lust to live and her wish to die – and somehow makes them one.” Rosenbaum: “A powerful metaphor for Japanese interdependence, this rope connecting the members of a romantic triangle is also tied, one might say, to Masumura‚Äôs major theme: the tragedy as well as the necessity of individual choice and desire in a highly interactive society.”

Stroheim’s directorial debut, a very straightforward movie, with prominent mountain-climbing scenes (cuz you can take the filmmaker out of Austria, but you can’t take a love for mountain-climbing movies out of an Austrian filmmaker) along with tassels, feathers, pipes, silly hats and monocles.

The director’s grinning, monocled death’s head:

A single travelling shot at the end (at least I didn’t notice any camera movement before that). Some great edits (from 3 mountain climbers to 3 crosses), a great mirror shot, a few flashbacks. Divided into acts, which are announced by title cards that usually appear right in the middle of a conversation, weird.

Dr. Armstrong (Sam De Grasse, Prince John in the Fairbanks Robin Hood) and his pretty wife Francelia Billington are on a mountain vacation, and womanizer/fraud Stroheim tags along, plots to steal away Francelia for himself. To prove his villainy, Stroheim seduces the waitress at their inn along the way.

Hero and wife:

Silent Sepp:

Armstrong sets off with his mountain buddy Silent Sepp (Gibson Gowland, star of Greed) to rescue a couple of imperiled climbers, even though this is supposed to be Armstrong’s vacation, and Stroheim makes his move, is rebuffed. But that night F. ponders how her husband pays her no attention, and when Stroheim tries it again during their climactic climb to the peak, she reconsiders. Husband responds by hurling Stroheim off the cliff.

Not even detail-oriented Stroheim could control the birds: when Francelia tries to play with this white bird, to show her playful innocence, the bird clearly wants nothing to do with her:

Francelia “sees” a happy young married couple in her mirror, while her neglectful husband lies asleep: