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Released by Pathéscope November 1939 on 9.5mm sound as T.9038 (6 reels) - price £15.2sh.0d

"THE EDGE OF THE WORLD" GB Jan1938  Director & Story: Michael Powell
 80 minutes B/W Cert "A"            Producer: Joe Rock
 (approx 50mins on 9.5mm)           Rock Studios Production
 Released by: British Independant Exhibitors' Distributors 
 reissued (cut) in 1948 by General Film Distributors
 Production Manager: Gerard Blattner
 Camera: Ernest Palmer, Skeets Kelly, Monty Berman
 Music by: Cyril Ray - sung by Glascow Orpheus Choir
 Production Assistants: Syd Streeter, Vernon Sewell, John Seabourne
 Editor: Derek Twist                Sound: L.K. Tregellas
 Props: W.Osborne                   Recording Engineer:W.H.O. Sweeny

      The Manson Family
       John Laurie .............. Peter Manson
       Belle Crystal ............ Ruth (his daughter)
       Eric Berry ............... Robbie (her brother)
       Kitty Kirwan ............. Jean (their grandmother)
      The Gray Family 
       Finlay Currie ............ James Gray
       Niall MacGinnis .......... Andrew (his son)
       Grant Sutherland ......... The Catechist
       Cambell Robson ........... The Laird 
       George Summers ........... The Trawler Skipper

       And the people of Foula

Although Michael Powell had the germ of the idea for this film from a newspaper account of the real evacuation of the island of St. Kilda, it took him seven years to persuade backers to finance his project. It was Joe Rock, one of the many expatriate Americans involved in the British film industry who eventually decided to back the venture. Sadly by the time the 200,000 feet of film had been edited to the film's original length of 7,300 feet (of 35mm) and a pre-release organised at the New Gallery, London in 1937, Rock Studios was already bankrupt, along with many others of the small independant producers.

The Edge of the World shows in stark realism the privations of life on a small island, the fishermen's strength of body and character, the fatalistic acceptance of death and the final decision to leave the island that had been the only home known to the families that were left.

  1. Michael Powell was inspired to make this film after reading a 1930 article in
     "The Observer" about the evacuation of St Kilda, a remote island in the Hebrides.
     He planned to shoot the movie there, but was refused permission by Lord Dumfries
     who owned the island and wanted to develop it as a bird sanctuary.  At the last
     minute Michael was able to move his production team to Foula in the Shetlands. 

  2. Powell wrote an excellent book about the production - "20,000 Feet On Foula".
     First printed in 1938, it was republished in 1990.  Michael Powell plays the
     small part of a yatchtsman at the start of the film.  His companion in this
     scene is Francis ("Frankie") Reidy, later to become Mrs Powell.

  3. Ernest Palmer, Rock Studios top cameraman, was not available at the start of
     shooting. In his place Powell brought in the young inexperienced Monty Berman
     who had impressed with some outstanding second unit work.  Alas there were
     immediate problems - the first rushes were as bad as they could be!  Berman had
     tried to do too much and technically overstretched himself.  Monty finally hit
     his stride, but producer Joe Rock replaced him with Ernest Palmer who was now free.
     Berman went on to become a prolific producer of cinema "B" films and television
     series, such as "The Saint" and "Department S".

  4. In the forties, Michael Powell spotted the film being shown in some remote little
     cinema as a six reeler(that is two reels short).  He decided to call in all 35mm
     prints and re-issue the picture full length with re-recorded sound.  David Powell,
     who supervised the new release, eventually found the original negatives scattered
     between vaults at Elstree, Wardour Street and Denham.  The dialogue was re-done by
     post-synching - incredibly all the actors (except one minor part) were available.
     The music was re-recorded and most of the effects laid anew.  The reissue went out
     in 1948 and forms the basis of the current BFI DVD. The Pathéscope 9.5mm print of
     course has the original sound track.

  5. John Stocks points out that the Operation Sequence is complete in the Pathéscope
     9.5mm print.  In the cinema reissue this was abbreviated and some shots remade
     with a new actor.  The current BFI print (DVD) shortens the sequence even more by
     omitting all the reshot material.

  6. Pathéscope shortened many sequences in preparing the 9.5mm print - the debate at
     the Parliament is severely truncated.  They also completely omitted several
     sections, such as the singing of Psalm 23 in the chapel, Robbie's funeral and a
     scene in Lerwick Port where Andrew first looks for work.

  7. In 1979 BBC Television transmitted a short film (25 minutes) called "Return To
     The Edge Of The World".  It was made by Michael Powell and covered his visit the
     previous year back to Foula with his wife, John Laurie and Grant Sutherland.

  8. A specially made title starts the 9.5mm print with "Pathescope Presents" imposed
     over a triangle.

In 1938 Michael Powell wrote a book, entitled "200,000 Feet on Foula", published by Faber and Faber, all about the making of the film "The Edge of the World" on the Shetland Island of Foula off the north coast of Scotland. The title refers to the total film footage shot during the production of the film. A new edition of this very interesting book, with a new introduction by Ian Christie, was published in 1990 (by Faber and Faber Limited) - ISBN 0-571-15306-2 - you may still be able to find a copy on a booksearch or borrow it from your local public library.

The film itself has now been released by the BFI as a DVD package - it comes with the BBC programme "Return To The Edge of the World" which was broadcast in 1978. (Buy from MovieMail, UK Amazon etc.)

Watch the start of the film on You Tube:


Created March 2004 ...... Last updated: 06 May 2014 ...... 95flmcatt9038.htm ...... ©MM1V Grahame L. Newnham