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The Light That Failed
Directed byWilliam A. Wellman
Produced byWilliam A. Wellman
Screenplay byRobert Carson
Based onRudyard Kipling novel The Light That Failed
StarringRonald Colman
Walter Huston
Muriel Angelus
Ida Lupino
Music byVictor Young
CinematographyTheodor Sparkuhl
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • December 1939 (1939-12) (New York)

1945 (France)
Running time
97 min.
Box office1,121,789 admissions (France)[1]

The Light That Failed is a 1939 drama film based on Rudyard Kipling's 1891 novel of the same name.[2] It stars Ronald Colman as an artist who is going blind[3]


In 1865, youngster Dick Heldar is briefly blinded when his girlfriend Maisie accidentally fires his pistol too close to his head. She later tells him that her guardians are sending her away somewhere to be educated, but she agrees when he says she belongs to him "forever and ever".

Years later, Dick (Ronald Colman) is a British soldier in the Sudan. When the natives attack suddenly, he saves the life of his friend, war correspondent "Torp" Torpenhow (Walter Huston), but receives a wound to the head as a result.

He turns to painting to try to make a living. When his works start to sell, he returns to England. His realistic paintings of scenes from the war in the Sudan become immensely popular with the critics and the public. In London, he moves in with Torp and is reunited with a grown-up Maisie (Muriel Angelus), a painter like himself, though not as successful. Liking the financial rewards, Dick is persuaded to sanitize his gritty realism to make his works more attractive to the masses. Torp and fellow war correspondent "The Nilghai" (Dudley Digges) try to warn him about it, but he pays no heed; he becomes complacent and lazy. Maisie decides to move away and stop seeing him.

One night, Dick returns to his lodgings to find a young, bedraggled woman (Ida Lupino) lying on his sofa. Torp explains that she fainted from hunger outside, so he brought her in (and fed her Dick's dinner). She bitterly gives her name as Bessie "Broke". Dick becomes fascinated; she is the ideal model for "Melancholia", a painting that Maisie had struggled to complete. He hires her to pose for him.

When his vision starts to blur, he goes to see a doctor (Halliwell Hobbes), who gives him a grim prognosis: as a result of his old war injury, he will go blind, in a year if he avoids strain, "not very long" if he does not.

Before he completely loses his sight, Dick resolves to paint his masterpiece, "Melancholia". He drinks heavily, and drives Bessie to hysteria to get just the right expression. When Torp returns from his latest assignment, Dick tells him about his blindness and shows him the painting. While Dick sleeps, however, Bessie sneaks in and destroys it, unaware of his ailment. When he wakes up, he is blind. Torp sees to it he does not learn of Bessie's act and sends for Maisie. When Dick shows her his masterpiece, she cannot bring herself to tell him it is ruined. She leaves.

One day, while he is out on a walk, his servant (Ernest Cossart) recognizes Bessie. Dick invites her to his home. He shows her the balance in his bank book, proposes she take care of him, and kisses her. Realizing he will learn the truth at some point, she then confesses what she has done. Once the news sinks in, he changes his plans.

Dick travels back to the Sudan, where he puts on his old uniform and hires a guide to take him to join Torp. They ride in on horseback in the midst of a battle. Sensing that the British cavalry is about to deploy, Dick gets Torp to direct him into the midst of the charge, where he is shot and killed by a native.


Robert Parrington Jackson Murder

On May 29, 1946 in Bristol, England, Odeon cinema manager Robert Parrington Jackson was shot in his office during an evening showing of The Light That Failed.[4] It was believed that the murder was timed to coincide with gunshots from the scene where young Dick Heldar is blinded, to mask the killing. The murder remains unsolved to this day.


  1. ^ Box office information for France in 1945 at Box Office Story
  2. ^ [1], Movie Classics.
  3. ^ [2], IMDB.
  4. ^ [3], Bristol's oldest unsolved murder.