Twilight For The Gods I generally concur with the assessments of this movie. I had read “Twilight for the Gods” (It is a great title.) many years ago and enjoyed it immensely. As he had in “The High and the Mighty” and “Island in the Sky,” its author, Ernst K. Gann, once again threw together a group of disparate individuals into a life-threatening situation (this time on a leaky old barquentine called the “Cannibal”) to see how they would handle themselves. It made for compelling and often suspenseful reading.
Alas, even with a surprisingly faithful screen adaptation (Gann himself wrote the screenplay), the final product is generally flat and offers very little in the way of excitement. This may owe to the fact that much of the suspense in the book arises from conflicts and motivations that are internalized. While this works well on the printed page, it is difficult to convey on the screen. Close-ups of contorted faces cannot say enough, while the alternative technique, a steady stream of voice-overs can only confuse, if not annoy, the viewer. What we are left with, then, is a group of people, most of whom have been drawn too sketchily to evoke any sympathy, surviving a crisis through no apparent effort of their own.
I tend to agree with the writer who has suggested that Arthur Kennedy would have been a better choice to play Captain Bell. He just seems older and more worldly-wise (and closer in age and appearance to the main character in the book) than Rock Hudson who, though not a bad actor, was just too pretty for a man who had been described as fortyish, balding, scarred down the left cheek, and one who is supposed to have spent most of his life at sea.
That said, I can’t help but like this movie. The color is gorgeous, particularly noticeable in the island scenes which make you want to retire and move out to an equally beautiful south sea paradise. The long shots, showing the barquentine’s majestic profile, silhouetted against a blazing sunset and skimming along the waves as graceful as a swan, beckon you to sign up as first mate. Even the studio shots of the “Cannibal” during the storm are effective enough, showing the ship’s rolling and yawing without having the characters standing fully erect on a perfectly horizontal deck during the close-ups, as is sometimes the case in movies of this sort.
Best of all, there are the two stars. Rock Hudson, although not the best choice for his the role of the captain, does offer up another generous helping of his on-screen charisma. Then there is Cyd Charisse, one of the loveliest ladies ever to grace the silver screen, as the mysterious Mrs. King. Outside of her “Broadway Melody” number with Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain” and the “Girl Hunt” ballet with Fred Astaire in “The Band Wagon,” she has never been sexier. Her movements are like those of a panther, slow, calculated, and deliberate, while her voice is a veritable purr. What red-blooded male could possibly resist a few days on an old rustbucket like the “Cannibal” when you have such beautiful eye candy for company (and in your corner, to boot)?
“Twilight for the Gods” is not for all tastes and will let down many viewers. But it’s not a bad movie, even if it isn’t a very good one either. If your expectations are not too high and you just want to veg out and relax, you could do a lot worse than invest the 120 minutes required to watch it.