CRY OF THE PENGUINS (Mr. Forbush and the Penguins) (directors: Arne Sucksdorff/Al Viola; screenwriters: from the novel by Anthony Shaffer/Graham Billing; cinematographers: Edward Scaife/Harry Waxman; editor: Bernard Gribble; music: John Addison; cast: John Hurt (Richard Forbush), Hayley Mills (Tara St. John Luke), Dudley Sutton (Starshot), Tony Britton (George Dewport), Thorley Walters (Mr. Forbush Sr.), Judy Campbell (Mrs. Forbush); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Henry Trettin; Falcon Home Video; 1971-UK)
“It’s worth seeing for the penguins, as the humans prove to be less interesting.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Cry of the Penguins is filmed on location in Antarctica with the help of the Argentinian army and navy. Naturalist documentary filmmaker Arne Sucksdorff was responsible for the penguin sequences (some of his great footage was removed to give way to the banal human drama story), Al Viola shoots Dick Forbush (John Hurt) alone in the Antarctic wilderness, while an uncredited Roy Boulting (the husband of Hayley Mills) directed the framing romantic story that opens the film (the film’s weakest part). It’s adapted from the New Zealander Graham Billing’s novel, who was a journalist in the Antarctic. Anthony Shaffer, best known as a mystery writer, turns in the screenplay. The gist of the novel, of man alone doing all for science, was pruned away so that there would be more characters in the story. The result is that a trite romantic tale is tacked onto the poignant chronicling shots of the penguins in action. One can almost hear the cry of the penguins at that foolish decision.
Forbush is a wealthy hipster college biology student, who is callow, a womanizer and is flighty. He falls for classmate and coffee shop waitress Tara (Hayley Mills), who gives him the cold shoulder. To impress her, he takes the unlikely assignment, recommended by his biology prof (Tony Britton), to live in a shack alone and study penguins for six months in the Antarctica. The youth brings tins of quail and caviar on this assignment, still not getting what he volunteered for.
The film’s best scene is the arrival of the penguins. These creatures are so lovable and have such a tough time surviving, that the self-absorbed Forbush finds his heart go out to them and he changes for a better person. He learns the life lesson that “Every living creature depends on another.” Forbush comes to this wise conclusion after observing that once the penguins mate and lay eggs, their flock is attacked by predatory skua gulls. Wracked with a sense of impotence that he can’t do anything to change nature as the baby penguins are increasingly diminished by the attacking gulls, he forgoes his scientific impartiality and builds a catapult to hurl rocks at the attackers until he realizes this won’t change the way things are in nature and gives up in frustration. Forbush for the first time in his life cares about someone more than himself. This, of course, impresses the previously frigid Tara, who now awaits his return home with warmth after receiving tapes from him.
It’s worth seeing for the penguins, as the humans prove to be less interesting.
REVIEWED ON 5/8/2007 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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