The Land Beyond the Sunset
A newsboy hawks his papers to the camera. He is lighted on a dark stage, now he is on the sidewalk of a busy downtown street. Gentlemen pass him by, a lady with her small daughter buy nothing but give him a coin or two.
His home is squalid, his grandmother drinks heavily and upbraids him. It’s very much like Truffaut’s L’Argent de poche.
The Fresh Air Fund leads an outing to the country. The boy slips out with his cherished ticket through perfectly real city streets to the train station. Flowers, trees, picnic tables, grace.
The children sit on the grass beside a shed to hear a fairy story. The boy takes the part of the leading character as it is represented, the young prince is beaten by an old witch, fairies appear with magic wands, girls in costume magically as on Bewitched. They repulse the witch and lead him to a garlanded boat that makes for the land beyond the sunset.
The story is concluded, time to go home. The shed behind the boy is illuminated by a vision of his grandmother assailing him. He lingers alone, clutching the book to his chest, looking at the sea. He walks along the shingle slowly, there is a rowboat. He climbs in and drifts out very slowly. Now he is on the open sea, a long shot in down-angle has the boat pressed by the current and the wind ruffling the surface in a calm, regular motion toward the edge of the screen. And thither he went, says a title card, “to the land beyond the sunset”.
The two points that are most striking in this superb little film, which has the genius of Hollywood and was presumably made back East, are purely cinematic considerations. A stage effect of imagination might be produced, there is no limit to stage realism and evocativeness, yet the city streets and open sea are just that, Boulez in New York insisted on less formal dress to step out afterward for an omelette.
There’s nothing here you won’t find later in The Night of the Hunter or Kragh-Jacobsen’s The Island on Bird Street, except the nonchalance of the filming, which always has to be retrouvée.