Cry of the Penguins
Adventure | 101 Mins | Released: 1971
Director: Alfred Viola
Starring: John Hurt, Hayley Mills, Dudley Sutton, Tony Britton, Thorley Walters, Judy Campbell, Joss Ackland
Our Rating: 7
In Cry of the Penguins, a young London biologist spends most of his time pursuing girls rather than pursuing science. When the opportunity to go to the Antarctic to study a colony of penguins presents itself he agrees to go, not so much for the benefit of science but rather to impress the girl he has recently been chasing. The longer he stays in the Antarctic, however, the more he becomes truly interested in the penguins fight for survival. When the time to go home finally arrives, he is a changed man with a totally new outlook on life.
A great deal of director Al Viola’s version of this film was pruned away for its general release. The missing portions are not only the heart of the story, but they are the heart of the novel by Graham Billings which gave rise to the film.
The whole story of Cry of the Penguins is that Forbush (John Hurt) is going nowhere in his romance of Tara (Hayley Mills) because he is basically an uninteresting, shallow man.In desperation, he decides to go off to Antarctica and study penguins. He hopes that his heroism in doing this will prove his sincerity to Tara.Once there, he grows genuinely enchanted by his project and develops a real interest in penguins. It is this, rather than his courage, which wins him Tara’s affections.
The truncated version omits most of the film’s reputedly spectacular and affecting Antarctic footage (shot by Arne Sucksdorff) in order to concentrate on the love story.
pingvuiini from california – 18 July 2007
Comparisons between The Cry of the Penguins and March of the Penguins (English version) are probably inevitable. The US release of March of the Penguins is converted documentary, while Cry of the Penguins can be viewed as a documentary with an added human dimension/love story that some viewers may consider to be superfluous. Naturally, COTP is stylistically dated, and this is not helped with the very poor transfer quality of the DVD. But the movie is very watchable even today, and the scientific/documentary aspects hold up particularly well.
Richard Forbush, played by John Hurt, is first shown as a very talented and capable biology student who also happens to be an immature high society philanderer, cad, and a snazzy dresser. He reluctantly accepts a post-graduate field assignment to observe the population of Adelie penguins in the Antarctic partly to fulfill his ‘debt to science’ but more so to impress a beautiful aspiring biology student, Tara, played by Hayley Mills.
After a half hour preamble set in London, we are transported, Lawrence of Arabia style, to the Great White Silence where Forbush sets himself up in a dilapidated scientific outpost built by famed arctic explorer Ernest Shackleton decades earlier. As he waits several days for the penguins to arrive, Forbush yearns for the high life of home, and expresses disdain for the penguins and his miserable plight in the frozen wasteland on their behalf. His attitude changes almost immediately upon sighting the very first lone penguin ambling down the side of a snowy slope. Hundreds of penguins quickly join them, and as the rookery grows Forbush gets down to business and performs all his assigned scientific tasks in a somewhat professional if eccentric manner. The scenes of the penguins and their occasional interaction with Forbush lead to some very endearing and humorous moments.
As time transpires, Forbush finds himself increasingly involved emotionally with the penguins, marveling at their will to survive, watching them care for the eggs and the eventual birth of the chicks. He seems to forget his own self, undergoing a Londonesque transition into an unkempt and disheveled figure among his tuxedoed subjects. His haggard appearance is a marked contrast to the fresh-faced chopper pilots who stop by and his college buddy Starshot who visits during Christmas, all of whom fear Forbush is taking the penguins much too seriously for his own good.
Eventually, Forbush’s obsession with the penguins’ welfare, coupled with the madness brought on by months of isolation, lead him astray. After weeks of watching helplessly as the skuas attack the rookery, destroying hundreds of eggs and killing many chicks, he discards the scientific creed of strict neutral observation and takes action against the predatory birds. His plan, while carefully conceived and exhaustingly executed, is almost laughable and fails miserably. He soon regains his senses, he realizes he was foolish to try and interfere with the pattern of nature that has been going on for thousands of years. His last taped messages to Tara raise questions about his very soul and about humanity’s relationship with nature which are relevant even today. By listening to these tapes during Forbush’s six-month tenure in the wild, Tara keenly senses his maturity as a scientist and as a man.
The documentary aspects of COTP are interspersed throughout the film in the form of lectures at the university and narrations of Forbush’s audio tapes and written letters to Tara. These are accompanied nicely by veteran wildlife videographer Arne Sucksdorff’s film footage illustrating the concepts being described, somewhat in the style of National Geographic. While not as deeply probing into the penguins’ lives as MOTP, viewers of COTP will definitely carry away something educational if they have never seen either movie before (differences in species notwithstanding). The DVD could definitely use a cleanup and better transfer of the source material. With the recent popularity of penguin themed movies in the last 3 years, Cry of the Penguins has sadly been overlooked and forgotten. Penguin lovers owe it to themselves to watch this one.